What is your goal for parenting during this quarantine? Is it to just “survive” the process? Or perhaps might it be to “make sure I don’t screw them up too bad?” I often joke with friends that I don’t have a college savings fund for my kids, I have a therapy savings fund. My kids will probably need twice the therapy to work through their dad being a therapist. This next generation might need twice the therapy because of being stuck at home with their parents for months on end. Bless them!
Regardless if we’re talking about parenting during the quarantine or not, parenting is a two-fold challenge. First and foremost, we have to learn how to raise the kid inside ourselves. We have to be kind, respectful, loving and at the same time tough, hold boundaries, and be willing to say no to that part of us that wants instant gratification. We cannot be helpful parents until we have first admitted that we’re not that much further along than our kids are.
The second challenge is to raise our kids as unique individuals with similar and different challenges in life than what we ourselves face. Parenting our kids as though they wrestle with the exact struggles as we do is narrow minded and not helpful guardianship. I wrote about this last week in regards to parenting our kids uniquely, not as a group. Setting specific goals for our kids is a great way to drive that point home.
Similar to the SWOT+ exercise, setting of goals will also include an acronym: Parenting goals need to be REAL. Relational, Empathic, Attainable, and Loving.
Relational We need to set goals for our kids that are relational, not transactional. A goal for our kids to “keep them from bothering us so we can work” is not a relational goal, that would be a transaction. A relational goal means that both parent and child maintain connection in the process.
Empathic Put yourself in your child’s shoes. As you think about goals for them, walk around in their life for a bit. What’s it like for them to live in your house (which was not their choosing!)? What’s something that they see from their unique perspective that would be helpful for you to see as their parent? Set goals for them that consider the difficulties they are facing either in efforts at school, with their siblings, with their parents, or unique challenges. .
Attainable Set goals for your kids that they, and you, can attain. Start small, get some small wins that will snowball into something bigger. Unattainable goals are discouraging and demotivating. Enlist your child in helping to make sure the goal is attainable. Getting them to buy-in to this process will go a long way in their participation.
Loving Above all, make sure that your goals are out of love. One of the best ways that we can show love to our children is by showing interest in their life. What do they watch? Who are their best friends? What worries them? What excites them? The great author C.S. Lewis said it really well, “love is not an affectionate feeling for someone, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” We don’t have to like our kids to love them.
There are two parts to setting goals during this time. The first is goals for you as a parent. Try to set some specific goals for yourself in relation to each kid. The second is to set some goals for and with your kids. Engage them in the process. Structure, which I will talk about as boundaries more in the final assignment, provides clarity and safety for both parents and kids.
Take some time to reflect on the two previous assignments of your parenting style, and the SWOT+ and then answer the questions below.
What have I learned about myself as a son/daughter of my parents? As a parent?
What have I learned about my kids (name them individually)?
Taking into account (child’s name)’s unique strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunities/threats from me as a parent, what is one goal I want to accomplish as a parent?
What is one goal I want to help my kid accomplish?
Last week I wrote about your parenting style, which is pretty well tied into your attachment style. While these styles don’t paint the entire picture, they do give a good baseline for how we relationally approach parenting our kids. We parents carry so many stories and libraries of information around about who our kids are. Most of the time, the biggest problem with parenting is the parent. We get in the way with things like what we like and don’t like about them, what we hope for them, and what we are afraid of about them. It’s easy to feel pretty overwhelmed about how to parent them well. I’ve adapted an exercise (some might call it an assessment) that will help you get out of the way, and clearly identify the make up of your kids.
If you’ve been around team building or organizational development, you may be familiar with the SWOT analysis. This is often used in businesses and organizations to identify what’s going well, and what’s not going well both internally and externally. SWOT is an acronym for: Strengths; Weaknesses; Opportunities; and Threats. I’m adapting this exercise to use as an assessment for parenting.
We’re going to take a look at doing a SWOT+ analysis on your individual kids. You may notice that I’ve added an “+” to the original exercise described in the first paragraph. This represents the future oriented “hopes and motivations” of our kids. Each kid is a unique creation, and needs to be treated as such. Good parenting is about knowing how to engage differently with each unique child, not as though they are a heard of animals (though it sometimes feels that way).
I’ll explain the exercise and then provide an example SWOT+ to show you what it might look like. Sometimes this is better to do on a whiteboard or poster-board if you have those available. The SWOT+ assessment is a 3-part exercise addressing the make up of the child (internal), your influence as parents (external), and the future hopes and motivations of the child (eternal).
A few final thoughts before proceeding: Don’t worry about getting it right. Think of this as a living document that you’ll add/edit/change over time. The exercise doesn’t have to be linear, feel free to go back and forth over the different categories. (Warning, this is not something your child needs to see until they are mature enough — mid to late teen years.)
Internal (What’s unique about the child) Strengths & Weaknesses
Section Goal: Find out what’s your child needs help with, and what they are good at. Try to fill this section out in a 2:1 ratio of strengths to weaknesses.
Strengths Sometimes, especially with teenagers, we forget what is amazing about our kids. This might be the section your kids need to spend the most time on. What are they good at? What is a gifting of theirs that you want to name and highlight about who they are? It’s easy to miss what is good about our kids when we aren’t pointing out for them what is good. Try to balance their strengths between what they do and who they are (we are human beings, not human doings). Examples: Creative, artistic, thoughtful, follow through, compassion, remorse, empathy, plays well on their own, reading, athletic, leader, smart, competitive, relationships.
Weaknesses. What does your child lack or need help with that they are naturally not good at? Sometimes a weakness relates to an underutilized gift. Think of weaknesses as where they will need other people to help them. Weaknesses are less about normal development, and more about what they are not naturally gifted at. Examples: patience, compassion, team work, initiative, appropriate emotional regulation, relationships. If you find yourself naming more weaknesses than strengths, that might say more about you than it does about your child.
IDEA – If my son is not good with time management but is great at follow through, I might need to adjust how I give him deadlines that set him up to win opposed to a expecting him to magically become better about time management. Asking him to clean his room by 3pm today might not be specific enough for him to manage that whole process in a timely manner.
External (Parenting opportunities and threats) Opportunities & Threats
Section Goal: To name how the child’s gifts and abilities are uniquely influenced by you the parent(s). Keep in mind how your parenting style (Withdrawn, Hyperactive, Confused, Comfortable) might be helping or hurting your specific child.
Opportunities. Taking into account his/her gifts and abilities, what current opportunities are available for you to encourage and develop in your child? In this time of quarantined living, if your child is artistic, this would be a great time for them to have a portion of the day set aside to learn and develop a new type of art. Other examples might be: Reading, writing short stories, developing a new craft, hobby or skill. Opportunity has a lot to do with motivations, which we will talk about at the end. What are the unique opportunities that each parent individually has to engage in a special with your child?
Threats. Some dad’s get into “Alpha-male” battles with their sons. Some mom’s get into nagging and petty fights with their daughters. Most parents struggle with the child that is most like them. What is something that is challenging you with developing and encouraging your child in achieving their goals in this time of life? What would threaten you from helping or engaging well with them? For example, a kid loves to be outside playing games, but you’ve just had knee surgery and cannot play with them. Or more nuanced, your child needs a lot of physical touch, but you aren’t a touchy-feely person (avoidant parenting style?) keeps you from meeting this need in them.
Eternal (Encourage your childs’ purpose) Hopes & Motivations
Section Goal: Name at least one hope, and one unique motivation about your child (not about you!). What they are motivated by and hope for has a lot to do with how they will influence their world. There will never be another person in the history of the world like them, help them discover and live into who they were created to be.
Hopes & Motivations. Your child tells you often about what they hope for, they just might not say it in an obvious way. For example, my 12 year old son hopes to be included and is motivated by attention. He’s always up and about, looking for ways to be involved with his siblings or with us, his parents. When we give him a little bit of those things that motivate him, he comes alive. One of my other kids hopes for independence and is motivated by money and good food. Knowing these things is extremely helpful in how we approach each kid uniquely. If I parent my 12-year old as though he wants to be independent, he’s going to feel profoundly misunderstood. What does your child hope for, and what motivates them?
Now that we’ve talked through each of these categories, set aside some time (15-20 minutes per kid) to complete each section for each of your kids. Again, I’d recommend some posterboard or one of those “giant sticky notes” you get from an office supply store. Seeing these words written down on paper helps to clarify the process.
The next part in this series is setting goals. This will come from taking your parenting style and your kids SWOT+ and applying these to some specific goals for each one of them, and your family. Check back later this week for that post.
Have questions, or want to set up some parent coaching? Let’s connect.
Christopher – 13 Years Old Strengths: Others-centered, athletic, competitive, numbers/math, flexible, diplomatic.
Weaknesses: Attention to details, Intuition, Tends to look for others to make decisions. Has to compete with younger sister for attention.
Opportunities: Katie (younger sister) & her being in 6th grade with him next year. Gifted in soccer, mom played soccer in college, so time for them to work on this together. Has ample time to learn coding and other basic math implementations with technology.
Threats: Time with Dad b/c of dad’s work schedule. Tends to get lost in family needs/discussions because he is quiet and removed. Mom’s hyperactive parenting style can overwhelm him with too much energy. Dislikes being given multiple tasks at one time (weakness- attention to details)Hope.
Hopes & Motivations: Motivated by surprises. Wants to be a teacher when he grows up. Energized by serving/helping others.
Our style of parenting has a lot to do with our story of how we were or were not parented. How we were parented created an “attachment style” in us. These attachment styles were first developed by John Bowlby almost a century ago. His work is a guiding principle in my work as a therapist and how I engage others in their story.
How we relate and attach to others (namely our kids) has a lot to do with our attachment style, of which there are four. They are: Secure; Avoidant; Anxious; and Anxious-Avoidant (Disorganized).
Avoidant. They have a high drive for independence. They are often self-referencing (the need to have space apart from others to find and know what they think and feel). There is little trust in others, and they don’t have a strong need to be close to others. Their relationships generally provide the stress, not the comfort. “It’s not ok, and I’m only ok on my own.” Fears relational consumption.
Anxious. There is a high degree of dependency on others. They have a difficulty being on their own a part from important relationships (or, sometimes, any relationship). They are others referencing and trusting, with very little trust in self, high need for others. They themselves generally provide the stress, and they need their relationship to feel comforted. “It’s not ok, and I’m only ok when I’m with you/others.” Fears relational abandonment.
Anxious-Avoidant. This is the style that often feels chaotic to the self, and to others. It’s marked by a “disorganized self” that fluctuates often. They have a difficulty connecting with others for long periods of time. “I’m not ok, we’re not ok, and I don’t really know what is ok.” Fears relational consumption and abandonment.
Secure. These people are interdependent. They understand at an emotional level that they need others, but that they also are ok if others are not available. They have a high degree of autonomy. The “self” is defined and organized regardless if they are alone or with others. “It’s not ok, and I’m ok.” Fears abandoning or consuming others.
Most of us primarily fall into the first two categories and because we’re not static human beings, we often have a mixture of all of these styles. Some relationships will trigger a different style in us, which can sometimes feel really confusing. These are fantastic categories to help you understand yourself better, but also very helpful to know what’s behind the curtain in terms of how you interact with your children. The more we understand ourselves, the less we will need our kids to take care of us.
The styles of parenting draw a parallel line to the attachment styles I wrote about above. The four parenting styles are: Withdrawn; Hyperactive; Confused; and Comfortable.
High on shame, low on fear.
Keep kids at arms length. Fear getting close to them, or them getting close to you.
Often parents our of a “hit and run” style.
Emotionally distance themselves children to keep from feeling consumed.
Intimacy requires togetherness which comes at a loss of independence. Prefers to be independent than together.
Kids often feel alone with withdrawn parents, and cannot depend on them. Emotionally unavailable for
Communicates with logic more often sounding like a professor than a caregiver.
Flatter range of emotions. Difficulty knowing what they feel.
Often stuffs emotions, then explodes in reaction to something small.
Rises to the occasion in stress, chaotic situations. Cool under pressure.
Detached and aloof.
High on fear, low on shame.
Often referred to as the “Helicopter Parent”. Can be controlling and the dominant figure in the home.
Emotionally consume children to keep from being abandoned.
Communicates with raw emotion and tends towards bigger expressions
Wide range of emotions.
Insecure in parenting approach. Need kids approval and comfort to feel better. Preoccupied with needs of self.
Communicates with dominance, lacks collaboration in problem solving.
Does not do well with quiet. Activity is better than sitting around.
Inconsistent and anxious.
High shame and fear.
Trauma from own childhood creates instability in relationship with own children.
Chaotic emotional involvement with children.
Often blows up with the kids for no apparent reason.
Moody. Able to swing from one extreme to the next without warning.
Lack compassion or empathy for children. Blame children as reasons for own sufferings/pain.
Can be personality disordered (Narcissistic, Borderline) that results from unresolved trauma.
Appropriate shame and fear.
Able to connect with children around their needs
Willing and able to ask for help and rely on partner or others to meet children’s needs.
Communicates effectively, adjusting strength and tenderness based on each child’s unique makeup.
Ok with kids being kids. Does not need them to be the grown up.
Manages self and emotions well, does not rely on others to “rescue” them, especially the children.
Seeks forgiveness, and has a willingness to repair hurts.
Like I mentioned earlier, we all have components from all four styles, but we tend to act out of a single style. You might have different answer to this question than your spouse. That’s ok, discuss and learn what they see differently than you do.
Based on these descriptions, what parenting style best fits you? What parenting style best fits your spouse?
Take 5 minutes and discuss these styles, what’s coming up for you about this, and where you’d like to improve.
On Monday in the series, I will share an assessment tool for your kids to help you uniquely parent each one of them individually. Most of parenting is learning how to get out of your own way, this will be a tool that will help you do this.
Want to learn more about your parenting style and get some personalized help for how you’re parenting your kids? Consider setting up some parenting coaching sessions.