A mother lectures her son about his dirty dishes in the sink.
A father punishes his daughter for talking back and being disrespectful.
A stepmother bites her tongue as her stepdaughter curses at her.
A stepfather tells his wife how she should ground her son for not calling when he was out past curfew.
Why do these parents in these various roles behave the way they do towards their birth children and stepchildren? How do people learn how to parent their children, let alone someone else’s children? In all cases, behavior is a direct result of a person’s beliefs.
And yet very few parents know where their beliefs about parenting come from. For most parents, the way they parent is a direct result of how they were parented. The majority of beliefs about parenting are actually formed starting at infancy and get solidified by early childhood. These beliefs are so ingrained, and so much a part of a person’s make-up, that they are largely unconscious and not necessarily easily accessed.
By understanding what your beliefs are about parenting and where those beliefs come from, you get to discover whether or not your beliefs are accurate. Children have a magical way of thinking and often make meanings about the world that fit their thinking process, and those beliefs are not necessarily based on correct information. Adults find themselves reacting to parenting situations in ways they never imagined they would, and they are often not aware of what is really running them underneath their reactions.
Exploring Your Beliefs Around Parenting
Schedule some uninterrupted, private time together as a couple. Or, if you don’t have a partner at this time, choose to do this with another single parent to get some mutual support and benefit. Determine who will start sharing and who will ask the questions. Be prepared to switch roles half-way through so that each of you gets the same amount of time to share.
Ask each other curious questions about your childhoods. Discover who the main parental figures were for each of you. Learn about how each of you was parented and what worked for you and what you wished had been different. Explore the possible beliefs you made about parenting as a result of how you were parented. Be engaged and interested. Ask probing questions about:
Times you got in the worst trouble
Times you were most acknowledged
Times when you really needed a parent and no one was there
Times of loss or abandonment
Times of security and comfort
Specifically ask each other about what your lives were like during the time when you were the current ages of the children in your home. Especially focus on the age of the child that causes you the most frustration. How were you treated at that age? What was that like for you? How did you wish you had been treated? What meanings did you make about yourself at that time? What meanings did you make about your parents at that time?
Through this activity you will begin to unravel the mystery behind your current reactions to the children in your home, and you may begin to develop some compassion and understand for each other and the children. Notice how your interactions with the children and with each other change after you do this exercise.