Thanksgiving…The Family is Coming!! Ode to Parenting

For many blessed people in our country, family will be travelling great distances or from across the street to enjoy a traditional dinner with the people we love the most…but sometimes we don’t always like those people or the choices they make. Thanksgiving, even for the luckiest of people, can be a time of stress, and may require lots of patience, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness.


All of us have parents who have pushed our buttons at some point in time. Many of us have children who also know how to push our last button. If you have children that know how to push your last button, I promise you…you are also that parent that can push their buttons as well. 


How did you learn to parent? These kids did not come with a manual, and if they did it would have required a lifetime of reading. We learn from our parents of course! We either parent as they did because they did a great job, or we try desperately to be nothing like them…but no matter how different we try to be, a part of them will always show up. We may read a few good parenting books, we may even attend a few classes, but at the end of the day, a good portion of parenting is done by intuition…and the most common parenting practice is the “wing it” method. 


As intentional as we start out with hopes to be that perfect parent, we are mere humans, prone to error, and parenting is a 24/7/365 day a year, exhausting gig. It is a full time job, while we are probably juggling another full time job, and chances are we are going to make mistakes. When we do, I promise you, there are little eyes recording and taking notes. It will come back at you at some future point in time.


Somehow winging it is just not enough. We must build up a toolbox to improve our parenting. One of parents’ roles is to teach children to have emotional intelligence. The way to do this is by teaching children to be able to recognize the emotions and stress they are experiencing and to teach vocabulary that identifies those feelings. I am feeling sad (happy, angry, frustrated). 


In my work with both adolescents and adults, most people are detached from their feelings. The feeling is bubbling underneath the surface and they don’t know how to label it. One must know how to label it, in order to be able to regulatethe emotion. This is part of why we have so much depression and anxiety and anger in our world. We must learn to slow down and breath, recognize the feeling and then calm it, so we can handle business, which leads to the third step in building emotional intelligence, respond.Once the emotion is regulated and controlled, we must teach our children to respond with words that empower and words that are kind. 


Remember that parenting is learned from our parents. We will either parent like them or we won’t. It is essential for us to become emotionally intelligent so that we can teach our children how to be emotionally intelligent. If we are not recognizing and handling our feelings, and we are losing our tempers, so too will our little ones…most likely for their whole lives. If not corrected, they will pass this down to their children. We teach our children how to be angry and then tell them anger is not appropriate or good. Anger is good. It tells us something is wrong. Rage is not good. It tells us anger is in control. It causes hurts and wounds that impact a whole system.


Then these children grow up, head out into the real world or off to college. The holidays arrive, and they come home…


Even the most wonderful parents will let their children down.  In fact, the better the parent, the harder the let down, as these children grow up and learn their super hero, role model, wonderful parent, is also flawed and falls short of super hero status. This disappointment can cause friction. Adult children will often try to help their parents reestablish or reclaim their superhero status. They will correct, criticize, negate, and argue, and for the parent it can be frustrating and hurtful. Their youthful wisdom is dull on insight, and their passion can be overbearing. What we must remember is these children are trying to love us…they just aren’t as skilled at communicating that this is what they are trying to accomplish. In their independence and freedom, they have come to experience the world in a way that is different from how they were raised, and they often just want to be heard, understood, acknowledged, and respected. They also want to fix you to see the world as they do. Sometimes they are right, so it is important to acknowledge this learning, and to try to see the world through their perspective. Listen to them! Be present with them! Love them!


Many times our skills as parents improve after we have finished raising our children. It is never too late! Do not forget we are forever their parents. Good genuine conversation around the topic of emotional intelligence can be implemented at any age. The potential for change is always present, especially when it is accompanied with a significant dose of love, patience, and forgiveness. 


Action Step: As Thanksgiving approaches and families are getting together, be flexible and open-minded in your thinking. Be patient. Love unconditionally. Remember why you’re together. Remember that what you’re really trying to do is grow them and prepare them to be a better parent than you. Look at your own behaviors and ask yourself how can I be more loving? And to adult kids, focus on why your parents were your superheroes and love them for those wonderful traits they have or acts they committed...Remember they raised you to be the wonderful person you are and remember we are all a little flawed and broken.