I believe that there is no better way to discover your own unresolved issues than to become a parent.
Becoming a parent and facing the daily demands and needs of children will bring your unresolved issues bubbling to the surface. Our children are of us. We will see aspects of our own childhood experiences and ourselves when we are engaged with them. I would go so far as to say that by the time we snap and “lose it” with our children it is not because of what they have done/said but what has gotten triggered within us by them doing/saying it. To parent in a creative and playful way, we have to reflect inwards to connect outwards. This is therapeutic parenting.
Some time ago I answered a parenting question on the radio from a parent asking about how she might manage her own “parent tantrums” around and in response to her children. This offered me the opportunity to speak about therapeutic parenting. The response from listeners was unprecedented and even now, months later; I still get emails and messages asking me for more information about therapeutic parenting.
How we experienced being parented in our own childhoods will directly influence and inform the kind of parents we become to our own children. Our own early childhood experiences can leave us with a mental blind-spot, making it challenging to really see and feel what our own children need from us, particularly in the emotional area of their lives. Insecurity in our own early attachments may contribute to a current sense of unfulfillment or disappointment. It is important that you value yourself enough to know that you must respond to this and take care of yourself so that you can take care of your child and respond to their needs in an attuned, securely attached way.
Before children can self-regulate their emotional states, they co-regulate in response to their important adults (parents, carers, teachers etc ). This presupposes that the adults in question have developed their capacity to emotionally self-regulate. But what if we didn’t have access to a co-regulating adult in our lives growing up? How do we give what we did not get ourselves?
In my work with parents I always start with my own parental self-audit interview. The important thing is not just to ask yourself the questions but to answer these as fully and honestly as you can, noting if there is something you feels requires further reflection or support. For some us, this is a personal contemplative process; for others, we may benefit meeting with a suitably qualified professional who can support us in working through these blocks.
My parental self-audit starts with reflective questions. These include:
- "What was growing up like for you?
- "In what ways was your relationship with your mother similar to/different from your relationship with your father?
- "How were you disciplined as a child and how did this make you feel then/now?
- "Do you have memories of your parent's playing/singing with you? Can you recall a specific time this happened?
Then I ask you to reflect on things that bring you pleasure in your life. These should be things that are about you, not about your child and how they might bring you pleasure. Try to list 5 such things. When is the last time you got to do each/any of these? Can you build time into your week to ensure that you do at least one of these things each week?
The final stage is to reflect on how you are currently parenting your child(ren). Note that your relationship with each of your children is different so repeat this for each of your children individually. These questions include:
- "Do I find opportunities each day to tell my child that I love them and am proud of them?
- "Am I able to be firm yet gentle with my child when necessary?
- "Do I have the opportunity to laugh at least once a day with my child? Does my child feel that I enjoy them?
- "Do I encourage my child to try new things and take (appropriate) risks? Do I praise their efforts regardless of outcomes?
- "Do I play with my child every day?
A parental self-audit is not a one-time reflection. This is an exercise that you can and should repeat as your child grows up.
15-Minutes of play when parental stamina is low
Parental stamina is a term I use to describe that drive that somehow keeps us all going as parents. Sometimes, even the most playful parent will feel a drop in stamina and crave their armchair.
“Give your children a blanket, cushions, chairs etc to build a fort. When done they can take a snack and play inside the fort while you sit back with a hot cuppa and a book for (even) 15-minutes.
“Balloon volleyball - sitting in your armchair, hit a balloon to your child who must then hit it back to you. The aim is to keep the balloon in the air but they do all of the running around
“Create a scavenger hunt ahead of time to use when a day like this comes. Draw out a map or clues and plant them around your house/garden with a prize at the end.
“Time your children doing tasks (eg run from here to garden and back)
Joanna Fortune is a psychotherapist and author of the 15-Minute Parenting Series of books (See solamh.com).
Throughout Health Month, she is suggesting playful ways to connect with your children this year:
Let us play: The fun way to bond with your children in 2021
Communicating with teenagers
Parenting an anxious child
Encouraging (safe) risk-taking behaviour