Stressed Out Parents and the Art of Staying Positive

By Ellen Doman

parent_child_dsEvery week somewhere in the U.S. a mother sits across from me and wrings her hands or pulls at her hair and tells me what a terrible job she is doing as a parent. The really odd thing about it is that this parent’s child might be doing great. In the midst of her own anguish over what she isn’t getting done, the mother doesn’t see the progress. What a waste!

I’m going to share with you a fact that my grown children have shared with me: a parent’s worry doesn’t do the child any good. Guilt doesn’t either. What both of those emotions do is rob the parent of their hope and enthusiasm, of their joy and creativity. As parents attempting to look to our child’s future, there appears to be much to potentially worry about each day. We would all like to save our children from the pitfalls that may lie ahead. We cannot, however, accurately predict all of those pitfalls and often lose sleep over things that don’t happen and may never happen. In short, we don’t even necessarily worry about the right things.

A worried parent is not attentive to what is currently happening. Parents constantly miss spontaneous speech in their own children because they are talking themselves, often about their concern that their child isn’t talking yet. I am far from exempt when it comes to worry or guilt. I do my fair share of being buried in both emotions. It is essential, however, that we concentrate on what is happening with our children now. It is essential that we be emotionally available to our children now. It is the very children over whom we are wringing our hands who will lose out while we do that. You really can’t interact with Mom if she is busy worrying or beating herself up about what she didn’t get done.

Try this exercise and see if it helps. Try dealing with this very moment. Try staying in the “now” with your child. Set aside tomorrow, next week or next year and also set aside what you didn’t do yesterday or last week. Today your child is here, available to you and ready to learn from you. Today you are here, hopefully available to give your child the full attention and interaction that he or she needs to progress. Today is a rare opportunity to be with this person to whom you are devoting much of your life. Seize the day!

You have spent time and effort, potentially countless hours seeking help for this child. You have spent and will spend lots of time and energy to help this child achieve wonderful things. Don’t miss it. Don’t miss the progress. Don’t miss the joy in achieving improvement. Don’t miss the language, the thoughts, the first social smile, attempt to play, or light of recognition in your child’s eye.

Tonight I was out to dinner with one of the families in Chicago. This mom has worked for many days, weeks, months and years with her son. As we sat together, our daughters started laughing at something silly. Hunter was sitting leaning on me and started laughing with them. He then reached for his spoon to get a little more yogurt. He couldn’t always do those things and wouldn’t have always paid attention to what was going on with the other kids. Now as he sat and laughed with us, I thought what a great moment it was to sit, laugh and hang out with Hunter whose success can be directly attributed to the mother who sat there with us.

Pat yourself on the back, parents. You are remarkable people, dedicated to your children beyond what many people would do. Let go of the guilt and the worry. Be about the joy and excitement of helping to create change in your child. Aren’t the two of you lucky to have each other?!


Reprinted by permission of The NACD Foundation, Volume 22 No. 5, 2009 ©NACD

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