How many of us were raised with a belief in “Murphy’s Law?”
This means if something can go wrong in a situation, chances are, it will. This belief is often (perhaps unconsciously) applied when it comes to parenting.
Whether it’s preparing a kindergartner for the “inevitable” dropping of the lunch tray at school or the assumption that our teenager “from another world” will be rude, crude and defiant; when it comes to kids, many adults tend to expect the worst.
But to what extent do we help create that “worst” with our expectations?
When it comes to interacting with the young people in our lives, perhaps our “Murphy’s Law” assumptions help fuel the disconnections that may develop. So, instead of expecting the “worst”-preparing for the attitude of disrespect, the misbehavior, the disappointment– what if we approached kids with an expectation of connection?
At a party a woman shared with me the challenges she faces with her 15 year old daughter. She described her daughter as a “slut” and told me that she has threatened lack of support to her daughter if she becomes pregnant in high school.
Just a little bit shocked at this mother’s perspective of her own child, I asked her if she thought her daughter was sexually active. She said “no,” while following up with more descriptions of her daughter as sexually promiscuous. It was no surprise when the woman later shared that she and her daughter argue frequently telling one other that they “hate” each other.
I do not know this woman or her daughter very well. I have no idea whether the mother’s fears about her daughter being sexually active are based in reality or not. What I do know from listening to this one-sided account is that, undoubtedly, the mother’s expectations are helping to create more negativity and more disconnection in the relationship.
How could they not!?
Expecting connection in parenting situations will not only enhance your relationship with your kids, you may just feel happier and more joyful about your life in general as a
Sound too simple or too good to be true?
Maybe like you’re being asked to put on blinders to reality?
Give it a try and see how it feels. Expecting connection does NOT mean that you’ll never argue or disagree with your kids. Expecting connection also doesn’t mean that your kids will always do what you ask them to. No matter how tempting it may be, you cannot control another person.
The only person that you can control is you. Yes, difficult as it may be to hear, you can only control you.
That being said, in “controlling” yourself, you can make the choice to open up and connect with those in your life-including, and especially, your kids.
Set aside a period of time and try out these 3 tips for parenting more positively.
Tip #1: Watch your thoughts
Practice watching the thoughts that come up for you about your child or children. Just notice them and notice the body feelings that arise at the same time.
Perhaps your son has forgotten (again) to put his clothes away. You are about to ask him (for the third time in an evening) to take care of this task. It’s highly likely that thoughts running through your head center on disappointment, irritation and maybe fears that he’ll never be responsible or follow through on promises.
While noticing these feelings and thoughts, you might also notice your shoulders tense or perhaps a tightening in your stomach or your jaw.
We all carry stress in different places so it varies from person to person and from situation to situation.
The important thing is to stop yourself and tune in to what’s going on for you. This is not about whether or not you have a right to be angry about the ignored request to put away clothes or whatever the case may be.
This is about noticing-without judgment and if possible, paying particular attention to your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations.
Tip #2: Breathe
While paying attention to what’s going on during this pause after being triggered, remember to breathe! Too often when we experience difficult emotions, we become rigid and hold onto our breath. The cliché advice about taking a deep breath and counting to 10 when angry holds some merit here.
Breathing deeply will help you to ease some of those places in your body that might have tensed. And, while breathing deeply won’t erase hurt or angry feelings, it does create space and clarity before you rush headlong into making a contentious situation even worse.
Tip #3: Shift
Now, the really cool part…. Once you’ve stopped yourself from charging in to yet another row with your child, you’re paying attention to what you are feeling and thinking, and you are breathing.
Now shift your thoughts. It can be as simple as shifting the gears in a car, but this movement is in your head and your heart.
When you make a conscious effort to shift your expectations, you open up to the possibility of connecting rather than
This doesn’t necessarily mean that when you open the door to your son’s room, he’ll have picked up his clothes. This also doesn’t mean that you gloss over your desires and boundaries in an attempt to be “positive.”
Shifting may look like reminding yourself that there are times when you and your child do connect and how good that feels. Perhaps your son does actually put his clothes away-and without being asked-on occasion.
Shifting may take the shape of hopefulness and a vision of the kind of interaction you want to have with your child. It could also just mean that you move from a feeling of anger to one of irritation.
This is still a positively- directed movement that offers some relief and ease.
After you’ve done this internal work, chances are you will meet your child or children with a clearer mind and a more open heart. The words you choose to share with her or him will likely be easier to share and to hear.
At the same time, you will be more likely to actually listen to what’s going on for the young person in your life rather than lecturing without listening as many of tend to do.
Sharing AND listening with an open heart is what connection is all about so try this experiment and expect it!
Amy Phillips-Gary is a person aspiring to live a loving-compassionate and mindful life. Partnering with her husband, home-schooling her two sons, and helping to lead an alternative scouting group provide her with opportunities to enjoy such a life! She is Susie Collins’ daughter.