Last week we spoke about chanoch l’na’ar al pi darcho–“teach a child according to his way”–and how we can apply this to our own parenting. We parents need to find our own strengths and work with them.
It seems as if being a mother always seem to bring out our biggest insecurities. When I first became a mom I was always wondering, Am I doing it right?
Am I feeding her enough times during the day? Is this the way you are supposed to give a bath?
As they get older it gets even harder. Should I let him wear his favorite sweater everyday? Is it okay that he will only eat macaroni?
In the back of my mind there was always that nagging voice that said, “You are doing it all wrong!”
This is why it is so important for a parent to espouse the principles of positive psychology. The mother who understands her unique strengths will be more comfortable and confident in her parenting abilities. She will be more productive and will be able to better interact with her children and parent more effectively. She and her children will exhibit greater happiness and well-being.
Haim Ginott, an eminent psychologist in the 1960s and ’70s addressed this issue of strengths in his parenting classes. One mother was feeling badly because her child had asked her to volunteer to be the class mother and she told him no. She complained to Dr. Ginott: “What’s the matter with me? Why can’t I be like other mothers?”
Dr. Ginott responded firmly:
A question like that only confuses. It presupposes that we should feel like other people. But we don’t. We’re not other people. We’re ourselves. You are you. We come back to the same thing again. We can only feel what we feel. And we really feel differently–each one of us does–not only about being class mother, but about everything. One mother loves to bake with her children, and another can’t stand having them underfoot in the kitchen; one loves gathering the little ones around to read aloud, another shudders at the thought. We each have our strengths and our limitations.
Here are five questions we can ask ourselves that can help us find our strengths, our uniqueness and our individual style, so that we can parent happily, productively and effectively.
1. What aspect of mothering do you find energizing? What comes easily to you?
We often spend a lot of time focusing on our weaknesses. Our dress is wrong for the party, our house is not clean enough, our children aren’t polite enough and the neighbor does it all better than we ever could. We need to stop looking at what we think we are doing wrong and concentrate our efforts in searching for our areas of competence. Those are our strengths. It is the part of mothering and nurturing that comes most naturally to us. It is the stuff that makes us feel fulfilled and whole.
Think about what you love to do with your kids. Is bath time or feeding your children their favorite foods one of your preferred activities? Do you enjoy cuddling time and curling up to read a good book? Do you love to take your kids out and about town to a new exhibit at a museum or do you like making popcorn and watching old movies with everyone on the couch? Somehow we always push ourselves to do the hard stuff, things we don’t like to do. Ironically, our strengths lie in the activities that we do effortlessly.
2. When do you feel good about your parenting?
Is it the hugs and kisses from your children or teaching your children to tie their shoes and ride their bikes? Do you enjoy when your child shares with you something new that they have learned, like the lifecycles of a butterfly or the habits of a beaver? Or do you relish hands-on activities, like arts and crafts or sewing?
Most of my clients do not tell me about their best parenting moments. They mostly share the times they messed up. In one of my classes we decided to change that. Everyone was required to tell a story of at least one time where they felt they did it all right. Parents realized, “Hey, I am not so bad after all.” Focus on the positive aspects of your parenting and you will gain an appreciation for yourself and all that you do.
3. What are your five best qualities as a person and how do you use them to enhance your relationship with your children?
Here is a short list of character traits that can help you determine those 5 qualities:
Honest, cheerful, independent, artistic, wise, athletic, spiritual, fun-loving, laid back, caring, spontaneous, thoughtful, practical, flamboyant, kind-hearted, brave, logical, calm, discreet, cooperative, brave, giving, punctual, friendly, warm, tactful, adventurous.
You want to cultivate your best qualities and find ways to connect with your children using those traits that you are most proud of.
If you are a kind-hearted, compassionate person then empathizing with your child probably comes naturally to you and you can easily find ways to relate to your child. If you are independent minded, then teaching your children the life skills to stand on their own two feet is something you will do naturally. A flamboyant and adventurous type of mom will teach her children to enjoy life and find joy in the unexpected.
4. What aspect of mothering overwhelms you?
Be honest with yourself. Some moms are more energetic than others. Be real about your capabilities and work with them. If you have a low threshold for typical mommy tasks, get help. Hire a babysitter or cleaning service. If that is not an option, have a heart-to-heart talk with your spouse, or get your mother, mother-in-law or sister to pitch in.
Touchy-feely moms might feel overextended because they do too much for their children. Talk to your more independent-minded friend to get tips on how to get your kids to help. Independent moms, on the other hand, might balk at an overly sensitive child. Moms who are emotional can return the favor and teach those moms to better deal with the world of feelings. The adventurous mom might have a hard time with the schedule and strictures of parenting. She might want to use her imagination to do her chores in a fun original way.
Being realistic with yourself and acknowledging your weaknesses in a soft way allows you to expend your energy on finding creative and practical solutions to manage your limitations.
5. What do you do to recharge and relax?
Moms need time for themselves. It is a necessity. Mothers need to unwind and just be. The demands of family can leave you drained and cranky. Everyone has her own way of relaxing. Find your personal preference.
Do you love spinning class, curling up with a good book, a stimulating lecture or getting together with friends?
You can also think about what you loved to do as a child and haven’t done in a while. I l enjoyed ice skating as a kid. When my daughter took lessons so did I. I rediscovered a forgotten pastime. Instead of going to the gym, once a week I head to the ice rink. Take note of what relaxes you and try to fit it into your schedule as much as possible.
Notice that nowhere do I suggest asking yourself, What does your best friend do as a parent that makes you feel inadequate and why aren’t you trying to copy her? What gives you the most guilt? How did your mother parent and why haven’t you done everything you can to emulate her?
To tap into your, unique, individual personal strengths, the questions you need to ask are the ones that force you to turn inward and take a good deep look at yourself–in a positive, productive way.
Our personal strengths are the things that we are naturally good at and and vitalize us. To increase our joy, contentment and pleasure in our children and our families we need to cultivate and build our parenting strengths.
Very simply, the key to our happiness and ultimately to our children’s happiness is to find what we love about mothering and do more of it.
Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP, works as a Parent Educator for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau facilitating How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk workshops as well as workshops based on Siblings Without Rivalry. Adina also runs parentingsimply.com.