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Parenting Is a Bitch, and Then They Call You One

Posted on Thu, 15 March, 2018

If you’re a parent you know the never-ending quest for parenting education and tips. You’ve looked for help with what’s normal, how to navigate certain developmental behaviors, how not to damage your kid’s mental well-being. Recently I attended two very helpful presentations encompassing all of the above: Screenagers and an in-person presentation of How To Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims. The former was a reiteration of what I already knew as a professional and a welcomed bit of support as a parent. The latter was a phenomenal experience I can only encourage you to run to. Because parenting is a bitch, and then they call you one. You need all the help you can get.

 

Read this book!

 

Nevertheless

My 12 year old isn’t even in the full throes of real adolescent fuckery, but the sneak peek he’s providing promises a real test of all my therapeutic skills. My clients bring these issues into session all the time, so I’ve heard it before, as the saying goes. In fact, I specialize in a curriculum designed to deal with strong willed teens acting out in self-destructive ways – the Parent Project™. Even if the kids aren’t in a gang or abusing drugs, there is valuable material in this approach that I’m using more and more….at home. Get familiar with the word, “nevertheless”.

 

Your kid of any age will passive-aggressively avoid doing chores, or my personal favorite protest, “But I don’t want to…..!” No one wants to do any household chores. Sure I’ve met a few people who claim to feel soothed by cleaning the house – I’m tempted to call bullshit, but I’m a therapist and we’re supposed to be non-judgmental.

You assign these ridiculous chores because no one wants to live with a person who can’t demonstrate basic functioning. And you really don’t want your future daughter-in-law complaining to you that her husband can’t do anything around the house. That’s on you.

 

My usual response is, “I don’t remember asking if you wanted to do it. I know you don’t want to do it, nevertheless, it needs to get done.” When I coach parents how to use this technique I’m very good at using a non-threatening tone of voice, patience and a calm mood. Using it as a parent has more of those unappealing qualities so I often try to pretend I’m talking to someone else’s kid – cause if you really heard how you sound you wouldn’t like you either. Try it, it works.

 

I know what you’re saying, how do you actually get them to do it?!?! The secret sauce is a more effective way of grounding – taking everything away for a short period of time, combined with refusing to take the argument bait and being consistent with the follow through. I heard this message in various forms in both Screenagers and How to Raise an Adult. Consistency is essential; in fact whatever intervention you’re implementing, even if it’s your own diet or exercise program, nothing will be effective if it’s done half-assed.

 

Putting It to Use

The premise behind Screenagers is to educate parents about the effects of too much screen time, how it neurologically affects the brain and can happen to everyone regardless of color, creed, socio-economic status, gender, sport preference, etc. The writer called herself out a couple times for modeling too much screen time. I know I do it. And so do you. Yes, you do. A chiropractor friend of mine, Dr. Dan Smith gave a presentation recently highlighting the long-term effect looking down at our phones is having on our spine: reversing the S-curve in our spine is bad news.

 

A documentary on the effects of unchecked screen time on the adolescent brain

 

I took my 12 year-old son to the screening of Screenagers at a local high school. He was afraid that meant I was getting ready to impose more restrictions, which made me chuckle – and I left it at the chuckle to make him sweat a little. At the end of the movie I promised I did not intend to restrict any further – I actually feel a little bad for the kid since his mom’s a therapist and reads all the studies that inform us to limit all this stuff. Plus since he and his sister have ADHD I also restrict food coloring (a far worse culprit than gluten or sugar for ADHD symptoms) so they need to have some life!

 

At the end of the screening we had a great conversation about the effects of screens over time and in large quantities. I was quite proud of myself for not being the typical parent a teen expects in this situation: berating, assuming. I asked point blank, “Now that you can relax knowing I’m not going to take more time away, I want to know why you think it’s necessary to put limits on at all, after what you saw tonight.” We were driving, where all the best conversations happen, and total magic followed: an honest discussion where we both listened and I validated.

 

The Helicopter

I’d like to think Julie Lythcott-Haims would have been proud of my parenting in this moment too. She has a lot to say about helicopter parenting, and until I saw her presentation, I didn’t think I had a problem with it. Literally the night of her presentation, as I recapped to my husband how inspiring it was, I caught myself offending one of her cardinal rules: don’t use “we” when describing what your kid is doing. My son is an athlete, we travel a lot for tournaments and practices – I’m used to saying “we” when describing, “we’ll” be out of town. I don’t say “we” are playing baseball, thank God! But I have caught myself saying “we” are in physical therapy (broken ankle) however, way too many times. Ugh.

 

 

Luckily Julie is a down to earth, normal mom, who uses her own struggles as a parent to drive home her message of the dangers of requiring too little of our kids. It’s what appealed the most in her presentation; in addition to her great sense of humor. There is nothing wrong with a limit if it is reasonable, executed reasonably and followed up with explanations. Anything that is imposed with utter authoritarianism is going to come back and slap you in the face.   Yes, I have lost my temper in the exasperation of explaining the same thing for the tenth time, and if you haven’t you should be writing a book. You are also lying. #thestruggleisreal

 

It is reasonable to give them the tools to try being an adult. It is also reasonable that they will fail at it a few times before getting the hang of it and showing you they are actually capable of learning. Remember how they learned to walk, potty train? ADHD requires more reminding than usual and sometimes lulls you into a false sense of desperation; them living with you until they’re 40 and you hire someone to launch them for you. Funny movie about that I’m referencing here called Failure to Launch. Terry Bradshaw is naked in it, as Terry is wont to do.

 

A big element of helicopter parenting is that the kids don’t learn how to fail, how to bounce back and pick up the pieces of their self-confidence so that life goes on. Instead, parents call the Stanford Freshman Dean and complain that their kid got poor grades while those students can barely function as individuals unless parents mediate basic self-advocacy. There’s no model for responsibility, accountability or god forbid, direct communication. These are all real examples Julie gave in the presentation, while in her job as that Stanford Freshman Dean.

 

 

Embracing the Bitch

I am at the parent/child intersection where I should give my son more freedom in his choices and therefore accountability for them and his behavior. The problem of this intersection is the staunchly ingrained protective mothering that has been necessary to raise him safely. If I’m honest, it’s also because much of the time it is just faster, and CLEANER if I do it myself. There, I’ve said it. It hasn’t helped much to say it, but there it is. Julie would relate and then chide me for getting in the way of the very job I am undertaking – launching a whole human being into the world.

 

He hasn’t called me a bitch yet, but it’s coming. His attitude is gearing up and the potential is there if I don’t take heed of all that parenting advice. Parenting is a bitch and if you’re not struggling with any part of it, or worrying about how you’re doing as a parent, then you’re not doing it right. Parenting is a bitch, so when/if he calls me one I guess I can take that as a sign I’m doing something right – I’m engaged, concerned with his welfare, won’t accept bullshit attempts at responsibilities and am holding him accountable for his choices. If that makes me a bitch I embrace it.

 

I’m more concerned about how it will go with his sister. She will definitely call me a bitch.

 

 

 

Jodi Klugman-Rabb is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Marin and Napa Counties. She specializes in connecting with clients on a humorous and practical level, helpful when specializing in Parental Identity Discovery™, ADHD and trauma. She uses EMDR to treat traumas and fears of all types. She is a wife of 18+ years and the mom of two funny and awesome kids. Connect with Jodi on her website or Facebook.

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A blog written by a hip, sometimes irreverent shrink who’s been around the block and calls it like it is

Humor is a great way to make sense of the world around us - and a little psychological perspective never hurt

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