How to Self-Reflect as a Parent

This year, as we move towards self-improvement, not every goal is managing our chronic illness. I know that some of my secondary, unwritten goals are to be a better parent to Jai. Self-reflection is still essential, but how do you self-reflect as a parent? What are some of the crucial steps or changes you should make? Are there any changes that need to be made?

Parenting is one of those areas where there is no right answer.

Each person has their own style and belief, and because there’s this instinct built into the process of parenting, it’s hard to move beyond the hardwiring. But as with everything in our life, we should take a moment to reflect on how we parent.

Who am I as a Parent?

This is the number one question to start asking yourself: who am I as a parent? Am I gentle, unstructured, helicopter, snowplow, fighter jet? How does this style of parenting impact my child? Do I walk away from each interaction feeling positive about how I handled the situation or do I feel like I lost control?

Take a moment and be honest. Self-reflection isn’t easy and the answers to those questions may be difficult. But remember, it’s never too late to make changes to your parenting style.

If you have a partner, ask them how they see you as a parent. You’ll want them to be honest, so while you might get defensive by what they say, try to be open. The truth can be hard to hear, but it is the only way to reflect on the changes that you want to make.

Take the time to write down all that you come up with about your parenting style and abilities. Separate the positive aspects to your parenting with the negative aspects.

What Parent do I want to be?

In my self-reflection, I naturally break it up into two categories: parenting styles I admire and styles I want to avoid. I develop this reflection by watching myself and other parents around me.

Understand that this is my personal self-reflection and may not match your beliefs. That’s okay, it’s better that you hold to your values as a parent. Every person holds something important that differs from another. I am using my lists as an example, not a standard.

Reflecting on the parent I don’t want to be

This list came from watching strangers interact with their children. All of these points were witnessed by me first hand, none come from a hypothetical situation. I do not want to be:

  • An overbearing parent. I do not want to smother my child so I lose my identity into being a mother.
  • A parent that calls my child negative names, especially in front of him.
  • A parent that criticizes Jai when he does something “wrong,” especially if it’s not the way I would do it.
  • Quick with a sharp response to something he does that I don’t like.
  • Someone who does not respect my child’s boundaries.

Reflecting on the parent I do want to be

Again, this is a list I drew up after watching others interact with their children. I do want to be:

  • A respectful parent to Jai, regardless of what he does now or later in life.
  • Able to provide my child with a safe space to grow and learn at his own pace. I will provide the appropriate amount of pressure to keep him motivated without overdoing it.
  • A parent who loves my child unconditionally and not use my affection as a weapon to modify his behavior (i.e. I do not want to withhold affection & conversation until Jai complies).
  • Someone that provides a safe emotional space to work through his feelings free from judgment, blame, or guilt.
  • Able to provide my child age-appropriate boundaries and allow him to test them without fear of retribution.

Synthesis of Parenting

When it comes time to reflect on my own parenting, I want to take the items on both lists and compare my own experiences. At this point, I create a series of questions to ask myself:

  • Do I spend a lot of time talking about Jai to others? Do I neglect my needs in order to prioritize his in an unhealthy way?
  • Do I use unkind names in front of Jai or directed at him? Could he construe any of these names as directed at him when they are not?
  • Do I criticize Jai when he does a particular task a different way than me?
  • Am I responding to his behaviors in a sharp manner when he does something I do not like? Do I apologize to him when I do?
  • Do I respect the boundaries Jai sets for me or do I ignore them?
  • Am I setting up a pattern of respecting Jai in what he does, regardless of my feelings?
  • Do I provide Jai with a safe space to do his own thing supervised and unsupervised?
  • Am I truly unconditional in my love for Jai or do I use my love as a tool to modify his behavior?
  • Do I grant Jai the space to work through his emotions, free from judgment? Do I place an unfair standard on him to manage his emotions?
  • Am I actually granting Jai age-appropriate boundaries or might they be something for a child 3 months younger?

After creating these questions, it’s time for me to answer them honestly. It’s a rather long list so I will us only one as an example.

Am I responding to his behaviors sharply when he does something I do not like? Do I apologize to him when I do?

I do respond to his behaviors that I don’t like sharply sometimes. I either don’t understand what’s happening (he’s in the other room, and I hear loud banging like he’s being destructive) or I don’t know why he does an action I told him not to do it.

Either way, it stems from a place of anger, exasperation, and lack of perspective. I can make the argument that it’s from my MS that puts me in this space: anger because I am thinking about something else, exasperation from fatigue, and lack of perspective also stemming from exhaustion.

These are reasons, but they are not excuses for my sharp behavior. I am the adult in the relationship; therefore I must act like one. Before I react to Jai, I need to reflect on my potential reactions and try to find a kinder, more mature way to respond to something I don’t want him to do. I know I don’t apologize nearly enough when I snap at Jai, so through this self-reflective exercise, I recognize that I must do more to apologize when I behave in a manner unbecoming.

How to Self-Reflect as a Parent

Here comes the “too long; didn’t read” part of this blog post. Below are some bullet points from above:

  • Make a list of the examples of parenting you don’t like in your own life. This can be from your parents, friends, or strangers. Include things you might do.
  • Make a second list of the examples of parenting you do like in your own life. Again, include what you do in your own parenting.
  • Ask yourself questions either directly off the examples you come up with like I did above, or what might arise from creating the two lists.
  • Answer as many questions you come up with as honestly as possible. This will be difficult, but an important step.
  • Figure out, through research, what would help you achieve your parenting goals. Create a plan of action for future occurances. Find ways to stick with them!

Today’s post is a bit of a break from the chronic illness aspect to making changes this year. I will address some parenting & chronic illness points in Friday’s newsletter. If you haven’t already, please sign up for it so you don’t miss a post.

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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton

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