Aha! Parenting Blog

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Is All This Hard Work To Parent Peacefully Really Worth It?

Some time ago I ran a note from a parent who was wondering if all this hard work to parent peacefully was worth it:

"Your website does make me feel I can do better, maybe even stop yelling if I can just get enough sleep. But does it really work? I love my kids, but staying patient when they act up is hard. That's not how I was raised. I'm no saint. If I do all this, will my kids really act nicer and listen better? Or will they just take advantage of me being nice, and act even worse? No offense, but it's easy to give advice. Mostly on your website people ask for advice and you give it but we don't hear whether it works. It would make my day if there are parents who try to do all this and it actually works."  -Lindsey

So I asked you to share your parenting stories to make Lindsey's day. The response, in the form of blog comments, Facebook posts and replies direct to my email inbox, was a torrent of encouragement for Lindsey and for all of us, an affirmation that YES, Love actually works.

Some of these parents learned the peaceful parenting approach from my Online Course. Others are simply readers of this website, which is a free public service. Virtually every parent said that it was hard work to change their parenting habits and that they were still a work in progress. But each of these parents also described miracles of connection and transformation, simply from holding the intention to parent peacefully, and giving themselves the support to learn new skills.

Over and over, these everyday hero parents repeated ten essential themes. I want to share them with you here.

1. This is the hardest work there is and you don't have to be perfect.

Every parent is a hero just for getting up every morning determined to do their best for their child. We all struggle to control our anger and to choose love in our interactions with our children, usually on a daily basis. No one is perfect -- and we don't need to be. If we can apologize to our child, re-connect, and try again, we're headed in the right direction. And we're modeling what our children need to grow into emotionally healthy adults.

  • "I am not perfect, I have times where I still make mistakes, but my kids know that mistakes are just learning opportunities and we are all able to recover quickly and reconnect."

  • "Difficult times, including those in which I may not have parented as I would have liked, can actually create very productive conversations after the fact. You have taught me that I should never expect perfection from myself. Thank you for teaching me to forgive myself. This has truly liberated me to think of myself as a good parent... thereby leading me to make better and more loving parenting decisions!"

  • "I'm certainly not perfect, but Dr. Laura gives us permission to be imperfect and try again. If someone has acted less than their best, we can always 'do over' - and that includes me."

2. It's not selfish to take care of you. It's essential, to be the parent your child deserves.

You can only give your child what you have inside. Keeping your own cup full, getting enough sleep, and de-stressing gives you more internal resource. Remember, overwhelm comes from more demand on the outside than resource on the inside. The more support you give yourself, the more internal resource you have to draw on. 

  • "The turning point for me was when Dr. Markham talked about parenting with your own cup full. If we enter the day empty, we have nothing to give to our children. Finding ways to refresh my energy is vital so I get up at 6am every morning and go for a walk by myself. It helps me energize and focus so I'm ready to meet the day and the needs of my children."

  • "I realize now that I needed to take better care of myself, create some good boundaries, and do some "heart" work to fix some of the parenting ideas I'd been given by my parents. Once you become fully aware of your own needs, it makes it much much easier to meet others'." 

  • "It definitely helps to be well rested and to slow life down as much as possible. When we don't have to rush everywhere; he has time to explore everything he wants/needs to and I can enjoy watching him see the world for the first time."

3. Limits with empathy encourage cooperation.

All children have big emotions. All children sometimes have a hard time accepting our limits. Most of us get distracted by their emotional resistance, and resort to threats, which just escalates the drama. But when we can do the hard work to empathize and see things from our child's perspective, even while we set limits, our children are more cooperative.

  • "Just today, we were driving home from the park. I had forgotten to bring a snack with us so my four year old son was tired and hungry. He started to say that he wanted to go a restaurant for dinner. Then he started to whine. Then he started to scream. I could feel my patience wearing thin as i was tired and hungry too.  but I managed to stay calm and say soothing things like, I know you wish you could eat at that restaurant for dinner. You're sad. You're yelling. Now you're crying. You really really want to go there for dinner. We got home and I felt immediate pressure to start the dinner we were both hungry for but instead, I sat with him in the car and told him I'd hold him as long as he wanted. Funny thing was, it didn't take that long. He cried and then let out a big sigh and said, 'I really did want to go to that restaurant and I was crying so much about it.' Miraculously (or so it seemed to me) we were able to move into the house and get dinner started and I felt pretty connected to him throughout. The whole evening went well after that."

  • "My son was banging his head on the ground or against my husband or me during tantrums. We followed exactly what you outlined in your article on an 18-month-old boy doing the same things. Following your advice has meant our son rarely has tantrums anymore, and when he does, we always react with compassion and love and give him words for his feelings while we hold him. The tantrum quickly dissipates. He neither hits his head nor us during tantrums anymore."

  • "Yesterday I was warning my almost 6-year-old that there wasn't much time to play with a great new creation. He overflowed with anger and lashed out to punch me (this used to happen often, but less and less all the time). I said, taking hold of his hands, "Wow, you are really angry. This makes you so mad you want to hit me. It's okay to be mad, but it's not okay to hit me." He crumpled into tears and I continued to validate, "You came up with a really great idea, I can see you are super excited about it, and you really want to try it. There will be some time when we get home later to play for a while. And tomorrow we have nowhere to go, you can play all afternoon." He was more calm, but not convinced. I tried not to look at the clock and worry about how we were going to get out the door. Then I said cheerfully, "I have an idea - how about if you put on your shoes and coat [usually a major challenge], and you can play for *5* minutes while I get your brother dressed and load the car?" That was enough to get him going, and he was able to stick to the limit, and we out on time. I'm sure that if I had succumbed to my own anger, it would have been a terrible battle, and we might never have made it!"

4. It's healing to accept all emotions -- our child's and our own.

Emotions aren't an emergency. They're part of being a healthy human, necessary to our internal guidance system. Parenting peacefully does not mean that we ignore our own hurts or that we become inauthentic with our child. It means that we take responsibility for our emotions and working them through, rather than taking them out on other people. We can be honest with our children about our feelings, without making it their fault or attacking them. Accepting emotions doesn't mean we necessarily act on them. Children learn from watching us how to manage difficult emotions -- including handling our anger responsibly.

  • "My four-year-old son sometimes bursts into tears (with yelling) over seemingly ridiculous things. Last weekend, my son started crying and screaming at me over something I can’t even remember now. I took a deep breath and resisted the urge to make him be respectful towards me and to basically tell him to get over it (my past usual reaction). I held him on my lap and let him cry. I told him I understood why he wanted to do that and that it was hard not to be allowed to do things you want to do and that I bet he would do that all day long when he got bigger. He cried for maybe one minute, got up and said, 'Okay, I’m done. Let’s go to the park!' In the past, these incidents would turn into major battles and end in my feeling exhausted and like a horrible parent because I didn’t have the patience I needed."

  • "I was determined to not yell, but I didn't know what to do instead so I've been plastering a smile on my face every day and sneaking off to another room so my 2-year-old son wouldn't see me cry every time I break down. I had my 'Aha!' parenting moment a few weeks ago when I finally yelled out in anguish, 'I can't take it any more! I just need you to lay down so I can put a diaper on you!' He just laid down with a look that said, 'Gee, I didn't realize it was so important to you.' Then I realized that just plastering a smile on my face wasn't getting the point across. My son needs to see all of my emotions, not just the happy ones, to understand me and to understand how emotions work. I wasn't being honest with him or myself. I've learned so much from your emails about how to interact positively with my son instead of having just "not yelling" as my only parenting tool. Now I can be firm without being angry and find humor in just about everything he does because I'm not tied up in a need to control his actions.

5. This work takes courage and determination, but step by step, it gets easier.

You're learning new skills to self-regulate, connect, and coach your child, so this takes time as you re-train your automatic habits. But like any new skill, every time you practice, you get better at it. And the results you see in your child will motivate you through the hard moments.

  • "The more I read Laura's material and implement it into my everyday language, the easier it becomes."

  • "It took a lot of faith that what Dr Laura said would work, and so much of it went against conventional wisdom that I was afraid to be the laughing stock among my friends. But having nothing else in my parenting bag to try, I went for it. It was pretty hard for the first month or two - hard mentally. I had to stop my reactions, first of all, which was the most difficult thing. Once I could slow my reactions down and see what I was doing, see how it affected my daughter, and realize my own personal pain that I was projecting onto her, it rapidly became easier. Each time I reminded myself that a tantrum was no emergency, that her feelings wouldn't hurt me, and that I could just stay separate but supportive during her outbursts, it was confidence building. The tantrums grew shorter - but I cannot lie and tell you that it wasn't painful to hear some seemingly UNENDING tantrums at first. But then, when the tantrum was done - it was DONE! No lingering whining, no continued begging for this or that, no hitting or kicking. It's like the whole issue just disappeared: *poof!* The magic really happens when I see how easily my little girl lets go of all the awful, even hurtful mistakes I make, and now that she's old enough, she will openly tell me what she is feeling. All I have to do is wait it out, let her have her feelings, and let her know that I'm on her side - even if I can't give her all she wants. My daughter just turned three, and I tell you that now I am NOT AFRAID of tantrums anymore because they don't have the power to make me want to fight or run from my daughter, and I don't feel out of control even when I am tired, because I know what to do, how to love her the best I can, and that it works!"

  • "My 4 year old says he likes it that I don't shout as much and that makes him feel "warm inside.' I actually notice that my brain must be re-wiring, because I see myself staying calm now in situations that would have pushed me over the edge before taking your Course."

6. It's never too late. 

No matter how old your child is or how ugly they are acting, if you change how you show up, and make it safe for your child to show you their feelings, you can heal your relationship. And when you are headed down a bad path, you can always stop, take a breath, apologize and take a "do-over." Every human relationship has some conflict. Your child learns from you how to navigate differences constructively, make repairs, and apologize.

  • "As soon as I start operating like we are on the "same team," my son picks up on my attitude shift and often immediately softens his behaviors and is ready to compromise."

  • "The best part about peaceful parenting is that you don't have to be perfect. You have to be real, honest and able to say you were wrong. Instead of creating blow up moments in your day you are creating connections, loving times and sharing your real emotions with your children. These real moments teach our children how to be the best they can be, not perfect, just real."

  • "Sometimes, I still run out of patience and have to apologize. My son now apologizes to me too when he runs out of patience and explains to me that he was just frustrated but didn’t mean it."

7. Most of us are healing our own childhoods.

Interrupting the cycle of pain is hard, messy work that takes awareness and tears. But you're healing yourself, liberating your child, and gifting your grandchildren. What work could be more important?

  • "I wasn't brought up this way, and I have clear memories of my feelings as a preschooler and it still hurts to this day. The distance with my mother is big. So I know what doesn't work."

  • "I came from a family with lots of yelling and I'm still recovering from it. I see my sisters yell at their kids and it breaks my heart to see my nieces and nephews shut down and look hurt and humiliated. That style of parenting is all about asserting authority over the child. I wouldn't treat anyone else in my life like that (family, friends, even strangers) so I never understood why we do that to our children."

  • "I always knew that I didn't want to be the kind of parent who spanks or yells or throws things at a child when upset at my child. My mom did those things to me. I have an anxiety disorder and also experienced major depression that are related to the authoritarian manner in which I was raised.

  • "My own mother was very strict and yelled and even threw things around to vent her anger. It was often directed at us, her children. I loved my mother dearly, but I was afraid of her. To her dying day (less than two years ago; I am in my 40's) I was still afraid of saying the wrong thing or 'getting in trouble,' as much as I loved and needed her (and miss her so much). I vowed that my children, while respecting me, would NOT be afraid of me."

8. There is always a way back to connection.  Love is the way.

Everyone gets stuck sometimes. You don't have to know how to untangle the whole mess. Just start with yourself. Take one positive step, acting from love, and it will lead to the next. Love never fails.

  • "There are so many moments over the past 6-8 months that I have been implementing this approach in our family that have blown my mind in how fantastic they work and how quickly the connection has been restored for our family. I think one of the most profound for me was when we were at the park one evening. I never take phone calls at the park (my boys immediately take it as a signal to act out) but I was waiting to hear back from a doctor and it was urgent. I was on the phone for less than 5 min. but it was enough time for my son to get really worked up about it. Just as I was about to get off the phone he came over to me with a HUGE stick and was lifting it in the air and playing very rough and unsafe with it. He started jabbing it towards me and I immediately got off the phone. There were plenty of parents around checking out what I was going to do about this situation. Something clicked in me, I was able to stay ahead of my emotions, realize that my son was wanting to play with me at the park and didn't like that I was on the phone. So I held the stick away from us so it wouldn't hurt us. I told him in a stern voice to drop the stick and he did. I said 'Are you upset that I was on the phone?' He said 'Yes!' I said 'Did you want to play with mama at the park?' He said 'Yes!' I told him he was playing rough and unsafe with the stick and we needed to take it somewhere it wouldn't be in the way of all the kids playing. We did that together and then I suggested we play hide and seek. His face immediately turned from sour to SO HAPPY and we played together for a few minutes. He was running, laughing, hugging me when he found me. In the past I would have flown off the handle, yelled, told him we were leaving immediately, and have stormed away from the park and still been upset when we got home. I couldn't believe how much just validating his feelings, sharing a task together and playing changed his mood and behavior instantly. It was incredible."

  • "Children are not the enemy. During a terrible period of stress - deaths, financial disasters, family problems - my wonderful relationship with my wonderful four-year-old daughter was eroded by my crazed exhaustion, work pressures and stress. She reacted to my tension by having difficulty going to sleep. I started smacking her bottom out of sheer, exhausted rage. One night, I started smacking her legs, furious at her for making even more demands on me, and then, seeing the terror on her face - I was frenzied - I suddenly stopped. What had I become? My hideous mother? I actually prayed for help - I never pray - went online, and found the Aha! website. On reading it, I cried and cried. The next day, I told my daughter I would never hit her again. It's been six months, and our relationship is back to where it was: magic."

9. If you're struggling, don't give up. Give yourself more support.

If your plant is wilting, you don't yell at it to straighten up. You don't turn away in shame. Instead, you consider what support it needs. More sun? More water? A bigger pot? If you're struggling as a parent, that's because parenting is just plain HARD! It requires us to grow and change. What support would help you? Listening daily to inspiring audios? Meditating? Getting more sleep? Being more loving toward yourself? Working with a parenting coach? There's no shame in asking for help. The only shame would be looking back in a few years and wishing you had acted now.

  • "I can do this if I take it one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time, one moment at a time. If I break it down like that it's so much more manageable. It's hard to change habits, and it doesn't happen overnight."

  • "I had almost given up when I found your online course. I can now see that what I needed to heal was myself, not my difficult daughter. Amazingly, as I worked my way through the course, she started changing. But it's because I changed."

  • "I am trying to reframe their endless need for me as a good thing, and one that is worthwhile trying to fulfill. And I'm reminding myself that we are all trying -- that we are all communicating, and we all love each other, and we are doing better today than last month, and we will figure it out."

  • I can tell you from my own experience that providing your child with a loving, compassionate, scream free, judgement free household has not just been a gift that I have given to my children, but it is a gift I have given to myself. I have grown by leaps and bounds not just as a parent, but as a person as well."

10. Peaceful Parenting teaches the most important lessons -- and raises great kids.

Parents in the trenches echo decades of child-development research, which support the effectiveness of peaceful parenting's three basic precepts -- parental self-regulation, connection, and emotion-coaching -- to raise emotionally intelligent, cooperative kids.

  • "I worried that this approach might spoil my kids or cause more misbehavior, but it helps them to want to try to be better (notice the word here is better, not perfect)."

  • "Among her peer group, she has fewer tantrums and listens more attentively and is more amenable to correction than the others are, whose mothers use threats, time-outs, punishments, and ignore, sometimes literally walking away from, 'ugly' feelings and behavior. This sort of treatment does seem to stop the unwanted behavior in the moment. But it always returns, it seems to me. "

  • "We were in an interview with his teacher after our four year old started school and she said how mature and sensitive he is and how he can make his thoughts and feelings known without going into melt down. It was this that really helped me see that kids do learn by example and I was so proud of him!"

  • "I used to have homework battles every night. Since starting peaceful parenting, now my kids are very responsible and the two oldest ones are high honor students, and they actually love math and science. They write poetry, they sing, they all have a love for piano and my house is more often than not filled with music and joy....The teacher told me that all of my kids have this "goodness" to them that is contagious. Also my kids choose really good loving, creative, and supportive friends."

  • "I volunteer in a community centre and I see the yelling, the time outs, the threats etc., and I note how they simply do not work. They might get short-term results, but I can see the child fuming, misunderstood, frustrated. The happy, content, well-'behaved', mannered toddler who I live with, has so much to do with what Dr. Laura teaches."

Yes, parenting is hard work. But you can do hard things, if you give yourself support! You are never alone. We are all figuring it out, every day. Two steps forward, one step back still takes you where you want to go. Soon, you'll find yourself in a whole new landscape.

Thanks for doing the hardest work there is, to change the world one person at a time. And thanks for sharing your miracles, large and small.

***

Want to share your peaceful parenting story?
Please write to me: DrLauraMarkham@AhaParenting.com. I can't answer questions via email (or I'd never get to these blog posts!) but I love to hear from parents, and I read every word. 

Want more support?
You still have time to enroll in the Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Online Course that starts in mid-January. Registration closes this Thursday. Less drama. More love. Guaranteed!



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