Ask the Therapist
Chani Paneth, LCSW
With the start of the school year, I always vow to be a better parent: more patient, more attentive, and more present. But as life kicks in, I quickly slip into my old habits and it’s hard to regain my footing. What can I do to be a better parent and maintain good parenting habits that endure?
Let’s be honest. Who doesn’t struggle with raising children? It is a hard job. We are all doing the best we can. But we can also do better.
Good parenting helps foster empathy, honesty, self-reliance, self-control, kindness, cooperation, and cheerfulness, says Laurence Steinberg, PhD, author of The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting. It also promotes intellectual curiosity, motivation, and desire to achieve.
So, how does one become a good parent? I believe it stems from becoming more self–aware. In Mesilas Yesharim, the mussar sefer from the Ramchal, it states: The idea of watchfulness is for one to be cautious of his deeds and matters, namely, contemplating and watching over his deeds and ways whether they are good or evil. Watchfulness can be defined as becoming more self-aware. Having self-awareness is understanding why you feel what you feel and why you behave in a particular way. When we as parents are aware of what we are doing, how we are feeling, or what we are projecting, it can help us get to a better place in terms of our parenting. How so?
If you are in the midst of making dinner and doing laundry and paying bills or any other household task, and your six-year-old keeps nagging to use your phone or get a snack, how will you respond? If you come home from a long day’s work with a 50-minute commute and a thousand worries on your head, and your nine-year-old wants to play on your phone or ask you a million questions, how do you respond?
Self-awareness helps parents make intentional choices, according to Carla Naumburg, PhD, author of Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters. Naumburg notes, “Quite simply, the more self-aware we are, the more likely we are to behave in ways that are congruent with who we want to be and how we want to interact with the people in our lives, including our children.”
We tend to think we are self-aware, but the truth is many of us are just not. We are, very often, wholly unaware of the emotional state we are currently in, and the degree to which that state influences our thought processes and behaviors. Everyone has moments when what they perceive about themselves doesn’t match up to others’ reality of them. This lack of self-awareness can create dissonance in our relationship with our children and hold us back from being better parents. When we manage our emotional state, we are better able to manage other elements of our lives as well, such as parenting.
So how can you become more a self-aware parent? One great way is to check in with yourself, asking questions such as “How am I feeling right now? What do I think might be driving that feeling?”
So, let’s go back to the original example of being in the middle of doing mundane tasks at home with many different worries crowding your brain. This time, when your six-year-old keeps nagging to play on your phone, instead of your knee-jerk response of “Enough already!” or some similar negative reaction, STOP. Think. Ask yourself: how am I feeling right now? What do I think might be driving or causing that feeling? Which can lead to: I may be feeling annoyed that someone is bothering me while I have so much on my plate already.
When we are able to rethink our emotional state, we can then begin the process of reframing how we want to speak with our children. In this case, you can say to yourself: my six-year-old doesn’t know what’s going on in my head. He just wants attention. How can I speak with him in a way that does not make it about me and my feelings?
Checking in with oneself needs to become a regular practice in order to make any significant change. It is one of many tips and tools available for someone who is working on self-awareness.
Hopefully, this article can help you begin your ever-evolving journey towards self-awareness, in order to become a better parent.
Chani Paneth, LCSW, has over 15 years clinical experience as a licensed individual and family therapist. She maintains a private practice and can be reached at email@example.com.