In Parenting Therapy, I Often Tell Parents: Don’t Get So Consumed With Parenting Books That You Miss Out On The Most Important Thing–Connecting With Your Kid
As an NYC therapist who works with parents, I frequently find parents, particularly moms, need me to tell them to throw out the parenting books and instead, connect with their kids. Understandably, when a family is struggling with a parenting dilemma or feeling overwhelmed, the impulse is to go to the library to figure it out like all smart and good students.
Parents often assume that someone else has the answers, but when things don’t “go by the book” (which they often don’t with raising kids), these parenting books can leave you feeling more isolated and insecure. It can be intimidating and intimidation is the quickest way to disconnect from ourselves, our partners, and our kid(s). It’s important to throw out the idea that you’re going to get it just right or will know exactly what to do. Often, just by telling parents that it’s okay to toss out the books, I provide a sense of relief. It implies that no parent has it all right.
This Doesn’t Mean Parenting Books Are Useless
This doesn’t mean you, as a parent, should reject these books altogether. Books can provide us with knowledge, confidence or validation, which is key. They may give us ideas and clues about how to approach parenting or step back. You may need a book about the super empathetic child, peaceful parenting techniques or your baby’s development at one, two or three-years old.
But, in the moment of parenting, these books are often irrelevant. What’s more essential is building the relationship with you, perhaps your partner and your kid. You can take what you read and know, but it’s important not to see parenting books as owner’s manuals.
Take What You Can Use And Toss Out The Rest In Parenting Books
With parenting books, learn what you can and then, put them aside to connect with your kids around who they are. Like a good musician or artist, parents can learn techniques, but the most important part is connecting. In the case of a musician or artist, this connection is with the instrument, painting or camera, and with parenting, it’s with our kid or kids. Watch and learn about them, and maybe read about development in order to learn how to watch them and connect.
Sometimes, though, parenting also can mean throwing out the book entirely and forgetting “what is right” and what the expert says. Instead, see what works for your family. Learn how to think through the best option, lead strong and then, reevaluate or tweak for next time. If your family feels more connected, functioning, collaborative, inventive, creative, seen and heard, then use those techniques. If not, toss it out and allow yourself to think outside the box, even if it means you mess up. Rather than running to a parenting guide, focus on seeing your kid and yourself, and develop the best model for you, your partner and your kid right now. It’s also important to note that raising a child is a complex, long-term relationship. Some answers might work at ages two and three, but won’t work five years from now.
More Than Parenting Books, Parents Need Curiosity And Compassion When Connecting With Their Kid
Parenting isn’t simply: do x (speak softly and kindly) and y will happen (the kid will calm down). Instead, it’s more vital that you connect and know your kid, how they tick, and how they need to connect and communicate with you. Rather than trying to reach for “the right” answer, compassion and curiosity are key and can lead more places than a book because you, your kid or kids and your partner all have your own unique experience. It’s essential to have compassion for yourself and your partner as parents, understanding that parenting takes time, practice, and what works today may not work the next.
Similarly, it’s important to have compassion that your kid is, well, a kid. Kids push buttons, boundaries and limits as they try to understand the world. Being a kid is also hard sometimes. Kids, at once, know what is going on and don’t, as well as know things, but aren’t saying (or they can’t yet articulate it). As adults, we tend to breeze past experiences that kids just don’t. Whether a hard conversation at the playground or a transition like a new sibling, school, neighborhood or class, a friend moving, or the loss of a close family member, it might take your kid longer to accept these changes.
This is why it’s crucial to be curious with your kid. Curiosity is asking, “What was your experience? How are you feeling right now? Can you tell me what you’re thinking? You had a bad day–what was bad?” It’s also about stepping away and respecting if they don’t want to talk about it, while also letting them know you’re there to listen and be there for them even when they do not have the words or when they find them.
What Are Some Ways To Connect With Your Kid?
Practically speaking, connecting with your kid is both easy and hard. A parent needs to both be compassionate and slowly but surely, lead everyone (your kid, your partner and yourself) from a moment of conflict to a moment of feeling heard, cared for and directed (with a boundary, rule or at times, a consequence). Sit down, breathe and take your kid in, checking the other stuff at the door.
Sometimes the best way to connect is by forgetting the to-do list and just sitting with them or in the moment of conflict, pulling them aside and asking, the kid version of “What is going on? Something is? We can slow down and talk.” Maybe they need to regress a bit and be held by their mom or dad. Perhaps they need–or you both need–to just work on just being together with no agenda. Offer, “Want to draw or go outside for a walk or sit on the roof deck and just talk?” Leave the homework or the mess on the table and just be together.
If You’re Having Trouble Connecting, Therapy Can Be A Helpful Place To Look At The Mess Of Parenting
And if you’re having trouble connecting and putting down the books, therapy can be a helpful place to talk about the nitty-gritty and lay out how parents struggle with slowing down, throwing out the research and just being with their kid. Often parents hide the mess of parenting, seeing it as an embarrassing sign of not getting it quite right or losing it. As a therapist, I don’t judge or say, “We have to get it right.” Instead, therapy offers a chance to share the dirt, the bad day, or the moment parents aren’t proud of. It’s incredibly difficult to talk about when you don’t like how your child is acting, the feelings it brings up, your reaction and how you lose the connection with your child. Therapy provides an opportunity to talk through these moments so the parenting crisis isn’t isolated and you can work through to a connection with your kid.
Parenting books tend to offer quick and direct solutions to the mess, but they don’t allow parents to sit with the frustration, pain or conflict for too long. Therapy, in contrast, looks at the pain from all angles. Therapy is a place where parents or the entire family can unpack and socialize, looking at what is not going well and learning different ways to approach parenting. We go off-book, seeing what is working, what is a mess, the complex feelings and the tricky moves that might be needed in order to think and feel through this moment, as well as connect with a new action plan together.