There are a lot of voices in the current Christian parent arena telling moms and dads what is right and wrong. There are pages and pages of Instagram stories saying “do this” and “don’t do that.” These assertions are often followed up with some comment that implies (or outright says) that kids who have parents who don’t follow such instructions could grow up to have some deficit or mental health issue.
It’s enough to make even the most confident parent unsure of themselves.
In my work with parents, I have found that this uncertainty creates a deep fear of making a wrong choice. They become so overwhelmed with strategies, tips and information that when they need to intervene in a given moment of parenting, everything they have learned seems to fly out the window. And what they are left with is a profound sense of inertia. They feel stuck. It’s as if the influx of information has stripped them of any innate ability they had to parent their children in that moment.
If you resonate with this as a Christian parent, this post is for you. We will explore how to find your own parenting “voice,” how to turn down the chatter in your head, and ways to unfreeze if you find yourself uncertain in the midst of a challenging parenting moment.
Find your parenting “voice”
If you have spent any time on social media, you have likely encountered a number of parenting experts with advice and tips for you. These tips are likely coming from their own experiences and are filtered through their own interpretation or “voice.” If you have tried some of their parenting techniques and felt like you were acting or “faking it” when you interacted with your children, that’s a sign their way is just not the right fit for you.
Furthermore, if you grew up in a home that was not safe, supportive and loving, it may be hard to have a sense of competency in your own parenting style. You may think that you do not have a road map at all. But if you are a follower of Christ, that roadmap is in you. You just need to uncover it.
Here are some ways to “unearth” your very own parenting voice or style:
1) Identify your values
What do you hold dear? What and who is important to you? What qualities and attributes do you want to embody? You can print out this list of values or you can use this online sorting tool to help you uncover what matters most to you in the world.
When you can understand your core values, you will be able to parent in a way that is consistent with those values and in turn will be better able to instill those values in your children. It will help you decide those issues you want to “go to the mat” on and those that maybe you can let go. It can help you create the road map you might have been looking for inside all of those social media posts.
2) Understand your wiring
Are you sensitive? Silly? Adventurous? Extroverted? Introverted? Controlling? Passive? If you are not sure, take this temperament quiz to learn more about your innate wiring. When you understand how God has wired you, and the gifts and challenges that come with that wiring, you will be in a better position to live out your own unique parenting style. Trying to be someone that you were not meant to be will never feel congruent and satisfying. That doesn’t mean that the struggles that come from our temperament get an easy pass – they don’t. They simply reveal areas for prayer, repentance and growth.
Turn down the “chatter” in your head
When we invite a lot of people to our parenting table, it can become like a rowdy extended family dinner –with everyone talking at once and no one really listening. The more information we seek, the more confused we can become. To turn down the chatter you might want to try a few different things.
1) Embrace stillness
When we are stuck in a parenting challenge what we need is not more information but stillness and peace. Jesus was constantly surrounded by crowds of people, but even He needed to get away with His Father on a regular basis so that He could have the strength to carry on with the mission entrusted to Him. Find regular space in your day for stillness and solitude. And when you feel the pull to the internet for quick solutions or tips, try to sit with that pull for a moment and talk to God about what it is that you really need.
2) Increase your awareness of what is going on in your head
Notice what the chatter in your mind says to you. Is it telling you what you “should” do? (“You should be able to handle this”). Is it telling you what you can’t do? (“You are never going to get this parenting thing.”) Take a couple of days to just notice the content of your thoughts. Do these thoughts help you move toward your values, or do they pull you away from them?
3) Create some separation from the chatter
When we pay attention to all the conflicting information in our heads, it’s easy to get caught up in it and swept away. Try and take a step back and watch the thoughts go by in your mind, as if you were on the side of the road watching the traffic. Our minds are a busy place, and if we get caught up in what it is constantly saying, we will miss out on the here and now.
Quick tips for when you feel stuck
If you find that you are freezing during parenting situations because you are at a loss of what do you, you are not alone. People freeze from overwhelm, trauma or information overload. Here are some things you can do and say to help you get unstuck.
1) Remind yourself you don’t have to have the answer right now. You can say to your child something like, “What you just did/said was not okay. I need to think about how I am going to respond.”
2) Rub your arms gently with your hands and take a few deep breaths. This can calm your body and allow your brain to re-engage in the moment.
3) Have all of your children sit down where they are as you collect your thoughts.
4) Say to yourself, “This feels like an emergency, but it is just uncomfortable. I can handle this.”
5) Notice if any thoughts of self-judgment or criticism pop up. See if you can internally say, “I am noticing I am having some difficult thoughts. Thoughts are not facts.”
6) Do some simple math problems in your head. This seems silly, but it can help to re-engage your thinking brain when overwhelm has taken it off line.
6) Remember your values and try to take one small step towards that value. For example, you can say something like, “I am struggling to come up with a response to what happened, but in this family we value kindness and respect. I’m going to take a break to think about how we can use this moment to better learn those values.”
I hope these tips help you in your quest to get unstuck and to find your own unique parenting voice.