Crying, screaming, biting, whining, throwing food, pulling hair, making a mess, answering back, swearing, screen battles, refusing to do homework or go to bed, taking drugs, not coming home. And that’s just me.
Oh yeah, parenting is full of challenges that will push you to your limits and beyond, making you feel that strange cocktail of love, anger, helplessness, fear and despair.
As the mum of an autistic child, I’ve also had to get used to the idea that parenthood isn’t always the straightforward, happy place I thought it would be when the lines on a stick first turned blue.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be great parents, and then wonder why we end up a version of ourselves that is hard to like – let alone inspire the kind of confiding intimacy with our children that we dreamt of.
And yet, we expect to be able to do all this without any help: The hardest job on the planet with zero salary and zero training. Back in the new-born days, many of us read baby manuals – these have been shown to reduce your confidence – the more baby books a mother reads, the more depressive symptoms and the lower self-confidence she reported. This insightful analysis at the baby industry is well worth a look.
Books can be amazing resources, but with raising small people they only get you so far before the perfectly formed theory hits messy reality. Once I’d realised the traditional methods of ‘threats and rewards’ are not only ineffective, but damaging to my relationship with my children, it felt like I was learning a new language – which is pretty hard to do on your own. I knew where I wanted to be, but couldn’t work out how to get there.
I decided to try a parenting coach instead – someone who could teach me the theory like a book would, but then take it to the next level and make it real and relevant to MY life and MY issues.
Andrea Rippon of Practical Parenting Skills runs courses in Parent Effectiveness Training. I was attracted by the ethos of honest communication, seeking understanding and shared problem solving that her approach encourages.
I soon discovered that the main premise behind it is instantly liberating – THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BAD BEHAVIOUR. What even when she kicks my head while I’m driving? Even when he gives that look he knows will make his sister explode? Yep. All behaviour is communication – it might not be the clearest form of communication but they are doing their best with the skills they have right now to meet their needs.
From this starting point, Andrea busts plenty of myths around parental consistency (get this YOU DON’T NEED TO BE CONSISTENT – adaptability is a far more useful skill), helps us explore which values we should hang on to from our own childhood (are those values truly serving you and your family) and guided us to speak to our children in a respectful way that engenders their respect towards us, even from the earliest age.
The true beauty of the sessions is giving yourself a space each week to think about how your family functions, and the chance to have personalised, targeted advice from Andrea. My group had a warm, sharing atmosphere where honesty was our currency and we supported each other to explore the relationships that matter to us more than any others.
We take courses in yoga or pottery and we get massages to sort out the sore spots in our bodies, yet so few of us seek the support to help us truly invest in our family. Not many courses are life-changing, but this one is.
Andrea Rippon is a Certified Parent Educator and a mum of two teenagers. She has been running Person Centred People Skills courses for 20 years. She helps parents build strong, long-term relationships with their children by using these evidence-based communication skills. Her next Open Programme for parents, carers and grandparents, starts in Norwich. She can also offer Parent Coaching by Skype. She writes a regular Parenting Column for the Eastern Daily Press.