Summer Perspective: Parenting with Cristina Young

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One thing about summer is that if done right, it gives us more time and space to reflect on the year that’s just gone by. I always try and find at least a few quiet moments to think about how I spent time during the year. Who was I with? What did I make a priority? And was I happy with the choices I made? I also think long and hard about the highs and lows of my parenting. There were a few moments this year where I found myself saying, “Well that was a doozy and a half?!?” One such moment occurred when one of my children asked if she could search for “Babe Lights” on my computer. Little did we both know that the toy she wanted to show me was actually called “Beyblades”. I had my back turned, and was grateful she immediately said, “That doesn’t look like the toy I am looking for mom.” I’ll leave you to imagine what comes up on the internet when you Google “Babe Light Toys”. Once I realized what had happened I went into a full blown panic and immediately blasted out texts to my trusted inner circle asking how one was meant to deal with the first time one of their children sees inappropriate content online.

At the top of my 9-1-1 first responders is the amazingly smart and thoughtful therapist Cristina Young. She’s been on the blog may times in the past, always serving up insights that allow me to give a big exhale. An “Okay. We will survive this.” sort of feeling. Her advice was so good that I knew I needed to share it with you all. Below are Cristina’s wise words on how to respond to those moments of panic.

Permission Granted by Cristina Young

Have you ever noticed that we, as parents, expect ourselves to have the perfect parenting response, at the ready, for every child-rearing situation that falls into our lap? Where did this ridiculous notion come from? Some voice in our head whispers to us, “You should know exactly which words to use right now, in precisely the right tone of voice, to deliver the perfect, parenting reaction to this alarming moment.” But we never even got the manual! The elusive parenting manual. I’m still hunting for it. So’s my husband. And it’s been almost 20 years at this sport called parenting.

Perhaps we can choose to cut ourselves some slack, instead. Recent brain research tells us that when we are agitated or escalated, we “flip our lids,” meaning we no longer can access our prefrontal cortex. That’s the part of our brain that’s home to good judgment and sound decision making. We probably have no business making any decisions regarding our children when we can’t access that part of our brain, and when we are firing from our reptilian, fight or flight part of our brain. It behooves us to press pause on any parenting moment when we feel overwhelmed or upset. Pressing pause, taking a time out, and walking away from the upsetting situation allows us to calm down and access the good part of our brain again.

What does this sound like, in front of our kids? It sounds like this: “I am so upset right now that I need to take a break and think about this. I’ll get back to you when I’m ready to talk.” You are modeling how to step away to reestablish your cool before you rupture a precious relationship with reckless words that are driven by anger. Pressing pause models for kids that our relationships with them are so significant that we want to tread carefully, not impulsively. This stepping away behavior does not, in any way, condone any wrongdoing or poor decision-making your child may have just exhibited. Instead, pressing pause on a tense situation requires the child to exercise his muscle for tolerating uncertainty. He doesn’t know if he’s in big trouble with a significant loss of privilege or if the two of you will just engage in a serious talk. These hours or days of “not knowing” allow him to grow that muscle for tolerating the unknown, not something any of us seek out, but certainly not a bad thing to expand.

Another important tactic for parents to remember is that each parenting moment is new for them when they are parenting their firstborn. In other words, parents can say to their child, “I’ve never parented a ten year old before so I’m going to take some time to ponder this. I’ll get back to you.” You do NOT owe your kid an immediate response. Give yourself permission to take some time, to consult with your spouse or parenting partner, to call your therapist, to go for a run, or to take a shower. Do what you need to do to collect your thoughts so that you are delivering the smartest response possible to your kid, the one that will nurture the relationship between parent and child rather than fracture that relationship.

Finally, know that many “correct” answers exist, not just one. The way you choose to respond to a situation might look very different than the way I choose to do so. That’s okay, as long as your response truly reflects your values and family belief systems. Sometimes, it takes us a little while to land squarely, with conviction, on what we believe about each situation. Give yourself that gift of time. Your child can wait.

Follow up thoughts from Lindley:

“Your child can wait.” Isn’t that a glorious thought? So often I feel like I am Tom Cruise (in his Mission Impossible glory days) trying to diffuse a bomb, wondering which colored wire to clip before the world comes to an end. But the thing is, Cristina reminds us, the waiting is actually good for them and us. I am 100% going to think of these words all summer long. Allowing a moment to pass, thoughts to be gathered, and responses to be thought out and calm. Thank you Cristina as always for making this parenting gig just a little bit easier.

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