Millions of working parents around the world are balancing their demanding working commitments with raising their children. We’d do anything for them and yet, often, they see us at our most tired, most fraught and least best.
Often we’ve used up the best of us whilst we were at work…
I invest most of my working days coaching and training people in Positive Leadership of themselves and others. So, I thought I’d share how I endeavour to apply to my parenting approaches those same techniques and skills. No, I don’t have all the answers (and both my teenagers would attest to that) but these techniques inform how I am every day and I genuinely believe that I’m the better parent for it.
If you’d like to bring more of the best of you, every day, to being a parent, read on.
Appreciate. Appreciate. Appreciate
I decided several years ago that I wanted my family to develop a habit of appreciation, that I was going to genuinely and mindfully appreciate the good moments (however small) and point out what I was noticing, usually in the moment. I hoped – and still hope – that I might make this a habit of their choosing appreciation over any sense of entitlement.
With this in mind I was particularly touched when, earlier this week, both my teenagers (separately) paid tribute to their teachers, noticing exactly what it was that those teachers were doing so effectively.
Know Your Parenting Strengths
My Top 3 strengths are: relationship building, collaboration and developing others and I see them “in action” in my parenting. They’re where I go when things are going well…and when they’re not going so well. When I notice it’s the latter then I’ll ask myself: “How can I use my strengths to get myself back on course?”
I notice, for example, that when I mindfully use my Relationship Building strength I am much more likely to remember that being kind is more important than being right!
Manage Your Parenting Strengths in Overdrive!
Are you familiar with the idea of a strength in overdrive? It’s the idea that the strength that we use too often or in the wrong circumstances or with the wrong person at the wrong time brings …. unintended negative consequences. And people stop seeing that strength as a strength. Well, as parents, the stakes are high: parenting matters. So, we’re probably more likely to go into overdrive and keep using that strength! I know that I’m prone to enabling my strength of Developing Others to veer into overdrive, forgetting that sometimes my teenagers don’t always want to be developed. Instead they want to be loved, accepted and appreciated. When I catch it in time, I remember to turn up my strength of compassion instead. It’s about getting the balance right.
Strength Spot Each Other
Every time I run a workshop on positive leadership, I encourage the participants to spot strengths in each other and share their insights. It’s a really positive and insightful activity and it really helps people understand when they’re energised and at their best. I take the same approach with my children and will strength spot throughout the day, pretty much every day.
- “Thank you for asking me that question, your curiosity and empathy really helped me understand what I meant”
- “I’m excited to see how engaged you are when you talk about food and health”
- “I noticed how your sister seemed really touched when you said that you liked the meal she’d cooked us. I think she really appreciated your thoughtfulness”
Create Good Endings
Positive Psychology research has demonstrated that our memories are heavily – and disproportionately – influenced by endings. So, it makes sense to be mindful of how we end conversations, events and relationships.
It was with this in mind (and hoping the teenagers were paying attention!) that I recently took the opportunity to model a good ending to a long-term relationship. Our dentist has done a great job over the last decade, sometimes in very trying circumstances but we decided to find someone more local. But first of all we had to say goodbye to our current dentist, something that is all too easily fraught with embarrassment, misunderstanding and avoidance. I decided that, with my son looking on, this was a good time to role-model ‘creating a good ending’ to a relationship. So, I told the dentist that we’re going to be leaving her practice, I publicly applauded what she’d done for us and I was very clear that our reasons for leaving were entirely practical. I took my time, I spoke clearly and warmly, I smiled a lot. It became a moment of celebration and mutual appreciation and constituted a good ending of a good relationship. I sincerely hope my son remembers this when he changes his hairdresser … or girlfriend!
Be fully present
I’ve been very mindful of this in 2015 but not necessarily very successful. My teenagers regularly chastise me for being the one who texts at the dining table, so there’s definitely some work to do on that front! So, it’s my personal parenting challenge for 2016: be fully present more often. What does that mean in practice? It means stopping what I’m doing when my teenager wants or needs my attention, maintaining eye contact and listening deeply (not preparing my response or looking like I’m listening when I’m not).
Self-Compassion First, Learning Second
There are two parts to this item:
- When I hear my teenagers berating themselves, I’ll ask them, “Would you talk to your best friend like that?”. Obviously the answer’s “No! I’d be kind!”, so it’s a great opportunity to encourage them to treat themselves as they would their best friend. Nearly 20 years of coaching has taught me how toxic most people’s self-talk is and this seems to be a good way of encouraging alternatives.
- Our children learn from what we do and how we are, not what we tell them. So, I completely appreciate that role-modelling is extremely important. If I want them to eat healthily, exercise regularly and treat themselves and others with compassion and respect, then I have to role-model that too. I hope I do exactly that.
Know when I’m at my best as a parent and keep being / doing it!
In preparation for writing this blog I asked my teenagers when they experience me at my best as a parent (try it, it’s not necessarily easy but it was really interesting). Both their replies were completely different but really fascinating:
- “When you’re being light-hearted and funny” (and “not stressed”)
- “When you’re supportive and understanding (and “when you’ve had enough sleep and food”)
It’s my job to take responsibility for creating the environment that enables me to stay at my best as a parent. Clearly getting enough sleep and food and avoiding getting stressed are good places for me to start!
Parenting is a privilege and a pleasure. But it’s also often hard work. If you want to bring the best of you to your parenting, try some of the above ideas and let me know how you get on. And if you think I can learn something from your ideas, please share them. Good luck!