Yes, it’s a radical thing for a parent coach to say since that’s often why moms and dads first seek out my support.

“Our son whines all the time, we just want it to stop.”

“My daughter only wants me to comfort her. She never lets her dad near her when she’s upset. I’m so drained.”

“I can’t get my oldest to wait patiently when his younger sister is needing me. It’s like he has to have my full attention every minute of every day.”

Of course we all want solutions to the issues that feel frustrating or confusing. Plus we don’t enjoy dealing with the same problems day in and day out for what can seem like forever. And problem solving (aka solution finding) is a large part of what effective parent coaching can provide. The issue is, however, that if we’re constantly using (or seeking) quick fixes, we’re missing part of the blessing that being a parent affords — the chance for tremendous personal growth.

"Making sense of life can free parents  from patterns of the past that have imprisoned them in the present." Dan Siegel and Mary Hartzell

Problems aren’t universal

Yes, many parents will seem to have the same issues – handling their child’s “willful” behavior, dealing with meltdowns, trying to get children to eat (or stay at the table, or eat neatly, or eat the “right foods”), getting from one location to another without it being a Broadway production. These problems — or rather their outward expression — are on the surface, but if you delve underneath, you’ll find the personal twist. The real issue is how the experience is a problem for YOU. In other words, what gets triggered in you when your child behaves in “that way.”

Let’s take a couple of real life examples with cooperation to make it clear.

  • Marie was struggling with her son’s seeming inability to cooperate with her requests. From her viewpoint he was stubborn and obstinate and when he got that “NO!” fired up or ran from her whenever she started to ask him to pick up his toys, Marie felt small and weak. For her, it was easier to do the tasks herself so she didn’t have to face her loud, defiant boy. She was tired of “doing battle” just to have a clear walkway through her son’s room.
  • Jan’s surface issue was the same. She wanted to know how to get her daughter to cooperate more and be a “team player” now that she was seven and could actually do things to help out at home. After making requests of her daughter multiple times, Jan felt anger rising: “It’s such little things. Rose is such a spoiled brat. She hardly does anything around here.” Feeling resentful and unappreciated, Jan would be cold and even sometimes shame Rose with talk of how “good girls” would behave instead.

Problems with your children are a chance to heal yourself

As you can see, though Marie and Jan saw the problem as the same, the results were different for each of them. Marie felt powerless and chose to “give in,” while Jan felt angry and “fought back.”

When we started examining the problems and how each woman dealt with the issue, we got to the heart of the matter.

  • The way Marie’s son reacted to her requests — stubbornness and being unreachable (running away in his case) — reminded Marie of how her mother had seemed to her when she was young. Marie’s mom wanted Marie to be self-reliant and didn’t offer much help to Marie. Even if Marie whined or begged, her mom maintained a distance and reminded Marie that “You’re old enough to do that,” or “Big girls can do this by themselves.” Ultimately, Marie just gave up asking for help and either struggled on alone or gave up and moved onto doing something else.
  • Jan was a single mom who worked outside the home full-time so she often felt guilty for the lack of attention that she thought Rose had. Jan was also a recovering people-pleaser and worked really hard to make her time with Rose easy and fun. At the same time there were real tasks to get done to help life run smoothly. Jan felt conflicted about household chores being neglected and her desire to spend her time with Rose in fun ways, so she “compromised” by trying to stuff more doing into less time. She often felt exhausted and sad that she was “alone” without someone to help her. At some point she even started to resent Rose’s “easy” life and repeated what she’d learned from her childhood — people will pitch in if you withhold your love or make them feel bad about themselves.

Solve problems and heal your past simultaneously

Marie and Jan had both tried some of the same strategies for their “cooperation” issue. While they’d gotten their children to pitch in, the issue didn’t disappear because the underlying triggers were still there to pop up. In fact, I believe that their children persisted in their “uncooperative” behavior so that these moms could actually dismantle their past conditioning that wasn’t working. When Jan and Marie became willing to look beyond the surface problem, they took the first step in finding a sustainable solution. As they each worked on their own issues, they responded to the resistance from their children in different ways — and often the resistance they’d come to expect didn’t even materialize in the first place. In a way it felt like magic.

  • “Sometimes I’ll think ‘I need to remind Sam that it’s clean up time.’ When I go to tell him this, I find him in his room neatly stacking his books up and his blocks are already put away,” said Marie.
  • “I started to give Rose regular tasks to do. Not much, but some things she can do without my supervision and sometimes even things that she can do to earn her own money. The house isn’t as clean as my dream home would be, but we’re actually learning to find joy in routines and simple pleasures like having clean clothes hanging in our closets ready to wear,” shared Jan. “I’ve stopped trying to be super mom and found out that Rose really wants to be my partner in keeping our home liveable.”

Yes, as parents we’d all like our problems to be visitors instead of permanent residents. If we’re rushing to eliminate our dilemmas without digging more deeply, however, we’re liable to find the same or similar problems arising before long. Sustainable solutions to our parenting problems come when we look below the surface issue with our child to the roots within us that have us stuck.

Have a parenting issue you’d like to solve…and heal some of your old stuff at the same time? I hold complimentary coaching sessions via phone and skype during weekly office hours. Let’s get working!