Read an Excerpt
Easy Does It, Mom
PARENTING IN RECOVERY
By BARBARA JOY
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2009 Barbara Joy
All rights reserved.
Who Do You Want to Be?
Parenting is a two way street. As you take them by the hand, they will take you by the heart.
Every mom wants to be the best mom she can be. I understand that you may be struggling, not only with guilt and shame from your past, but now also because you are a woman in recovery and a mom at the same time. A mom that wants her children to grow up to love, trust, and respect her. A mom who will be there for her children during the good and not-so-good times. Teaching your child to one day become a loving and responsible adult is important. You, like every mom, want to succeed. Every day you remain in your recovery, you are succeeding.
Every child wants to have a happy and safe childhood. All children want to have moms they trust and know will protect and provide for them. They want stability, consistency, and structure in their lives. Another word for structure is routine. Routine is more than a schedule. It's a rhythm.
Some days seem to flow smoothly. Other days are full of chaos and confusion. When children have a routine, they feel more safe and secure. When they feel more safe and secure, there is less need to act out. Parents often ask why their children do well at school, but not at home. Many times, this is because children know the routine at school. They know what to expect in their day. If you want support in creating a routine for your family, take a look at Positive Discipline for Parenting in Recovery by Jane Nelsen, Riki Intner, and Lynn Lott. They lay out many helpful daily routines.
In addition to routine, what children most want are moms who are present with them on a regular basis. Being present is when you stop what you are doing, or when you plan for times in the day during which you genuinely are paying attention to your child. Children know that this is their special time with you. They feel important, that they matter in your life.
Looking Back So You Can Move Forward
Some of you had parents who were very strict and used punishments as discipline—restrictions, hitting, threats, yelling, grounding, and physical, emotional, or verbal abuse. This is called an authoritarian style of discipline.
Others were raised by permissive parents—parents who did not provide rules or boundaries. They were inconsistent and passive. Bribing and pleading were frequent discipline tools. The child had the power and was in charge. It may appear that children want to be in charge. They don't. They want to be kids—to play and have fun. They want parents who will help them learn to make good choices.
It's common that one parent is authoritarian and the other permissive. Sometimes, this occurs because the parents think they are balancing each other out. If one parent is too strict, the other may tend to be easy on the kids, thinking this will compensate for the other's strictness, and vice versa. Children with parents like this have to figure out how to behave, depending on which parent is with them at any given moment. When the permissive parent is there, no one is in charge unless they take on that role. When the authoritarian parent is there, they are most likely anxious and fearful, not knowing what is going to happen next.
A young mom, Liz, shared this with me. "My father was an alcoholic and very authoritarian when he did parent me. I grew up in uncertainty because I never knew what 'mood' my father would be in when he came home. The more he drank, the meaner he got. Sometimes, he came in the door yelling at us kids and cursing my mother. Other times, he beat us and locked us in our rooms. My mother was the submissive parent, most likely out of fear of my dad. I think she would take anything he said or did in order to protect us kids. It was very scary. I lost respect for both of them and left home at seventeen."
While children are adaptable and resilient, this kind of parenting causes confusion and stress. Many times, it leads to manipulation and playing parents against each other. This benefits no one in the family. Children are not born manipulative. It is a learned behavior that they develop from the important adults in their lives. Sometimes, it is the only way that they know how to survive.
Presents Or Presence
Presence or presents? What do your children really want? There is no doubt. They not only want, they need your presence. You are the gift. Being present with your child does not have to involve money, treats, or toys. It involves a mom who can simply be with her child. Maybe it's taking a walk, reading a book, sitting quietly and just talking, or doing a creative project together. Maybe it's pulling weeds, planting a garden, folding clothes. The "what" does not much matter. What matters is that you are concentrating on your child during this time. The TV, phone, computer, reading the newspaper, talking with a friend, or whatever else may distract you, is off-limits for the time being. If you can find ways to slow down during your busy days and give your children some genuinely present time, that gift will far outweigh anything that you can buy them. It is a lasting gift that will be cherished by you both. Sometimes, we may forget or do not fully realize just what a gift we are in our children's lives. Give them the gift of your presence.
Many moms say this feels weird and uncomfortable. You may not have experienced anyone in your life being present with you. So how can you do this with your child? Start simple. A few minutes at a time. Sometimes it's helpful to think of something that you both enjoy and do that together. Before long, you will begin to see your child in a new and wonderful way—a child full of love, and wanting to be an important part of your life.
Very young children need short, but frequent, times throughout the day for you to connect with them. As children get older, although it is wonderful to do, sometimes it's not realistic to find time daily. In that case, you can let them know that you want to spend some special time with just them, and that you will be able to do something together on the coming weekend.
The next time your child is acting out, ask yourself, "When was the last time I gave him (or her) some of my undivided attention?" Often, if, instead of battling with them over and over, you just stop what you are doing and spend a little time, without interruption, the day improves for you both.
Let's say a good friend of yours comes for a visit. She has a nicely wrapped gift for you. Would you rather have the wrapped gift or thirty minutes to sit down and have a cup of coffee and talk? When I ask moms this question, I get the same answer. The coffee and talk. It is far richer and longer-lasting than a material gift. Children are the same way. You may think that they would choose the new video game over spending time with you. And they may at first. But once they know that they can actually have you and your undivided attention, that is what they will choose. Children crave their mom's presence.
Your presence is a lasting gift that fills the heart, builds self-esteem, and cements the relationship between you and your child. We'll be talking more about building healthy self-esteem in chapter 6.
When You Know Better, You Do Better
When you became a mom, you most likely found yourself parenting in a way very similar to the way you were parented. We do what we know, and when we know better, we do better.
Have you ever noticed your face in the mirror when you were angry and thought, "Yikes, I look just like my mother did when she was mad at me?" Or have you heard your mother's exact words and tone coming out of your own mouth when you were frustrated with your child? Most of us have, more than once. These are things we hoped we'd never do to our own children.
At a very young age, we take the experiences of how we are treated and what we are told about ourselves deep within us. Believing them to be true, most of us pass on those behaviors and beliefs to our own children, until we learn new, more positive ways of parenting and change our beliefs about ourselves. A small number of parents who were more severely abused will, many times, swing to the exact opposite of how they were raised.
Beverly said, "I was raised by a permissive parent. There was absolutely no structure or organization. No rules, limits, consequences. She wasn't home often, but when she was, nothing was any different. My life was always full of chaos and confusion. When I had my first child, I was determined never to treat him like that. I became very strict. There were consequences for almost everything. Actually, they were punishments. Finally, after my third child was born, I took a parenting class. I learned that there's a balance between being permissive like my own mom had been and being a tyrant like I had been. I am working on finding effective ways to parent. My children seem to be acting out less. I try not to beat myself up because it took me so long. But it sure is easier this way."
Fortunately, today there is support and education for parents to learn ways of parenting that are more effective than punishment. You can teach and guide your children to become responsible and loving. The good news is that, once parents begin to make positive changes in their parenting style, they most likely will soon see improvement in their children's behavior and attitude.
Punishment Versus Discipline
Discipline and punishment are not the same thing. When used correctly, punishment is a very small part of discipline. Punishment usually has something aggressive and/or punitive in it. Discipline does not.
Parents have said to me more than once, "Punishment works. When I spank them, they straighten up." This may appear to be true. Children may straighten up in that moment, but are they learning anything from the spanking? I believe what they are learning is that they must be pretty bad kids, because their parents had to hit them. They are learning to behave out of fear, not learning to behave because it's the right thing to do.
Every time a child is spanked, his or her self-esteem goes down. Positive discipline leads to raising children who have healthy selfesteem. Aggression teaches aggression. If moms hit when they are frustrated, children learn to hit when they are frustrated. If moms talk respectfully and listen to their children, their children will learn to do the same.
Discipline includes all those things we, as parents, do to teach our children how to make better decisions. Discipline teaches them to become responsible, to think for themselves, to make better choices. Many parents think of discipline as punishment. Below are some differences that can help you to understand how they are different.
Implementing new discipline tools is no easy undertaking. It is a one-new-tool and one-step-at-a-time process. As the psychologist Abraham Maslow so famously said back in the 1960s, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem is a nail." For example, let's say that all you know how to do is yell. When your children misbehave in any way, you yell—whether you are trying to make sure they stop at the stop sign, or they have just spilled their milk, or they are fighting with their brother, you yell. Try and save the yelling voice for when something is really important, especially in regard to their safety. If you yell all of the time, they won't be listening when you need them to stop at the stop sign. They will have tuned you out because yelling is what you always do. You need to have different tools for different situations with your children.
Learning new and effective ways to parent is like being in another country and having to learn the language. The words are not familiar. You don't know how to make your requests understood. It takes time and practice. Each positive change you make will help you break the cycle of how you were parented. You and your child will experience parenting in a more positive way.
Moms frequently ask if it's too late for them and their children to build a healthy relationship. My answer is: No, it's never too late. You have already taken a huge step toward the healing of the relationship by remaining in recovery.
Especially with adolescents, teens, and grown children, the process may take longer than you would like. I encourage you to give them time and space. We all come to healing and forgiveness in our time and in our own way. Pray for patience and understanding at these times. Your children need to see the changes in you rather than hear more words. Show them that they can trust you, that you are there for them. Accept them exactly as they are. With time, they will see that you are strong in your recovery.
The Qualities Of a Mom
I once asked a group of moms what I thought was a simple question: "What is a mom?" The room quieted. The question was not easy. For some, the question brought immediate grief and regret. I decided to break it down: "What are the qualities of a mom?"
These amazing women knew the qualities of what a mom could be. Before we knew it, we had a whole board full of words describing mom:
Help with homework
Keeps them safe
Comes home right after work
Is consistent, patient, fun
Has a job, money
Talks with her children And, most of all, is clean
respectfully and sober.
We moved on to talk about their own childhoods. Which of these traits did their mothers have? The room once again became silent. This was an uncomfortable place for them to go. Some were holding back the tears. One was muttering sarcastic remarks under her breath. One got up and went to the bathroom. Another stood up and swore in frustration.
With a little encouragement, these brave women began to share their stories. Tears flowed. Voices went from softly getting the words out, to anger that temporarily covered up the wounds. The more they shared, the more they were able to add to the list of qualities we had begun just minutes ago:
Gives structure, consistency, and routine
Makes floor time
Plays at the park
Reads a bedtime story every night
Our picture of the moms they wanted to be was building. They didn't fully realize it, but they were already well on their way to being the moms they wanted to be. There is no perfect mom! And yet, with every positive step a mom takes practicing effective parenting, she is one step closer to creating the relationship she wants with her children. And to becoming the mom she wants to be.
Marie, a mom of two, said, "A mom is someone who is nurturing, loving, and accepting, and raises her children to be strong, independent adults one day. She's affectionate, encouraging, and fun-loving, but serious when it's appropriate." Her faced changed. "It sounds so good. But is anyone really like that?"
Sue, mom of five, chimed in. "A mom is someone that my children are proud of. They want me to be involved at their school. They are not ashamed of me anymore. They know they can count on me to care for them and not embarrass them. Marie, I know what you mean. I keep remembering that there is no such thing as a perfect mom—that every positive change makes a difference. I try to focus on what I am doing right, not on when I foul up."
Sue brought up a great point. Another excellent positive discipline tool is to catch them being good. We are experts at catching our children when they do things we don't want them to do. But how often do we remember to notice the good and simply acknowledge it?
For example, when you have a car full of kids and they all happen to be getting along and not yelling, all you need to say is, "Thank you for your cooperation when we were in the car. I appreciate it." For most of us, when someone says "thank you," it makes us want to repeat that same behavior. Children are no different. It may not always seem so, but they do want to please you and have your approval. We will be talking more about acknowledgment in chapter 8. Meanwhile, as Tom Peters says, "Celebrate what you want to see more of." Now we come to real experts—the children. When asked to describe what a mom is, Alyssa, Marie's eight-year-old daughter, said, "My mom is loving, caring, thoughtful, helps me, worries about me sometimes, takes me places, checks in with me, and cuddles. She is nice, patient, usually in a good mood, funny, sometimes a little dorky, listens to me, and is honest with me."
Sue's fifteen-year-old daughter, Becca, added, "My mom listens to me more than she talks at me. She trusts me until I foul up. When I do, she doesn't shame or punish me. She does help me so next time I will make a better choice. Sometimes, I have to show her all over again that she can trust me. It frustrates me that she won't just believe me right away. She doesn't yell or nag often. When she's mad, she takes a 'cooling off time.' We all appreciate that."
Sue's five-year-old daughter, Halle, said, "My mom meets me at the bus every day with my snack in her pocket. She reads two books to me every night, makes good dinners, and doesn't leave me home alone anymore. That's the best part."
Excerpted from Easy Does It, Mom by BARBARA JOY. Copyright © 2009 Barbara Joy. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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