Why is it so difficult to change my parenting?

Q: I wholeheartedly agree with your advice on collaboration vs. consequences. Yet sometimes I still find myself issuing consequences, threats and ultimatums, even though I know they don't work! I wish collaborative parenting came more naturally to me ... any suggestions?

A: Oh gosh, it's that way for all of us when we try to break old habits. There's sort of a progression that the process of personal change moves through.

At first we do it the old way and don't realize we had another option until long afterwards. Then we realize we could have done it differently just a little while after the incident. Next the alternatives come to our attention AS we are doing it the old way, yet we still act habitually. Then we notice that we have options a bit beforehand but we still do it the habitual way. Finally we see the fork in the road before we step on it and choose a different way.

But then we add a little bit of exhaustion, dehydration, or stress, and we slide back in the continuum.

This is one step forward-two steps back process when it comes to parenting, because most of us were not raised collaboratively, and therefore can't revert to the default of just treating our kids the way we ourselves were treated. It takes energy and attention to create new habits. Change is slow, but please take heart, because you are blazing substantial new territory, not just for yourself and your children, but also at a cultural level. That's not an overnight job.

I wonder if something is happening that has you feeling extra overwhelmed right now. It's so normal to regress to the old way of doing things when we are run down and exhausted, even if we know it doesn't really work very well. Since self-care is almost always the first thing to go under duress, we rarely feel inspired to go the extra mile and blaze new territory when we are stressed out or tired.

And sometimes, every parent just feels desperate for some peace, you know? We wish we could just ask our children to obey and they would (maybe even do so cheerfully... wouldn't that be nice?) We dream of pulling out a big ol' consequence that will make our children comply so we can just rest for a while.

If we cut out the middleman and just take that break or rest, our intention to do things differently renews itself.

So please take it easy on yourself. When you find yourself acting in ways you are not proud of, stop, acknowledge it, and take a break. That might sound like this:
Oops. I just heard myself listing all these things you have to do and what will happen if you don't without even asking for your input. That means I'm too tired/crabby/upset to think clearly. I'm going to take a little break for a few minutes, and when I come back, let's try this again. I think I'll garden/sit in my rocking chair/call a friend/take a quick shower. I'll be back soon.

Perfection is not required in parenting. From our example, kids can learn valuable life lessons about how to handle their own inevitable tired/crabby/upset moments. Wouldn't you love to hear this coming back to you one day? Mom, I am too crabby to think clearly, so let's talk more about this after I take a walk.

Hang in there. I'm hoping you can find some time to recharge your batteries in whatever way works for you. You are doing very important work.

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit www.karenalonge.com

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