We don't need to tell you that moms lead busy lives. But sometimes, you need—and deserve—a break. The Mother Company spoke with pediatric and adolescent psychotherapist Tina Payne Bryson, PhD, for actionable ways you can be the best mom possible.
Do your own work. Science shows that when we continue the work of self-understanding and personal insight, we are able to provide our children with secure attachment. Providing secure attachment to our children means helping them feel safe and secure, by providing predictable and sensitive care and tuning in to their internal, emotional worlds. The best predictor for how well children turn out is if they had a secure attachment with their parent. The best predictor for how well we can provide secure attachment to our children has nothing to do with the quality of the parenting we received. Rather, it’s about whether we’ve reflected on our own childhood experiences with our parents and have come to “make sense” of our own pasts and stories.
Soothe the crap out of your child. When our children are having a hard time managing their feelings and behaviors, they often tantrum and act out. When this happens, it’s evidence that their nervous systems are “hyperaroused,” or in hyper-drive. They’re emotionally chaotic, they have stress hormones pumping through their little bodies, and they’re in distress. They need us. This is when they need us the most. Just like when they are physically suffering, we comfort and soothe them, they need that kind of response from us when they are emotionally suffering (which often looks like bad behavior). Ignoring them, yelling at them, or being harsh with them actually increases their internal chaos and throws them into even higher states of nervous system arousal. They need us to soothe them. When we do, they calm down and then we can more effectively address behaviors, and they learn that we are there for them, even at their worst, unconditionally.
Find the sweet spot of pushin’ and cushion. We want to build our kids’ emotional muscles and help them expand their capacity to handle hard things. If we push our kids too hard, too fast, too soon, it’s such a negative experience that they avoid taking risks or trying new things in the future. But, if we cushion them too much and don’t push them at all, they never get the rewarding experience of overcoming their discomfort or finding something they were avoiding is actually fun. Pushin’ too hard or giving too much cushion continues to narrow what kids can tolerate. If you provide some pushin’ with cushion in a way that works for your particular child’s temperament and age, you’ll expand their capacity! Some kids need more pushin’ and others need more cushion, and this changes with age.
Let go of worry. There are a million and more ways we worry as parents. It’s normal to worry, and you can think of the natural worries that crop up as gifts to help us continue to be vigilant about protecting and caring for our kids. But, sometimes worries overwhelm and they get in the way of really enjoying our kids or our role as parent. Worry takes us out of the present and makes us practice fear-based parenting. So, let me offer one suggestion. Do you set loving boundaries for your kids? Are you there for them when they need you? Do you spend time having fun with them? If so, you’re doing what you need to do. Be intentional when you can, forgive yourself and ask for forgiveness for your less-than-optimal-sometimes-even-awful parenting moments, and don’t even worry so much about being a “better” mom (and, yes, I get the irony of this point and the title of the article!).
Tend to yourself. I know you’ve heard “self-care” more times than you’d like, and I wish I could apologize for boring you, but you need to hear it again. Admit it. Here’s why: To do anything well, and especially something as constantly demanding as parenting, and to do any of the suggestions on any list that help you be more intentional and “better” at parenting, you have to have enough capacity to do it. A dehydrated cow can’t be milked. An empty bank account can’t produce money. An exhausted, un-nurtured mama can’t nurture so well. Your ability to be an intentional, patient, fun mom is only as good as your capacity. Do stuff to fill your capacity. For your own sake. But I know that won’t be enough for some of you, so do it for the sake of your kids. Parenting at our own best requires the highest capacity we have, so we have to intentionally build our own capacity through self-care.
Expert: Tina Payne Bryson, PhD, is co-author (with Dan Siegel) of two New York Times bestsellers: The Whole-Brain Child and No-Drama Discipline. She is the Executive Director of the Center for Connection in Pasadena, California. She writes about kids and parenting at Tinabryson.com.
The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out episodes of the “ Ruby’s Studio” children’s video series, along with children’s books, apps, music, handmade dolls, and more.