One of the early discoveries parents make is their image of what life was going to be like as a parent is a far cry from the reality experienced.*
What may be the difference between perceived and real parental power?
Parents also learn early on that they don’t have the power that they think they should have to control their children, including the power to insist that their children are consistently calm, polite and cooperative.
While this sometimes is the case, discovering the inevitability of melt-downs, resistance, temper tantrums and a variety of forms of rebellion can humble most parents and can also be a source of frustration and anger.
I remember being so relieved to discover the work of the Gesell Institute that studied child behavior over many decades, repeating its research and showing that children pretty much remain the same in terms of their cycles of growth. [Check out Disequilibrium: The Toddler Red Tent | Huffington Post and the many other resources available via a Google search].
Predictable periods of behavior
By learning that there were predictable times of disequilibrium, I felt less responsible for those more challenging behaviors my children exhibited when in disequilibrium, and I also learned that those behaviors were out of their control as well. As difficult as it was to parent through times of disequilibrium, removing blaming and shaming made those times easier.
I was delighted to read a recent article shared with me on Facebook, written by Katherine Perry, the Infant-Parent Mental Health Program Associate for the Administration for Children’s Services in New York City. Ms. Perry poignantly shared her journey of awareness around disorganization, this conflict between images and realities parents often experience that can leave them feeling failure in their role as calm, collected parents. She herself experienced these feelings in her role as a nanny.
She writes about hearing Dr. Ed Tronic describe the role disorganization plays in building family connections. Her take away was the following: “… no relational system can grow without becoming disorganized. A relationship is an open system, which means that it’s always changing – it’s not stagnant. What has been observed scientifically and anecdotally is that constant synchronicity with your child is not possible. Every interaction isn’t supposed to be perfect. It’s when a mother and child are able to reorient to each other that they are able to solidify their bond. Basically, the magic of attachment is when you repair the rupture.”
She goes on to provide perspective with regard to embracing a healthy image of oneself as a parent.
“Having a healthy attachment to your child does not mean you never put them down, or never get a sitter or never get frustrated or you never break eye contact while breastfeeding or never want to cry on the floor of the bathroom. It means that your child can count on your dynamic to repair itself. Your child has faith in your ability to come back physically and emotionally. The relationship is designed so that both parties can have break downs. Those moments of disorganization is where the growth happens.”
She concludes by saying: “If we adjust the expectation of parents and caregivers to a more realistic spot, and embrace the inherent chaos that comes with loving a child (or anyone really) I think we’d be able to enjoy the process a little more, feel more supported by each other and cut back on judgement. Love is catastrophically messy, and it’s supposed to be.”
Parents are encouraged to feel the relief that comes when they can embrace children’s disorganization as well as children’s disequilibrium, concepts that are somewhat similar in nature although disorganization is more a feature of predictable conflicts in relationships.
Parents shouldn’t beat themselves up for those times of losing patience, becoming frustrated, being overwhelmed or discouraged. Embracing disorganization as both healthy and necessary can be a freeing concept that I encourage all parents to embrace.
Thank you, Katherine, for sharing your wisdom!
Invitation to Reflect
- As a parent, have you experienced those times when your children seem to be highly disorganized, in a state of disequilibrium, or difficult to soothe and manage? What have been your beliefs about your children’s abilities to control themselves? Or your beliefs about this being a reflection of your parenting?
- To what extent can you gain insight and perhaps comfort in knowing that times of disorganization are actually important for the promotion of your children’s growth? Your growth? The growth of your relationship?
- How might this change the ways you respond to your children? And to your own beliefs about yourself as a person and a parent?
Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network
* An excellent book that explores this in great detail is The Six Stages of Parenthood by Ellen Galinsky