I had three children over four years. When my children were little I worked three days per week in an emotionally demanding job. I was doing my undergraduate degree and Masters degree simultaneously, and completed an art therapy qualification during that time too. My husband was also studying his Masters degree, working shift work, and was out three nights per week teaching martial arts. My children went into long daycare when they were six weeks of age because my employer didn’t provide maternity leave and I had to take my annual leave to cover the six weeks I was away.
When people who know me and how busy I have been, ask what I am doing these days, I say “running around after the kids”. It’s all I have time for. With my children at ages 12, 11, and 8, this is the period of greatest self-sacrifice and consolidation in my parenting journey so far.
I tell the parents in my groups that parenting gets harder as your children get older. And it’s true.
Sure, they are physically and emotionally demanding when they are little, but they are in your world. When they go to school they get more layers – socially, emotionally, physically, developmentally. And they are no longer almost exclusively in your world. If you don’t stay in touch with what is happening in their world, you run the risk of losing touch with where your kids are at – socially, emotionally, physically, developmentally. You may think that as your children become more physically independent of you, they need you less.
No! They actually need you more!
A work colleague told me a while back that she worked full-time when her kids were in primary school but changed to part-time when they were teens. She said that it is so important to be available for teens to talk when they need to and also to know where they are as much as possible.
I’ve worked with many parents of teens where the gap between parent and child is so wide and deep, I’ve wondered how it is possible to bridge that gap. If the child has found his or her own ‘tribe’ as a substitute for the family and no longer values the relationships within the family then it is a very difficult job, and very slow. The gap got there in the first place because parents mistook physical independence for emotional independence. As your children get older, you need to focus more on the quality of your relationship with your child. Because, developmentally, it is their job to start separating themselves from the family and forming their own identity. But they also need to know that you are there to support them when they make mistakes or when things get tricky. They need your presence and patience more. You need to be available to listen to them when they approach you. You need to know what questions to ask and when to ask them.
The following article “When do your children need you most?” may give you something to think about…
Extract – “Child and adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg agrees. “My experience is that toddlers are amazingly adaptable, and as long as they feel safe, valued and listened to, they are fine. It is teenagers – especially those who are immature and impulsive – who need their parents around. Those are the ones who are in need of close supervision, which is impossible to do by mobile phone. Carr-Gregg says the pivotal age is between 10 and 14. That’s when friendships get more complex and some kids lose interest in school. It’s also, he says, the window of opportunity to help children find their spark and become more independent. “You have to help emancipate them,” he says. “But in so doing you need quite nuanced parenting, with quite subtle changes.” While Carr-Gregg emphasises that the period before a child’s second birthday is also crucial, he says many problems stem from “free-range” parenting of teenagers. “I’m seeing a lot of kids left to their own devices who get themselves into hot water,” he says, listing alcohol and addiction to computer games as examples. “They still need supervision, but it’s different supervision. Not helicopter parenting – we don’t want that. But they need structured activities after school and on school holidays – art, music, drama, sport – and a parent looking in every now and then to check the homework is being done.””
Whilst Michael Carr-Gregg advises to have lots of structured activities, I have found the opposite has been helpful. I have had to slow things down and build in even more moments of connection. My older boys want more time to hang out with their friends after school. They don’t want to be rushing off to sports every afternoon as they did when they were younger. They like spending time concentrating on quieter, more inward activities like drawing and reading. But beware! This doesn’t mean screen time.
I was speaking to a Mum of four teens this afternoon. She said each of her children received an iPad for Christmas last year, and this year has been her worst parenting year yet. I could empathise. I regret giving my boy an iPad Mini for his twelfth birthday. It now has so many restrictions on it, he wonders why he got it at all. Precisely. With it he is gnarly and snarly. Without it, after a period of readjustment, my sweet boy returns. The Australian government recommends two hours of screen time, maximum, per day, up to the age of 18 (that’s all types of screens). Last night, I had to banish my two older boys to a screen-free area, and after spending time chatting with me and with each other, they became human again. Parenting is a balance of taking charge and being kind.
Australian psychologist Phil Nunn says that parenting is like having a rope around your waist. Our job is to figure out when to let the rope out and when to reel it in. I liken the rope to the parent-child relationship. If there’s no relationship, there’s no rope. Kids flail about in the world when they don’t have a rope connecting them to someone who is bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind (Circle of Security). I use this rope metaphor when I’m talking to my kids. I tell them “I’m only prepared to let the rope out this far, because I’m worried about …” or I say “this is me reeling the rope in”.
To parents of little ones, don’t think this information doesn’t apply to you yet. START NOW! Make your parenting as positive as it can be. Start building the relationship with your children now, so it is rock solid by the time your children are nine years of age (because there big changes coming at the age of 9). Get your children used to lots of communication now. Use reflective listening and organise their feelings now, so your children get used to it. Give them lots of hugs. Use descriptive praise. Fill your parenting toolbox with lots of strategies.
Heed my mantra – “Start now, start now, start now”. And my other mantra? – “it’s never too late to start building a relationship with your child”.
So, what is the answer to the question? When does parenting get easier?
If you speak with parents of adult children, they say that it’s always changing and you are constantly evolving to keep up with the kids. Too true. In order to grow your kids up you need to grow as well. It’s frequently not easy, but it is so very worthwhile.
Categories: Parenting Skills