If you celebrated Father's Day this past weekend, I hope it was a day full of love and connection for you.
Today's message is a bit vulnerable and personal. After nearly seven years of being a mom, I would say that I've learned many lessons the hard and painful way. In the early years, I didn't think I was cut out to be a mom. My son and I butted up against each other's personalities and struggled with navigating power and control issues. There were quite a few days I considered going to family therapy together because I was at a loss on how to help us get better. I am grateful for these lessons now, as they have taught me many things about myself and how I show up both as a parent and partner.
If you want to know what I've been through so you can avoid the heartache and conflict in your own parenting journey, I'm laying it all out for you. After all, I want my hindsight to be your path forward.
Here are some of the hardest lessons I had to learn:
● My child is not me
My son is a strong-willed and high-energy kid. He always has been. He's also incredibly smart. As luck would have it, this is something we have in common (minus the high-energy). When you put two strong-willed smart people together, the chance for conflict increases. His ideas didn't line up with my ideas. His timelines didn't line up with my timelines. And so on and so forth. The hard lesson I learned is that even though we have similarities, my child is not me. There are times I see glimpses of myself in him (especially both of our perfectionist tendencies), but I have to continually remind myself that he is his own person with his own feelings, thoughts, and experiences.
Many times as parents, we either consciously or subconsciously project ourselves onto our children. I found myself doing this frequently when I wanted him to hurry up so we weren't late (being late is an anxiety trigger of mine but he couldn't care less), or getting frustrated with him wasting time at night so he can delay going to bed (at night, I'm ready to be child-free and have quiet adult time but he still wants quality time and conversation).
I realized (later than I would have liked) that I needed to let him be his own person. This didn't mean I didn't have influence or I needed to give up my parenting and disciplining role, but I had to be a little more flexible with him and not expect him to be a tiny version of me. This shift looked like starting bedtime a little earlier with a little more time for conversation and debriefing about his day, allowing him to choose how much food he wanted to eat until he felt full, and giving him a timeline that made more sense for him when we were wrapping things up (for example: "we'll be leaving the park soon, so choose one more thing you'd like to do before we go" instead of a countdown of time).
Making these changes and shifting my mindset made a huge difference in how we related to each other and our relationship these days is much better for it.
● Love languages matter A LOT
Identifying my and my partner's love languages was one of the first things we did together for our relationship. I wish I would have applied this to parenting early on as well. It took me years to understand that I need to take my time with my son and have quality time together frequently. He also needs a lot of verbal validation and acknowledgement. These are ways he feels loved and cared for. These are NOT ways that I necessarily need to feel loved and cared for. My top love language is acts of service.
The truth is our love languages being different made a huge impact on our relationship. I had to learn how to speak his languages more fluently just as I had done with my partner years ago. I had already learned and appreciated the differences between my partner and myself, but for a few different reasons, I didn't think I needed to do this with my child (at least not early on in his childhood).
I found when I started speaking my son's love languages more effectively, our relationship got much closer and more fun. He was feeling more appreciated and loved and I found more joy in parenting.
● There is no perfect parent
As I mentioned previously, I'm a bit of a perfectionist (a recovering perfectionist, actually), so just about everything new I attempt, I want to do it well as quickly as possible. I sometimes have a difficult time admitting that I don't know how to do something well after I've been working at it (even a short amount of time). When I was little and I practiced playing the piano, I remember yelling at my fingers to play the right notes. When my partner and I took our rescue dog to training classes, I got so frustrated and ended many classes in tears while handing over the leash to my partner because she wouldn't listen to my commands.
Parenting was no different. I had never done it before, yet I had an idea of what it looked like, so I thought I knew what I was doing. Wow... was I wrong. I messed up A LOT. I raised my voice more than I ever thought I would. I felt guilty I wasn't a more patient person. I was late ALL THE TIME. I was nowhere close to the "Pinterest mom", type A person I strove to be.
So perfectionism had to go. I learned to be ok with good enough (most days). My son actually taught me I was loved even when I wasn't at my best. There was a Facebook memory that popped up for me this past week from two years ago that will always melt my heart. One night, while I was helping him brush his teeth before bed, I felt compelled to apologize to him. I had been particularly critical towards him because I was tired and (as usual) he was taking his sweet time. We were way past where I'd like him to be in bed already.
As I was putting the toothpaste on his toothbrush, I said to him that I was sorry I criticized him a lot and that I do think he's a great kid. I told him that I try to be a good mom as much as I can but it can be really hard. He turned, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, "Mom, you don't have to try. You are already doing it."
So I'm here to tell you these three lessons I learned have shaped who I am as a parent and affect how I show up day to day. When I remember these three lessons, I tend to have an easier time parenting, a better connection with my children, and a more relaxed attitude toward my family in general. I even have an improved connection with my partner because my stress levels are decreased.
Can you relate to any of the above lessons? What are some lessons you have learned? Let me know! I'd love to hear from you.
I hope you have a great week ahead. You've got this, friend.
Christie Sears Thompson
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
The Partnerhood (www.thepartnerhood.com)
Trade Winds Therapy & Relationship Coaching (www.tradewindstherapy.com)