You’ve achieved success in your career and now you find yourself struggling in an area of life that means so much to you; your role as a Parent. You’ve heard the comments that children don’t come with an owner’s manual and you sure wish they did. You know that there are some ways that you were parented that you vow you will never repeat and at the same time you are grateful for some of what your parents did to raise the successful, happy, independent human being that you turned out to be. Some days (perhaps most days lately) between the glowing, blissful, loving parent/child moments, you get frustrated and wonder about your happiness, your child’s happiness, how you could be so accomplished, intelligent, caring and successful in your career and, at times, so at-a-loss and unsure of yourself as a parent. (You may even notice how this is now impacting and having you question your career success.) You have a desire to create a life-long relationship with your children and your vision of happy family moments with grandchildren, down the road, get cut short with thoughts of, “How are we even going to get through this stage?”
There is no doubt that parenting is challenging and when human beings are challenged we tend to unconsciously revert to what we know and to what has worked in other challenging situations in our life.
According to Google, the definition of Leadership is: the action of leading a group of people and the definition of Leading is: directing, guiding, to come in advance of others. I am sure that any parent would agree that is exactly what every parent does on a day to day basis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Linking what I have learned through my training as a Leadership Development Coach in business (particularly The Leadership Circle Profile*) and applying it to the context of parenting, I will highlight 3 main leadership characteristics and the accompanying strategies that may have previously served you in reaching career success but actually undermine and limit your effectiveness as a parent (and a leader). As you read, listen for the strengths, characteristics and strategies that you may default to that can actually contribute to some of the frustrations you experience in your household.
Are you driven and task-focussed? Did you rise to the top of any class or team that you were on? Do you take pride in pushing yourself and others to win and succeed? Are you assertive and directive? Do you strive to excel, strive for perfection and set high (and even exacting) standards and expectations for yourself and others? Did this part of you serve you in getting promoted, into professional school, get you recognized and awarded for the results you achieve in your organization? Have they contributed to financial success and the lifestyle that you can offer your family?
Or, are you analytical and autonomous? In building your career, has it served you to remain distant in relationships, to avoid becoming friends with your employees? Do you keep your emotions at bay or under control? Have you held back your creative abilities or your spiritual beliefs because they didn’t belong in your profession or your workplace? Are you a logical, linear, rational and critical thinker. Are you known and valued for your intellect and knowledge and pointing out what isn’t working? Have these strengths been key to problem solving, to your career aspirations and to your specific role and where you are today professionally?
Are you people-centered and altruistic? Has it been beneficial for you to recognize others needs, to be reliable, loyal, go the extra mile, to sense others’ emotions and respond to them. Do you follow rules and expectations? Are you a hard-worker that can always be counted on to pick up any slack? Has creating harmony and serving others been your road to success and influenced the career that you have chosen?
Sometimes your greatest strength can emerge as a weakness if the context changes.
Here’s the thing, all strengths can become weaknesses when they are overused or when the context for its’ use changes (ie: building a career versus parenting). When people are quite competent at certain strengths, these can become ‘go-to’ strengths and may be used in a reflexive, unconscious, default manner. This can occur particularly when under stress, challenged and frustrated. As any parent knows, stress, challenges and frustrations can occur frequently in busy households while juggling work and the life of a family.
The opportunity that I am presenting, with respect to your parenting, is to look at where you may have a style that you revert to when the going gets tough, a style or a tendency that actually is not as effective as you would like with respect to leading your family and household.
Pause for a moment, and reflect on a recent challenging parenting moment or repetitive challenges that you experience. Reflect on that situation or the repetitive challenges and see if you revert to any of these behaviours.
When driven, achievers feel frustrated in parenting, some ineffective controlling* patterns that can show up are: being overly aggressive to make (or force) children to behave, demanding flawless or perfect behaviours, placing unrealistic expectations on your children or expectations beyond the child’s age or capabilities, expecting children to be the best at all or anything they do and comparing one child to another or to children in other families, and putting results and achievement ahead of or at the cost of connection.
When critical, intellectuals feel frustrated in parenting, some ineffective protective* patterns that they may turn to can be: identifying what is wrong or illogical, seeing flaws and being quick to point them out. They may also analyze what is right or wrong in a situation and hold that they know what is right for their child. They can also come across as superior, rigid, inapproachable, dogmatic and mistrustful or mistrusting.
When people-centered, harmonizers feel the frustration of parenthood they may resort to some of the following ineffective complying* behaviours: avoid conflict and be passive, they may be unclear with their communication and behaviour and express disagreement indirectly (passive-aggressive). They may also relinquish their power to their kids or their busy life circumstances leading to poor limit and boundary setting. They may follow rules of what they perceive ‘good parents’ do and set strict expectations and rules on their children, fearful of what people think about their parenting or their kids behaviours and make decisions based on this rather than what they and their child needs in that moment.
The above behaviours are ineffective because they diminish and disempower children, they disempower you as the parent and they disempower the relationship between you and your child. These behaviours get in the way of the connection between the 2 of you and also get in the way of accomplishing what you set out to accomplish together. Children learn what they live and these strategies create cycles - cycles of problems, cycles of frustration and cycles of on-going ineffective behaviour. They very rarely create the outcome that you intend. As you read through, you may have started to see some of your default behaviours in a new light; perhaps seeing them for the first time articulated in this way and seeing the negative impact they can have on another. What is important to highlight and make note of is that we all exhibit these ineffective strategies and some sort of combination of all of these strategies at different times. It is really important, as a parent to not judge these behaviours but to simply notice and introduce choice around how you are interacting with your children so that you step away from doing what you have always done and step into creating the impact you intend to have by dialling down how you utilize your strength or by drawing on a different strength or behaviour that is needed for the context at hand, in any given moment.
If you are now feeling motivated to change, here is a place to start; have a conversation with yourself and your spouse and really lay out the qualities you want to have in your relationship with your children and in your home. Get clear on who you want to be for your children to contribute to these qualities (which may be different than who you were in creating your successful career). Get clear about the impact you want to have on your children when things are going smoothly and particularly when times are challenging and stressful. When you have this conversation ahead of time and have this as your guide; when the going does get tough, when you are rushing to get the whole family ready for work and school in the morning, you will have something solid to choose your responses in those moments.
My belief is that all parents want to do well by their children, they want to support them and grow them, they want the best for them and by simply becoming conscious to one’s reflexive actions and the impact of these actions you will have a new capacity to pause and chose a behaviour that will support the outcome that you want to create for your child and for your relationship with your child so that your behaviours can match your desires.