“Am I a good mom?” I asked my husband, teetering on the verge of tears. I knew what his answer would be, of course, but hearing him say it made me feel better.
“Yes. You are the best mom,” he responded, emphatically, taking a seat next to me at the kitchen counter. “Why, what happened?”
What happened? What always happens!
“I ask our daughter to do something – to put on shoes, to clean up her mess, to eat something other than Goldfish crackers – and she ignores me. I repeat myself again and again until, eventually, I lose control and start yelling. My days are filled with tantrums and…” I can hear my voice cracking, feel the warm tears beading down my face. “I JUST DON’T KNOW HOW TO BE HER MOTHER!”
There it was – the feeling that had been welling up within me for months and, if I’m being honest, years. Despite having read every parenting book I could find, none of the tips and tricks seemed to help one iota with my 5-year-old.
I knew something had to change because I didn’t like who I was becoming: a mom who yelled and threatened A LOT, a mom who spent the entire day looking forward to her kids’ bedtimes. Lately, pushed to the edge, I had even questioned whether I was cut out to be a parent.
That night, I sat at my computer, long after my husband had gone to sleep, trying to find a solution. Perhaps, I thought, I wasn’t giving her enough positive reinforcement. Or, was I giving her too much? Maybe I needed to set clearer boundaries. Or, did I have too many rules? Parenting articles seemed to give conflicting advice and only left me feeling more confused.
When suddenly, it dawned on me: I, alone, was not equipped to navigate my daughter’s emotional highs-and-lows. Just because I had read a smattering of parenting books and articles did not make me an expert on my kid.
The fact of the matter was I needed help.
And I knew I wasn’t going to get that help from a book or a podcast or a well-intentioned friend. What I needed was meaningful, personalized feedback from a professional. And so I did what I knew was best for me and my daughter: I entered the words, “Local Parent-Child Counselors” into the search field on Google.
Not only were there tons of listings for family counselors in my small town, but testimonials from parents who, like me, felt they needed more constructive tools in their parental tool belts. Parents who, with a little guidance, claim to have strengthened their relationships with their children.
I scheduled my first appointment for the following week.
I won’t sit here and claim I found the magic bullet. Even after half a dozen appointments, my daughter and I are still learning how to effectively communicate. And believe me, this is a skill we both needed to learn. But, we are finally beginning to really hear each other and that in and of itself is significant.
Here is an example of a technique we recently learned. A few weeks ago, our counselor suggested we try Whole Body Listening (WBL). The technique created by speech-pathologist Susanne P. Truesdale is a tool to help students listen with not just their ears, but with their eyes (by looking), with their hands (by keeping them still), with their feet (by keeping them planted on the floor), and with their mouths (by keeping them quiet).
Parents often assume listening is intuitive and automatic in their children when, in fact, listening is, for many, a skill that must be taught. In Whole-Body Listening: Developing Active Auditory Skills, Truesdale writes, “These ‘whole-body’ activities are designed to teach students what they must do in order to listen. Listening is associated with active behaviors in contrast to passively ‘hearing’ auditory information.” In this way, students learn to process the information which has been given; they learn “to be connected, tuned-in, to the spoken message.”
In the past, I had been expecting my daughter to listen to me even when her attention was focused elsewhere. Not once did I think to ask her to “look at me” when I spoke. Not once did I say, “Please pause your activity so you can hear me.” Not once. And yet I became agitated when I had to repeat myself.
Now I know, my daughter wasn’t really listening to me. (Who knew?)
Sometimes people ask me why I take my 5-year-old to counseling. “Isn’t she a little young?” they ask, snickering. And the answer is a resounding, “No.” No one is ever too young to learn communication skills. No one is ever too young to learn to manage their emotions.
At least now I can say with some confidence I am cut out to be a parent. Because, while I’m not perfect, I am trying to do what’s best for my children. I can admit when I’m wrong, when I don’t know everything, and when I need help.
I am cut out to be a parent because my 5-year-old – who has killer communication skills – told me so.
So many of us look to books to help us through the tough phases of parenting. And sometimes we find the solutions we are looking for but, very often, we don’t. And for those times, it can help to turn to counselors or other mental health professionals so, at the very least, we can feel secure in the relationships we are building with our children.
I wish it hadn’t taken 5 years for me to realize that.