What family battles are worth winning?
Family battles worth winning?
Summer holidays are almost upon us, and it is a lucky family who has enough time away from their work commitments to cover their children’s extended summer break adequately. For most parents it will be a juggling act to put together a mishmash of summer school activity sessions; shared childcare with other parents and a smattering of help from any willing grand-parents available to help out for the odd day or two.
Parenting these days is often anxiety-inducing state and nothing ramps up the feelings of overwhelm and powerlessness like the long summer break.
For most parents there merely isn’t enough time to enjoy watching their children grow as they increasingly have so many other plates spinning that their children can get sidelined and ignored – especially if the kids are occupied and not under their feet.
One of the downsides of stressed parents is that after being at work all day, they really don’t want to come home and start a battle with their own children. They want their home life to be harmonious and light relief from their day job. It seems more pressing for many mums and dads to be friends with their children other than be their parents and so they are often reluctant to impose any kinds of sanctions around their kids’ behaviour, and it’s causing problems that no-one could for-see.
So, this is not about authoritative parenting and laying down the law with your off-spring it is however about selecting your battles.
So, what family battles are worth winning?
If you child wanted chicken in a box on the way home from school every afternoon would you let him or her have it just because all their friends do?
If your child wanted a meg bottle of cola on the supper table because that’s what his friend’s mum does then would you comply?
If your 14-year-old moans at you for not smoking dope with him when all his friends’ parents are ‘cool with it’ is that enough of a reason for you to light up too?
With the 20:20 vision of hindsight, parenting can seem like an ever-expanding set of choices of trying to make the right call for our kids.
One parental choice I really feel would be valuable for most parents to would be restricting or even zero tolerance of often violent role-playing video games. It can feel like a real challenge for many families to put that particular genie back in the bottle but it can be done, and eventually, that decision will seem small fry compared to the entirety of the challenges you will face raising a well-balanced, socially adjusted and connected adult.
I also, in contrast, believe it is important not to sweat the small stuff and to be able to give autonomy to our children is how they learn and grow.
An example might be if your son or daughter want bright blue hair for the school holiday then you could let them.
Or if they want to live in a pig sty bedroom, then that’s their call.
In my therapy practice, I’ve seen plenty of children of strict or helicopter-style parenting where the children feel closely monitored make a sub-conscious decision to stamp their individuality by whatever means they can. For many children in this situation, one of the few ways they can be autonomous is by becoming picky eaters, or vegetarian or vegan which can be a pathway to a full eating disorder.
No child’s development is permanently hampered by having guidelines imposed by a caring parent. However, the child’s development can be detrimentally affected by unfettered exposure to highly graphic video games.
If a child has both parents involved in their care it is essential they are in accord before imposing any boundaries around behaviour, whatever they may be. Children do not have direct power so will naturally try to divide and conquer by exploiting the good cop, bad cop parental dynamic.
Once the parents have an agreement between themselves, it is essential to inform the child of their decision. This can be backed up with age-appropriate information, but this is not a discussion this is a directive. Once the decision has been made it is not open to endless debate or negation.
Use the stuck record strategy of repeating a short phrase that sums up the new family policy. Do not get pulled in to discussing this further.
Psychologists have worked out it takes 21 days to embed a new habit, so you need to give this time too. The summer holiday is soon, and hopefully, parents will have a little more flexibility and time to spend with their family. If you are going away on holiday, then use this time to leave electronics behind or reduce access in favour of other activities. Habits are easier to break when not just omitting an activity but replacing it with something else.
Remember whatever your child says about their friends and what their friends’ parents allow them to do is irrelevant for your family. While your child might want to be endlessly playing video games other children are competing in martial arts, learning Mandarin or taking coding to the best level.
There is a little explored dynamic with many parents who are relying on short-term rewards to give them some respite from the demands of parenting. This includes absent fathers working at the office until late and fitting in a gym session before coming home just before bedtime and hard-pressed mothers who feel overburdened and are drinking far too much on a nightly basis. To make a change to the family dynamic will ultimately need the full participation of everyone in the family but the tenor is set by the adults, and they must take the lead.
If you are struggling with your family dynamic, I often work with couples, initially individually and sometimes later together, to explore your own behaviour in this, your key relationship. I offer a safe space to consider what old pain and unfinished business you brought with you and ways to erase and let go of the past. If this sounds like you then book an obligation free discovery call with me on this page.
Sally Baker is Senior Therapist, published Author and Speaker in private practice in London for face to face sessions and the world over via the internet.
With almost twenty years of professional experience, she employs cutting-edge therapeutic approaches to help one person at a time to transform their lives.
She has extensive experience working with people to alleviate their anxiety, depression, anger issues, eating disorders as well as conflicts within relationships and the family.
To find out more about Sally Baker, her books and her work visit her website, www.workingonthebody.com