Here’s the truth–parenting is HARD. Between the sleep deprivation (whether it’s because you have littles or because your older children’s problems are keeping you up), the constant feeling of being needed, the never-ending list of to dos, and the absolute barrage of outside forces telling you how you “should” parent, it’s no wonder so many of us end up feeling lost. In fact, in a recent PEW research study, most parents (62 percent) reported that parenting has been harder than they expected, with over a quarter of parents (26 percent) reporting that parenting is a lot harder (anyone else feeling seen?).
Over the next four months, we will explore how to uncover an approach to parenting that is grounded in ease and self-trust so that parenting doesn’t feel so hard (sign me up!). This month, we will delve into how to use values as the inner compass from which all our parenting decisions can be guided. Then, in the subsequent three months, we will explore parenting through the lens of brain science, emotional intelligence, and tangible strategies. Each month I’ll also share some simple homework we can do to make progress in the direction toward more ease and confidence in our parenting. Shall we?
Clarifying our Values
While it would be great if there were a singular manual we could all read to teach us how to parent effectively (and I’d argue there are some books that get close), the truth is, parenting is uniquely individual. Those of us with more than one kiddo know this phenomenon well–what seemed to work seamlessly for our first kiddo falls completely flat when tried the second time around. The same is true for parenting. You might read up on positive parenting and feel that it doesn’t “work” for you, but then you learn about conscious parenting and feel that it just “fits.” The reason for this is, in part, because we each have a unique set of values that guides our lives, including our parenting decisions. By definition, values are ‘a person’s principles or standards of behavior, or one’s judgment of what is important in life.’ Whether we are conscious of it or not, each of us is making decisions on a day-to-day basis that are rooted in what we value. Articulating what those values are is a great way to bring awareness to your decision-making, and eventually to find a sustainable parenting approach that feels values-aligned, and therefore more grounded. So, that’s exactly what we will do this month.
Values-clarifying exercise: Below you will find a list of values. As you read over them, take a moment to jot down any of the words that resonate for you. You can also feel free to add words not on this list.
After your first pass, go back through the words you wrote down and circle the ones that really resonate for you. Finally, take that shortened list, and see if you can whittle it down to three to four values. Importantly, if you have a co-parent, or if your children are pre-school aged or older, it can be incredibly helpful to do this exercise together, so that what results is a list of values that the whole family is on board with.
List of Values
Concern for others
Delight of being
Others’ points of view
Quality of work
Service to others
Once you have your short list of three to four values, next write down a couple sentences or phrases describing what that value means to you. For example, if you have a value of compassion, does that mean you give yourself compassion, or one another in your family, or perhaps it’s a value for everyone you encounter?
What does it look like to be compassionate? Does that mean forgiving yourself when you’ve made a mistake? Reminding your children that they are good humans when they fall short? Committing to see the best in one another and all people? Really getting clear on what each of these values means for your family is an important first step. Once you’ve done this, find a place (or two or three) around the house where you can post these values so that everyone in your family sees them often.
Over the course of the next month, talk about these values with one another, and explore what each value looks like in parenting. If we go back to the compassion example, what does it look like to parent with compassion when your child lies to you about breaking or losing something? What does it look like to treat yourself with compassion when you lie down in bed and reflect on the way you may have yelled at your kids that day?
Parenting from our values takes courage, because it often means we must reflect on ways we may be falling short, and that takes a lot of vulnerability. It also means we may be judged for our parenting decisions when they don’t fit what mainstream parenting tells us we should do. With practice, what results is a steady confidence, and even a sense of ease, as we continue turning inward to find the answers for how we “should” parent.
Dr. Chrissy Chard, parenting coach and educator, and the founder of Courageous Parents