I went to see a parenting counselor this week.
Yes, I’m the CEO of a company called The Mom Complex and I still haven’t figured out how to be a mother. No, the irony is not lost on me.
At the beginning of the appointment, Suzanne, the counselor, started off with the basics – she inquired about the names and genders of my children, the nature of my relationship with my husband and if there was any drug or alcohol abuse in the house.
My pause on the last question gave Suzanne pause, but I quickly clarified by saying, “I mean we drink regularly, very regularly in fact. But I wouldn’t classify it as abuse per se.”
She seemed skeptical, but she quickly moved on to the next question.
Suzanne: Do you work outside the home?
Suzanne: What do you do?
Me: I own my own company.
Suzanne: And what does that company do?
Me: It’s called The Mom Complex (sheepish grin). I help develop products and experiences to make the lives of moms easier (gulp).
Ironic? Perhaps. But if there’s one thing I know to be true it’s that people who don’t ask for help don’t get help. I needed help and I wasn’t afraid to ask for it.
Why are mothers so afraid to ask for help?
We think we’re supposed to have it all figured out? Forget about it. That’s never going to happen. People like Suzanne are always going to know more than us. And that’s by design. Suzanne’s office was filled to the brim with parenting books lining the bookshelves. Every parenting struggle imaginable was covered: from ADHD and dealing with divorce to homework help and how to find your happy place.
Perfect. Sign me up, Suzanne.
I don’t want to read the books. I want Suzanne to read the books and tell me what to do.
That’s what asking for parenting advice gets you. It gets you decades of someone smarter than you studying the topic, living and breathing it every day and then imparting that wisdom to you. In this case, all I had to do was show up, pay $75 and listen.
The deal of a lifetime if you ask me.
The issue that brought me to Suzanne’s doorstep this week was my impatience. I’m tired of losing it with my kids. Here’s the way things typically play out in my house:
They drop something and I fuss at them, they don’t eat their vegetables and I lose my mind, they resist taking a shower and I huff and puff my way through forcing them to do it.
I even yell at them while saying things like, “Stop yelling at each other!”
Lovely, I know.
I could write 18 blog posts on the life-changing wisdom that Suzanne shared with me in one 60-minute session, but there’s one particular tactic that’s been a lifesaver for me. I hope it can help save your life, and your sanity, too.
Suzanne says that the greatest parenting stress and frustration occurs when we make our children’s problems our problems.
Your son doesn’t like broccoli? That’s his problem, but you make it your problem when you fuss at him all the way through dinner, telling him to take one more bite, and then one more bite, and then one more bite until you eventually lose the battle and crumble at your dinning room table in defeat.
Don’t make your child’s problem your problem.
Easier said than done, right? So, here’s how you distance yourself. The next time your child pitches a fit over something and you feel yourself about to reciprocate, follow these two steps:
Acknowledge their feelings. Wow, I know this sucks, I’d probably feel the same way you’re feeling right now if that happened to me.
Help them help themselves. Sometimes this means giving them options to choose from and sometimes it means letting them figure it out own their own. The important part is to remember that it’s their problem, not yours. They need to solve it.
I’m so blessed to be able to test this tactic out in my house each and every evening (that’s sarcasm). Maybe you can learn from some of my recent victories:
The other night Layla (8) refused to take a shower because she didn’t want her latest washable pink hair dye to disappear from her hair.
Layla: Mommy I caaaaaan’t get my hair wet before school tomorrow so it’s immmmmmpossible for me to take a shower tonight!!
Me: I hear ya, girlfriend. Your hair looks awesome and I’d want to protect it too if I were you.
Layla: I know, right? Which is why I’m not taking a shower tonight.
Me: Cleaning yourself tonight is not a choice. So go find a way to get clean while not ruining your new look.
Layla: (Stomps off in a huff, finds a hair tie and works it out.)
Read that last line again: she stomped off in a huff, found a hair tie and worked it out. She solved the problem. I didn’t yell at her. And—even better—I didn’t go upstairs with her and show her how to do it, fussing at her the entire time and treating her like she was incompetent.
Getting clean was her problem to solve.
Here’s what I’ve learned from this experiment: when I make Layla’s problem my problem, it makes me lose my mind. I immediately snap because I have enough on my to-do list and I can’t take it.
So, I stopped doing it.
Hell, even dinnertime is calmer in our house. When I set the food down on the table I say, “You don’t have to like the food I make for dinner. You don’t even have to eat it. You get to decide if you want to eat it. But if you don’t eat it, you have to go to your bedroom.”
Not liking sweet potatoes is my children’s problem, not mine. And they get to decide what to do about that problem, but we’re not going to debate it at the dinner table.
It’s important to recognize your children’s struggles, but it’s even more important to resist making them your own. “You can either work for your kids as though you’re their employee, or you can help them work through their issues,” Suzanne explained. “The latter will make you less crazy and your children more competent.”
Again, sign me up, Suzanne.
It’s OK to not know what you’re doing as a parent. One of my dear friends (and fellow mothers) was kind enough to tell me about her experience with Suzanne and now I’m telling everyone I know.
The next time you find a problem and $75, look Suzanne up. She’ll solve it for you in an instant.
Quick disclaimer: my children are 6 and 8 and this tactic works brilliantly on both of them. I have no idea what to tell you to do if your children are younger or older. But if you call someone like Suzanne, I bet they know exactly what you should be doing.