Contemplations on Control: How we make (good) decisions

Some people have trouble making good decisions. Boundaries are a challenge and saying “no” feels impossible. For others, they are quite comfortable making decisions. They might even enjoy telling others what choices they should make. Parents often feel a need to tell children what to do all the time. They believe that children can’t or won’t make a good choice. As we contemplate the elements of control in our lives, we want to find that balance between laissez faire attitudes and acting like a control freak. 

Making choices, even bad ones is a way to feel powerful. Many children and adults will act in the opposite manner just to feel some form of power in their own lives. Authority figures are seen as untrustworthy, no matter how experienced or wise they might be. That isn’t the point for a person who feels powerless. Control and the defiance that often comes with it feels like the only way to find power or freedom.

We value the freedom that can come through choices. It is one of America’s highest personal values. Unfortunately, freedom to do anything one wants, whenever one wants to do it, and not expect any real consequences is not true freedom. True freedom comes when we exercise self-control. 

Ask Dr. Seuss, if you don’t believe me:

You have brains in your head,

You have feet in your shoes,

You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.

Sound advice. The trick is choosing the right direction! 

Parents want children to listen and obey because they have more experience dealing with the complexities of life. Children want to assert their control in order to better know themselves. There are specific stages where this most evident, like in 2-3-year-old toddler stage and the 13-17 years of adolescence. The reason these ages and stages are so fraught with power struggles is because the child is going through rapid brain growth, hormonal changes, and social/emotional demands. That requires a lot of self-assertion in order to master it all. 

As I have already described in other blog posts, a parents job should resemble a coach more than a director. While this isn’t always possible or practical, it is the healthier approach to successful parenting. A parent TELLS a child what to do. Children can’t become responsible human beings or eventual adults if they rely on parents what to do. Parents can expect more self-responsibility and problem-solving if they don’t let the child make choices. 

A parent coach offers choices in order to empower children to learn from their choices. Isn’t this how we all learn? Of course, understanding this approach and performing it in the heat of the “battle” is difficult but that isn’t a reason not to use it. The good news is that the drive to choose is built into our nervous systems. You don’t have to tell a child to have an opinion. They already have one. You don’t have to model how to prefer for one type of food over the other or one game over the other. The child just does this naturally. Coaching allows us to direct what is already inborn. Parents should let it work to their advantage!

Forcing control, although at times necessary, shouldn’t be our primary parenting plan. Parents can give choices for things they approve of…usually two is good. If the child wants a third option, and they will, simply repeat the two choices and when the situation becomes a game, and it will, make the choice for the child. This is where parents can be direct and assert their wills. Pick your battles well in other words.

Researchers on control like to use the words “agency” or “self-efficacy”. I guess it sounds more clinical. The more agency we use in life the more power-full we feel. The more good decisions we make, the more confident we are to try new and more challenging things. Good deciders set bigger goals in life than bad deciders. They get along better with other people, can be better team players, have higher academic achievements and work ethics, and they are healthier and happier people overall. 

That all sounds good until you make a few bad choices and start to believe that you don’t have the ability to make a good choice, ever! People who go through trauma often feel this way. Depression is a common hallmark of making bad choices or having gone through bad things. This is what researchers call “locus of control”. Someone with an internal locus of control believes they are the cause of a successful outcome. An extern locus of control refers to things happening by chance or luck. After a traumatic event or series of events, a person can feel helpless and have an external locus of control. If something good does happen, it is random and accidental.

It is possible to have an “illusion of control” where someone feels they can master things they really can’t. They don’t have an overdeveloped internal locus of control and may take on too many tasks or make claims of being able to accomplish tasks that are too difficult. They are ready to accept responsibility for success but blame others/events for failures. This illusion prevents them from really learning how to be successful in life. Much of wisdom comes from making mistakes and then trying a new approach next time. 

The answer to all of this may be acceptance of reality. This is a philosophical idea and spiritual practice of letting go of expectations and desires that create most of our on-going suffering. When something happens that we don’t want or we don’t get what we do want, we suffer. The truth is everyone does this and everyone suffers. Acceptance allows us to be aware of it and adapt. We don’t blame others for our mistakes or at least, our part of a situation/problem. We are humble and try to find the wisdom of our failures. We don’t allow others to control us and we don’t use control to deal with anxiety. We simply allow what is to be and find the truth in the experience. As the Bible says, “Truth sets us free” (John 8:32). 

Acceptance isn’t another form of helplessness, however. We accept our situation but continue to hope for change. Christians, for example, trust that God’s will, however difficult or uncertain, is the better choice over their own personal will. When the two wills conflict, we submit to God’s will. Continue to control people and events, in order to get what you want, alienates family and friends, and puts tension between your reality and your desire to have what you want. This tension will result in negative emotions and behaviors. Learning to accept and let go will allow using that energy to make the best of your situation. Now that does require self-control!

“Accept — then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. This will miraculously transform your whole life.” Eckhart Tolle

“Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.” William James

“The art of acceptance is the art of making someone who has just done you a small favor with that he might have done you a greater one.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

>> Learn more about “Acceptance and Change” in our Freedom From Anxiety course at http://FamilyHealer.tv

>> Invite Ron Huxley to speak at your next event by contacting him at rehuxley@gmail.com or 805-709-2023. 

What’s Your Parenting Style?

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What’s your parenting style? Are you happy with the results you get from your interaction with your children? What about with your spouse? Do the two of you work well together or do you have oppositive ways of parenting that results in arguments and resentments?

This doesn’t have to spell D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R for your family. Even complete opposites can learn how to work together by focusing on each other’s strengths and compensating for each other’s weaknesses.

Parenting styles can be categorized into four main styles that correspond to a balance of “love and limits” that include:

 
* Rejecting/Neglecting Style: Low Love and Low Limits.

* Authoritarian Style: Low Love and High Limits.

* Permissive Style: High Love and Low Limits.

* Democratic or Balanced Style: High Love and High Limits.

“Love and limits” are terms that describe a parents discipline orientation. Parents who are oriented toward a “relational discipline orientation” are said to use love as their primary style of parenting. Parents who use “action discipline orientation” are said to use limits as their primary style of parenting.

All parents incorporate both love and limits in their style of parenting. It is the balance of love and limits that determine a parent’s particular style. Only the democratic or balanced parenting style have both high love and high limits. In addition, each style has strengths and weaknesses inherent in them and are learned from the important parental figures in our lives. These figures are usually our own parents.

Parents who use love as their primary style (permissive parents) consider love to be more important than limits. They also use the attachment and their bond with their child to teach right from wrong. They spend a lot of time with the child communicating, negotiating, and reasoning. Their value is on “increasing their child’s self-esteem” or “making them feel special.”

Parents who use limits as their primary style (authoritarian parents) consider limits as more important than love (relationship). They use an external control to teach right from wrong and are quick to act on a discipline problem. Consequently, children are usually quick to react and rarely get their parents to negotiate. The value is on “teaching respect” and “providing structure.”

Parenting styles are defined as the “manner in which parents express their beliefs about how to be a good or bad parent. All parents (at least 99%) want to be a good parent and avoid doing what they consider to be a bad parent. Parents adopt the styles of parenting learned from their parents because

1) They don’t know what else to do

or

2) They feel that this is the right way to parent.

You can learn how to balance love in limits in your relationships using our Family Healer School ecourse “Parenting Styles: How to Balance Love and Limits” (CLICK HERE). 

Sustain Your Families Successes

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

Parents want to know how to sustain the successes they have in the home. They want the temperature in the mood and attitudes in their children to stay constant. It is frustrating to have a good day and then have it follow with a week of anger and defiance. In order to sustain the good times, it is important that parents consistently put in what they want to get out of the family. For example, if you want kind children, keep putting in kindness to the children in your word and deeds. If you want joy, put in joy and fun activities. If you want respect, don’t just demand it, give it! This is why research demonstrates the power of modeling in social relationships. 

What do you want “out” of your family members? How can you put more of that “into” your home? 

Take back control of your home: 101 Parenting Tools: Building the Family of Your Dreams

Can Parenting Style Impact Your Well-Being?

Can parenting be detrimental to our well-being? According to a new study, the answer is: It depends.

Over the years, many studies have evaluated the relationship between parenting and mental health. Admittedly, this topic is complex and the findings have been mixed. Some researchers report that raising children contributes to our happiness and well-being. Others suggest the opposite may be true.

A recent study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies suggests that it’s not whether we’re parents – but how we parent – that may be an important factor to consider.

According to researchers at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia, women who engage in “intensive parenting” are likely to experience negative mental health outcomes like stress and depression. The authors focused on women because they tend to be much more likely to engage in this type of parenting style.

So, what is intensive parenting?

In a nutshell, it’s an underlying belief held by parents (typically moms) that parents should always sacrifice their needs for the needs of their children. These parents also tend to seek their own happiness primarily through their kids. And they always strive to offer stimulating activities to their children without giving kids much down-time or opportunities to entertain themselves. What’s more, these parents often view themselves as more capable than their partners and, as a result, tend to take on too many parenting tasks throughout the day. This may ultimately lead to burnout and resentment. 

In an online questionnaire of 181 mothers of young children, the authors of this study found that mothers who believed that the woman is the essential parent were less satisfied with their lives. In addition, women who believed that parenting is especially challenging were more stressed and depressed. Approximately 23 percent of this sample had symptoms of depression – a number much higher than the estimated rate of depression among adults in the United States (around 10 percent).

If parenting with this level of intensity can lead to such negative feelings, why are plenty of moms engaging in it? The answer is complex. Most likely, women believe that putting their own needs and well-being aside will make them better mothers and, ultimately, benefit their children. Of course, the irony is that this type of parenting may contribute to more negative outcomes for all involved.

Certainly, children are more likely to thrive when their parents are happy and emotionally healthy. And parents are more likely to enjoy the parenting journey when they strike a balance that involves caring for their children and caring for themselves.   

In two parent homes, experts suggest that sharing the parenting responsibilities can enhance each parent’s well-being and feelings of competence. Also, it can be helpful to seek childcare help from trusted family members and friends. Even small breaks like taking a walk, going out for a cup of coffee, or reading a magazine can go a long way in helping parents recharge and feel less stressed.

So how do you find a healthy balance so you can care for your children and yourself? Or is this a difficult challenge?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Are you Parenting Like Your Parent?

Have you ever had one of those moments when something comes out of your mouth that doesn’t sound anything like you? You snap at your partner or scold your child, using words you never use or threats you’d never see through. Afterwards, you stand there stumped for a few seconds wondering, “Where did that come from?” Then, it hits you – you sound just like your mother or father.

For better or worse, many of our parents’ traits live on in us. This can be a good thing; positive identifications with qualities we liked in our parents help us to take on characteristics we respect and admire. Unfortunately, on the flip side, negative traits in our parents, especially those that caused us misery, fear and frustration, can also linger in our psyche and impact our behavior. This is especially the case in present moments of stress in our life today that somehow remind us of our past and manage to set off old triggers in us.

As you may imagine, scenarios that are reminiscent of our childhood are increasingly likely to arise when we ourselves become parents. We may not really remember how our dad used to snap on long car trips until our own kids start bickering in the backseat. We may not recall our mom teasing us when we whined cried until we find ourselves making a sarcastic comment to our own child when he or she gets fussy.

The good news is, by noticing these traits inside ourselves, by identifying where they come from, and by altering our behavior to match our own standards and principles, we can differentiate from negative programming from our past. We can become more and more like the parent we want to be, not necessarily the one we were raised by.

There are several important steps in the process of differentiation. First, you have to become observers of your own reactions. You should try to notice interactions between you and your children that seem out of character or don’t represent a way you want to be. Do certain behaviors or situations trigger you? For example, does helping your daughter with homework spark an unusual amount of frustration or impatience? Do your son’s tantrums make you lose your temper? Think of the scenes and scenarios that lead to negative interactions between you and your child. Is there a pattern?

The second step to this process involves asking yourself the question, “Could I be projecting characteristics or dynamics from my own childhood, reliving or reenacting aspects of my own childhood with my kids?” To figure this out means becoming aware of how you yourself were parented. Were your parents impatient with you when it came to helping you with school work? Were they overly pressuring, complacent or unsupportive? Did your parents ever “lose it” with you when you were having an emotional meltdown?

As you start to piece together memories, you might start begin to see the value of making a coherent narrative about your past. Telling your story, even to yourself, can help you to understand your actions in the present and consciously decide how to move into your future.

Reflecting on and putting together your story can be painful. Sad memories are sure to arise. The realization that your parents were human, and therefore, imperfect, can be tough to accept. We have a natural tendency to want to protect our parents. We even unconsciously identify with their critical attitudes toward us and often take on their disparaging points of view as our own. This internalized parent is what we refer to as one’s “critical inner voice.” It can feel threatening to separate from the people who we once relied on for care and safety. Yet, by having compassion for our child selves, we can extend this feeling to our children. We can differentiate from our parents’ less desirable attitudes and traits, while maintaining qualities that we admired in them.

Once we make the connection between past events and our present behavior, and once we have feeling for ourselves and the struggles we endured, we become much stronger in our effort to challenge the negative traits we have as parents. We can question critical or indulgent attitudes and behaviors toward our children that don’t seem to fit the situation. We can recognize that, just as we are not our parents, our children are not our child selves. Thus, we can become more attuned to what’s really going on in our kids. We can start to separate from the parents we don’t want to be and become the people we’d like our kids to one day imitate.

Join Dr. Lisa Firestone for the free Dec. 4 Webinar, “How to Raise an Emotionally Healthy Child. ” Learn more or register here

To read more from Dr. Lisa Firestone, visit PsychAlive.org

Fathers Can Teach Their Children Persistence: Study

FRIDAY, June 15 (HealthDay News) – Children learn persistence from their fathers, according to a new study, and this skill can lead to better performance at school and a reduced risk of criminal behavior.

The study included adolescents aged 11 to 14 in 325 two-parent families; they were followed for several years by researchers from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

About 52 percent of the fathers in the study exhibited above-average levels of authoritative parenting. The children of these fathers were significantly more likely to develop persistence, which led to better outcomes at school and lower levels of delinquency.

The findings were published June 15 in the Journal of Early Adolescence.

“There are relatively few studies that highlight the unique role of fathers,” study co-author Laura Padilla-Walker, a professor in BYU’s School of Family Life, said in a university news release. “This research also helps to establish that traits such as persistence – which can be taught – are key to a child’s life success.”

The researchers emphasized that authoritative parenting is different from authoritarian parenting and has three basic features: children feel warmth and love from their father; children are granted an appropriate level of autonomy; and fathers emphasize accountability and the reasons behind rules.

Although this study included two-parent families, the researchers suggested that single parents may still be able to help teach their children about persistence.

“Fathers should continue to be involved in their children’s lives and engage in high-quality interactions, even if the quantity of those interactions might be lower than is desirable,” Padilla-Walker said.

Parenting Differences: Attract and Annoy!

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Remember what attracted you to your mate when you first got married? Are those characteristics that originally attracted you to your partner the very things drive you crazy now? The old saying “opposites attract” may have a lot of truth when it comes to creating a balanced parenting relationship but it is also true that those styles of parenting can rips homes apart and be a source of constant parenting struggle. It is natural for people to want to fill in the gaps of their personality or find a compliment to their own skills and abilities. These different styles unconsciously “round out” their parenting roles. This is why one partner may be more aggressive, more organized, more emotional, or more controlled than the other partner and why together the two personalities seem, at least at first glance, to be a good “team.” Just as values are largely unconscious and tucked out of parents awareness, certain styles of parenting that were attractive early on in the parenting relationship are also largely unconscious. Parents may have fallen in love, not just with the other person, but with their ability to make firm decisions or feel passionate about something. Parents may have even fallen in love with characteristics they lacked or felt they never could adequately provide for a child. The ability of one parent to follow a budget or use common sense may impress another parent whose checkbook is always unbalanced or feels their finances and life are out of control. The other person creates a sense of balance in their life that translates to a feeling of balance of love and limits during child rearing. After a while, though, these attractive attributes can become annoying. The parenting partner, who provided a sense of stability early on in the relationship and could offer common sense when the baby cried all night long, is seen as boring, emotionally detached, and too rigid later on in the relationship. PARENTING PERSPECTIVES Parenting changes how people perceive themselves. Setting limits on one’s checkbook is different than setting limits on a child. And nurturing oneself is very different from nurturing a totally depended, often demanding infant. This evolution from “partners in love” to “partners in parenting” creates a feeling of imbalance. Having a child forces the partners to merge two sets of cultures, parenting values, and beliefs. It also brings up positive and negative memories of a parent’s own childhood. Parents, who had abusive parents or whose partner had abusive parents, may fear their own children being abused. And parents who idealized their parents may feel incompetent when comparing their own parenting skills to their parental figures. Now, as parents, the positive attributes that attracted one parenting partner to another, reminds partners of negative traits in there own parents. The organizational skills they admired in their partner and in their own parents also remind them of the compulsive, rigid behavior of their parent. The spontaneity and attention given by one’s partner also reminds them of their parents smothering overprotection. DECISION, DECISIONS Having children also force partners to make decisions they never had to be make before. It requires them to act cooperatively with one another on such things as who stays home with the child when he or she is sick; how to deal with a bad grade on a report card; or how to handle a child who has an emotional or behavioral disorder, all of which can result in parental disagreements, arguments, and resentments. Even the value that parenting partners must be, act, or react in the same manner can be disastrous to a balance of love and limits. Fortunately, these differences can become the groundwork for a fuller relationship if partners are willing to learn from one another rather than continue the vicious cycle of anger and resentment. This is possible only where both parents make an honest attempt at communication and cooperation. In addition, partners can learn from one another’s differences and incorporate the others strengths into their own parenting style. LEARNING FROM DIFFERENCES The first step to learning from the other parenting figure is to accept that differences are acceptable, even necessary, in the parenting relationship. If one parent is to develop certain parenting characteristics they never received from their own parental figures, they must accept and allow the other person to demonstrates these qualities. Believing that the other parent has something valuable to offer the parenting relationship will create cooperation in the difficult task of raising a child rather than resentment. The second step is to learn new ways to parent from the example of the other parent. Getting out of the way and letting them “do their thing” will not produce growth in one’s own parenting skills. Letting the other person have their way is not synonymous with learning. This can become learned helplessness, which results in negative feelings toward oneself and the other partner. While one parent may never be quite as good at setting firm rules at bedtime, they can learn to do it more frequent and more consistently than they have in the past, simply by learning from the example of the other parent. The third step is to agree to disagree. Not every parenting decision will be made in total agreement. Nor should one person, regardless of how confident or aggressive they are in making decisions make every decision. Parenting partners can take turns on how to take care of night-time fears, with one parent singing and holding the child one week and the other parent scaring away the bedtime monsters with a flashlight, the next. Or they can compromise by finding a third, equally agreeable solution to getting their child to stay in bed. If an equally agreeable solution does not present itself, partners can always “agree to disagree” by waiting until a third solution does becomes possible. “Agreeing to disagree” is helpful when a discussion becomes “heated” and partners need to wait until both parties are feeling “cooler” and better able to see the other person’s viewpoint. This behavior is a powerful model to children. It demonstrates that parents can be different and disagree without engaging in a physical or verbal battle. It communicates to the children that “we are working it out.” And relationships can continue to be satisfying (or balanced) even when an issue is not yet settled. The fourth step is to recognize that the negative or uncooperative behavior seen in the other parent may be a reflection of a characteristic of their own personality of their past and not the other parenting partner after all. It may be a habit learned from parental figures in one’s own childhood about how to deal with a frustrating situation or cope with a problem. Take time to reflect on your own past and talk with the other partner about childhood experiences. Insight, not ignorance, will lead to intimacy. And the fifth step is to have a discussion on balancing parenting styles free of name-calling, blaming, or shaming one another. Don’t make the other parent feel bad by labeling them “stubborn,” talking about them in front of friends, or constantly pointing out their flaws. If this is too difficult to master, parenting partners will need to find help to deal with these destructive communication styles. While it is true that “opposites attract” it is also true that “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

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