Category Archives: Parenting

Best Tips for Dealing with Back to School Stress

Suggestions for easing Your Teen’s Mind

back to school stress; therapeutic activities for teens; calming resources.

Wow! Once again summer has raced by and back to school time is upon us. It seems that kids have to get back to school earlier and earlier every year, which sometimes seems to correlate to the time when it actually gets hotter and hotter.

Getting back to school can be stressful for the student who has enjoyed sleeping in a bit (it seems that the early hour that we start school really is not conducive particularly to Teens’ natural wake up rhythm). Or to the student who is starting high school, or just having concerns about new teachers, a new schedule, wondering if they’ll have friends, or feeling scared about all the work coming. Kids experience stress in response to the social dynamics at play with classmates, bullies, social media, and the socio-cultural-racial (and racist) world we live in.

Even if kids are excited to get back to school and looking forward to reconnecting with friends, they can experience stress as they make the change in their routine.

Of course, the stress can also be felt by the parents who have to get their kids back into an ‘early wake-up and get out the door quickly’ routine, and who have to deal with the frustrations or low energy or struggle that comes up about doing homework and other school-related projects. Or who are faced with fear and unease as they send their kids into potentially hostile and unsafe environments, that lack diversity or sensitivity to those kids’ needs.

Some parents may be happy to be back into the school routine and out of the challenging ‘summer time I’m bored’ routine, but as with any change (desired or not), there is some related stress as each person has to adapt to the new.

It’s important to remember that any change brings about some stress and we need to be mindful of that and make some room for the variety of responses to stress that can occur in ourselves and in our family (irritability, quick temper, tiredness, tearfulness, difficulty sleeping, restlessness, drama, grouchiness, withdrawal, intensified anxieties and worries, needing to talk a lot, sullenness, etc).

Here are some potentially fun and lighthearted ways to help your kids and teens to manage the back to school stress that they might be feeling. These are tools that your kids can learn and do, in order to be more present and therefore better able to deal with school and home life stress that is inevitable:

  • Play the game of sounds – that is, write down for a few moments all the different sounds that you can hear. Your teen can do this by himself, or you can do it together and see who hears the most sounds, or take turns and go from one to the next person naming the sounds that you hear.
  • Counting sounds – when you first arrive somewhere and you feel a little anxious, your teen can count the first 5 to 10 sounds that they hear. This can help them to settle in and get comfortable.
  • For an entertaining video that illustrates the point of going from our fight/flight/freeze response (which happens automatically whenever we feel threatened) to feeling more at peace, watch “The Fly“ on YouTube. It demonstrates that what we resist persists, and helps us to be more accepting of whatever is – which allows the hard stuff to actually pass more easily.
  • Listen to music. Have your teen identify a favorite song that makes them feel happy, sad, anxious, mad, etc. When listening to music they can listen for any silence that happens during the song or they can listen for one particular instrument only.
  • They can use a breath ball, opening it as they breathe in and closing it as they breathe out. Count to four in, pause for the count of four, breathe out and count to four, and then pause for a count of four again. Keep repeating this. This helps to calm down any anxiousness. They can also breathe in thinking “I’m giving myself a hug,” and then breathe out thinking “I’m giving the whole world a hug.”
  • The important thing is to build in purposeful pauses throughout their day, where they simply take a deep breath and check in with themselves to see how they’re feeling emotionally and physically, and to be kind to themselves, however they are.
  • Do a mountain or lake visualization. When breathing in, say to yourself ‘I see myself as a mountain. Breathing out I feel strong and solid.’ They can visualize a tree or an animal or someplace that holds meaning for them and that they connect to a sense of calm.
  • Parachute or scarf breathing. Toss a light scarf into the air and breathe in, and then allow yourself to breathe out at the same rate as the scarf as it falls.
  • You and your teen can align your breath with each other and be a mindful mirror. Change your breath to mimic theirs. Let them vary their own breath any way they like, and you follow. Then switch.
  • You might have mindful minutes with them by drawing with your finger on their back and having them guess what you’re drawing.
  • Encourage them to have every interaction of a day be meaningful.
  • Set limits on device use and screen time. Have designated tech-free areas in your home, or times in your week. Put your devices down too. Let alerts and reminders be reminders to be grateful about something or check in with your body.

All of these suggestions are tools to help be more mindful that are useful for your teen, as they’re getting back to school, as well as for yourself as you are adjusting to the next routine in your daily lives. Being mindful is about being present in the moment and paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, without judgment. Being mindful to your immediate experience helps to create more sense of calm and ease with whatever you are facing.

I’d love to hear from you. What’s helpful to you or your teen as you deal with back to school stress? What are some tricks you might have for creating calm in the midst of the storm?

If you or a teen that you care about is having difficulty making adjustments to changes in routine or dealing with adolescent issues, or you’d like more help with parent-teen interactions, please contact me for a parenting or teen therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

Best Tips for Mindfully Parenting Your Teen

Be the kind of parent you aspire to be (and maybe wish you‘d had)


Parenting teenagers can be really hard and often times ungratifying. (I know that’s not really a word, but you know what I mean – sucky, or just not getting any of your wishes met and not being gratified in any way as a parent. Disheartening and displeasing.)

The challenges and negativity can feel relentless. Aggravating. So tiresome. Endless, and you know, just ungratifying…

But you know in your heart of hearts it doesn’t have to be this difficult. You know you’re a good parent, and you’ve got a good kid…If only she could be more responsible, or he could have less attitude…

Maybe you’ve had one too many conflicts with your teenager this summer and you feel pretty exasperated at this point. You are so sick and tired of repeating the same lectures to him or her, over and over, and getting no cooperation. Your teenage child has made another bad decision (not turned in school work, gotten poor grades, picked on their younger sibling relentlessly, lied or distorted the truth about where they were, not cleaned up after themselves, hung out and gotten in trouble with friends who are bad influences, not taken responsibility for negative behaviors, etc.).

Or maybe you feel really wounded by their ugly attitude or the obnoxious disrespect that they seem to freely throw your way. Your feelings are mostly hurt, but actually, that just makes you feel madder at them. It sucks to be not appreciated for all that you do and then raged at on top of that. You may wonder (or resent) ‘How can they be so ungrateful when they have so much, and I work so damn hard?’

You are so tempted to throw your hands up and pull away so they can see for themselves once and for all, the difficulty or how hard it is to take care of themselves. You are no longer interested in being the parent because it’s so unrewarding and maddening most of the time. You have fantasies of banishing them from your household and letting them fend for themselves, never to bother you again and figuring it out on their own. They have let you down so many times.

You may be struggling with your own bitterness, anger, frustration, disappointment and feel like those negative feelings are causing you lots of stress and eating you alive. You know It’s not good for your health to be marinating in these feelings day after day. You can’t stand feeling like this.

Well, the good news is that it is possible to move through this time of discontent. This too shall pass.

The bad news is that you can’t make it go away instantaneously. So, to make it a little gentler and bearable on you (the person who wants to parent more positively), I have a few suggestions…

The main thing is to be mindful of your feelings, thoughts, actions. Strive to be responsive rather than matching your teen’s reactivity.

First, honor your own feelings. Do a RAIN practice for yourself:

Recognize what you’re feeling (discouragement, rage, sadness, fear)

Allow those feelings to simply be present. This is what is right now.

Investigate with kindness. What’s underneath these feelings? How are you treating yourself about these feelings? What does this feel like? Get to know your feeling rather than dismiss it.

Nurture whatever is needed. Maybe place a warm hand on your heart and breathe in kind attention.

Find a positive way to express your emotions. Or take a break and breathe until you are calmer and ready to talk. Know the damage that kids can go through to be the recipient of those negative feelings that too often might be expressed in a negative way (feeling not liked, not good enough, disconnected, angry – which inevitably goes inward in a self-destructive way, or outward in an aggressive other-destructive way.)

Do your best to remember that your teen’s anger or unappealing behavior is partly a cover-up for some shame or sorrow that he’s feeling inside, but can’t adequately articulate. And remember that grownups are like that too.

Here are some questions to reflect upon for yourself as you try to feel better about your parenting and try to improve the harmony in the household. It’s important to take some time and maybe even journal the answers to these questions, to give yourself time for consideration, before engaging in another argument with your teenager. Remember, the time you invest in tending to and having compassion for your own feelings and experiences will be meaningful in having more understanding and ease in your relationship with your teen.

  • What are you proudest of in your parenting?
  • What are your strengths as a parent?
  • What’s the last time you felt like you were being the kind of parent you wanted to be, and felt close to your child? What was going on?
  • What’s hard for you in parenting (or step-parenting)?
  • What kind of relationship do you aspire to have with your teen? What kind of parent do you have to be to have that? Make that your intention.
  • What was your relationship like with your parents when you were a teen? Are you close to one or the other of your parents? Yes, or no, what impacted that?
  • What do you appreciate and/or resent that your parents did, that helped you or hurt you?
  • When did you first notice you felt disappointed by your teen?
  • What are you aware of, about yourself that makes you not so easy to live with? And how have you tried to change or improve upon that?
  • What are your hopes for this teen? What are your fears?
  • What would you most love to hear from him/her?
  • What do you wish he understood better about you?
  • How do you make apologies, or like to be apologized to? How would you prefer to be approached by your teen?
  • What kind of support do you need to be a happier parent?

After spending some time checking in with yourself about your feelings around parenting, consider these tips:

  • Don’t come AT your child/teen. Try to come alongside him or her.
  • Don’t be a lie–invitee. Make it safe to express vulnerability, making mistakes, confusion.
  • Love the child you have and don’t punish him for not being the child you wish you had.
  • Listening deeply builds an open heart; it humanizes your teen.
  • Look at what you might be doing that’s contributing to the problem.
  • Reflect thoughtfully on how you were raised and see how much of that you want to repeat.
  • When you shame a child, it makes his anger grow (inwardly or outwardly). Pay attention to the words coming out of your mouth or your actions that might be shaming her.
  • Take care of your own self so you can be your best self when doing the hard work of parenting and not make things worse. Try to do no harm.
  • Give reasonable “punishment“ for the crime. Give an opportunity to earn privileges back, by acting responsibly and humanely.
  • Kids lie because they feel they’ve lost the connection (lost the feeling of being loved; or they want to appear good so they won’t lose your love; or they’ve lost some sense of security in who they are) – Acknowledge how hard and courageous it is to tell the truth. Check in with your own distortions of truth. Ask how you can help them to own their truth, even when it’s uncomfortable.
  • Show them how to, and model yourself healthy ways of handling discomfort (not self-medicating or zoning out; yes, articulating their feelings, asking for support, being in nature, having compassion, not believing thoughts, building resilience, pausing so they can calm themselves down, etc).

So thank you for reading this far. That means that even though you might be feeling frustrated, you have not given up on your teen, or on yourself. Clearly, you have it in you to keep being the good and courageous parent that you are.

I’d love to hear what your thoughts are about how to parent your teen and not lose your own sanity. It’s really important work that you’re doing and you deserve kind awareness about that.

If you or someone you care about is struggling in parenting or being parented, please contact me for a parenting or adolescent therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

Best Tips for Being a Good Father

In appreciation of Fathers

how to be a good father; positive parenting

Father’s Day has just passed, and I wanted to take the opportunity to acknowledge some of the many acts of fatherhood that I have been honored to witness lately.

In this time of unrest, where the images that we are bombarded with seem to be filled with hurtful, harmful actions of thoughtlessness and hate – often committed by men in power, I wanted to offer some other examples of strong men – particularly Dad‘s – who demonstrate care, consideration, inclusion, stability, kindness. I believe there are more good men in this world who really want to do right by their families and communities, than the ugly actions of a few would have us believe.

In my family, and my community and in who I work with, there are many more men who are unsung heroes; who plugin, are hands-on and deeply caring in everyday life as fathers.

This then is a simple but profound thank you to you who are actively creating a culture of care and presence and are mindful about fathering. Your contributions are important and not unseen. (My auto-fill first put the word ‘insane’ there – which in this day and age is appropriate also!)

First, to my own father – thank you for your steadiness; your endless offers to help; for your patience and mostly for your kindness. Thank you for working so hard so I could be OK. I know from my work that many people have not been as lucky as I in terms of having a present and generous father. Thank you for not letting the hardship of your life be destructive toward mine.

Thank you to my male relatives – grandfathers, uncles, and cousins – who have acted in a fatherly way toward me and my family, and been generous with time, attention, kindness, and hard work.

Deep appreciation to the father of my children who has been a blessing in their lives – instilling confidence and much love; sharing strength and tenderness – and who has been in a true parenting partnership with me.

Warmest regard to the dads I know through work and life who:

  • Are not afraid to shop for their teenage daughter or who take pride in teaching them how to wash a car the right way.
  • Who tear up when they make a wedding day toast to their kids.
  • Who raise their sons with love and tenderness after that son’s mom has died.
  • Who leave a legacy of doing good in the world, who continue to teach their children even after they (the dads) have died.
  • Who teach their kids practical skills like painting, construction, car maintenance.
  • Who delight in playing with their kids.
  • Who delight in being with and playing with their grandkids.
  • Who listen to their daughter’s feelings and even bear their tears.
  • Who teach their sons to be beautiful, strong, capable, contributing adult men of color.
  • Who can be loving and attentive to another man’s child and treat them as his own.
  • Who is excited about the upcoming birth of his child.
  • Who takes pride in his ethnicity and culture and imparts that to his children.
  • Who works on his own mental health issues, while trying to create a better life for his kids.
  • Who acknowledges his own privilege, racism, sexism and makes amends for ways he has been insensitive or been at fault.
  • Who are working on maintaining sobriety because that means a better future for their kids.
  • Who intentionally try to treat their kids in better ways than what they grew up with.
  • Who works a second job around children’s schedule.
  • Who care about giving children different opportunities than what was available to them.
  • Who want to protect their daughters from getting into abusive relationships.
  • Who accept their daughters and sons when they come out, and continue to love them fully.
  • Who love to laugh, play music or dance with their kids.
  • Who through it all, try to maintain respectful communication with their children’s mom.
  • Who aren’t afraid to say “I’m sorry” or “I love you” or “I’m afraid”.

These are just a few of the admirable behaviors I have witnessed, done by good fathers. How about you? What are you thinking and feeling about the fathers in your life – present or passed? How would you add to this list? I’d love to hear.

If you or someone you love is mourning the father you had, or never had; or struggling in your relationships with fathers in your life, and need help to come to more peace, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

The Importance Of Getting Your Kids To Cry

How to handle frustration

mindful parenting; handling difficult emotions, how to have more connection with your kids.

If you are a parent, you’re probably familiar with your children’s expression of frustration. Children often get to their frustration point rather easily and let it be known in big out loud ways. Parents often get to their own frustration point in return rather easily when their kids express those super frustrating signs of frustration. Pretty soon the family squabble has erupted, with both, parent and child feeling locked into a power struggle over who’s the most frustrated (or frustrating).

You know – all of that whining, complaining, arguing when they can’t have what they want. Or raising their voice, begging, pleading, negotiating for a certain toy or item to be purchased at the store. Having a meltdown when they can’t go to their friend’s house because they have school work to finish, or a family gathering to attend instead.

Getting angry when you impose a time limit on their screen time. Or when they’re actually off of their screens per your order, but are restless and bored and complain obnoxiously that “There’s nothing to do!!“

Every day frustrations can derail the day, several times a day.

Refusing to do homework and throwing it across the room or hiding it under the bed and not turning it in when it’s too hard. Not getting a good grade and being sarcastic with you, or with the teacher about it, accusing her of hating them. Calling you names or saying that they hate you or that you’re the worst parent ever when you’ve said no to their request (or more likely, to their demand). Rolling their eyes or ignoring you when you make a perfectly reasonable request of them (like to clean up their room, or help with getting dinner on the table) or when you have interrupted their social time.

Often a child’s/tweens‘/Teen’s frustration looks like they are purposefully doing the opposite of what we ask, or defying us; trying to make us mad or manipulate us into losing control. Or needling us, trying to push our buttons.

Kids’ frustration can trigger parents’ frustration

With all the daily eruptions of frustration happening all around us (at work, on the road, in our communities, in the world) it’s easy to see how our own sense of frustration gets triggered when we come home and experience our kids’ (immature) ways of expressing their frustration. We may react in an equally immature way.

…And it’s hard to see that there might actually be a gift present in those frustration outbursts that we work very hard to avoid. Hard to believe that in those moments of our own frustration (anger, overwhelm, irritation) with our kids’ behavior, that the thing most called for is actually crying… No, not you sitting and crying in a puddle in the middle of the kitchen floor because the situation is so difficult and you don’t know what else to do (though that is definitely called for in other moments), but actually helping our children get to the cry that’s underneath their accumulation of frustration.

… WHAT? Help my kids get to the cry when they’re already frustrated and acting a fool with all of their crying and screaming and moaning and basically temper tantrumming?!? WHAAT? How can that be useful? That will just teach them that it’s OK to have a hissy fit for everything… No, I’m not gonna do that…

No, no negative emotions on my watch

Naturally, as busy parents with a million and one stressors and frustrations already on our plate, we make our best effort to block the negative and often unpleasantly emotional reactions from erupting or taking place in our already-not-optimally-functioning homes.

We may give in to our children’s rudeness in order to avoid the big meltdown that we know will occur if we don’t do what they say. Or we try to bury our head in the sand and hope their frustrations go away or work themselves out on their own.

We are tired, stressed, feeling under-appreciated ourselves. We certainly don’t want them to feel hurt from some mean interaction with a school mate; or upset with us when we haven’t been able to be available. We don’t want them to feel damaged in any way, especially by us. We also don’t want them to feel any other “negative“ emotion.

We are overwhelmed that they seem to especially show their less-than-stellar ways of expressing frustration at the most inopportune times  – the end of the day when everyone is exhausted, or when making the transition home or off of screen time, or doing chores; before homework; or in the morning when we have an important meeting to get out the door in a hurry for, or late at night before bed when all we can think of is going to sleep.

No good time for stress to hit

Or it seems that the frustrations erupt whenever we have other deadlines and demands to pay attention to. Often we’re in a transition time of our own too, so by definition we’re a little more vulnerable, a little more unsteady and reactionary, and we react in ways that aren’t so helpful and may, in fact, make things worse.

We react not as our best selves. We might start to lecture (that same lecture that we’ve already given 1 billion times); we get critical; we raise our voice; we have that terrible tone in our voice of irritation, escalation, disapproval, intolerance. We feel out of control and start to plead, whine, threaten, be sarcastic, demand or dictate that they don’t show their feelings that way, or disrespect us like that.

Vulnerability lurks underneath the outward expression of frustration

However, underneath all of that external expression of frustration, we feel overwhelmed, sad about the state of affairs; hurt and reminded of times early in our life where we felt ignored, unloved, bad somehow. We feel vulnerable and inadequate and at a loss about what to do. We feel weary; like things have been so hard for so long, or we can never do anything right. So disappointed in them, and then, of course, in ourselves. We feel tender or little ourselves. We do want to sit and cry…

Certainly, our kids don’t have any idea that that’s how we’re feeling on the inside… Just like it’s hard for us to imagine that our kids are feeling something tender and wounded underneath their eruptions of anger or rage or frustration.

What’s the outcome of all of this frustration?

Kids, when they’re frustrated, have a tendency to become aggressive somehow – either toward others (siblings, parents, teachers, classmates) or toward themselves. Parents, like kids, do the same. We are all vulnerable human beings that have less-than-stellar ways of showing our frustration and distress when we are pushed.

So all of this provides a clue about why, when our kids are acting out their frustrations, our job as parents is to help them GET TO THE CRY.

If we can sustain ourselves through their emotional outbursts (and not give in, or run and hide, or engage in some nasty power struggle with them), we can be present to their frustration with kindness, and increase the chances of helping them move through it.

If they get stuck in their frustration, (which can happen when as parents we engage in a battle or power struggle with them) they’ll become aggressive somehow. If they move through it instead, they’ll manage some adaptation and acceptance and be able to make peace with what’s lost.

They need our presence, and acceptance of the disappointment they feel about whatever loss they’ve experienced (independence, connection, affiliation, fun, things not being the way they want, etc.).

Why it’s important to Get to the Cry

When they can GET TO THE CRY, they go through a mini cycle of the stages of grief and this makes them more resilient, more knowing of how to handle difficult experiences, more confident about their own capacity to move through hard things. Getting to the Cry involves connecting with one’s true feelings – which is part of what being emotionally intelligent means.

Haven’t you had the experience of having a good cry about something that you’ve been really upset about or frustrated by and felt so much better afterward? Getting to the Cry allows for release and relief of those feelings that are built up.

Making deeper connections with your kids

Letting your children get to the cry and staying as steady as you can with it actually increases the connection you have with them – which is the singular most important condition that they need, to be able to face all the challenges they will have in life. Getting to the cry keeps frustration from turning into hurtful aggression toward a child herself, or toward others.

So how exactly to do it?

How to help your child Get to the Cry in the middle of their frustration outburst,  and keep your own cool at the same time?

  1. First, take a deep breath. Try to find some space to breathe slowly and bring some calm to your heart. Hard to steady them when you’re unsteady yourself.
  2. Notice how you’re feeling and give a name to it (irritated, annoyed, angry, exhausted… Frustrated…). Sometimes just naming it gives you some space around the feeling, a little more room to breathe. Practicing naming your own feelings helps to be able to name your kids’ feelings as well.
  3. Try not to personalize their bad behavior. Realize they are letting off some steam, and right now this is the best tool they’ve got. Plus, if their meltdowns have “worked“ in the past, they won’t just stop doing it now because you’re ready to help them get to the cry. When you don’t take personally all of the negative stuff they’re saying or acting, you actually empower them to be more resourceful, and aware of how they can impact others. When you don’t take things personally you free yourself and give them freedom as well.
  4. Come alongside your child rather than AT him. Be curious rather than furious about what she feels. Help them talk about what’s underneath their frustration rather than just ineffectively vent and complain.
  5. Be OK with seeing them be sad or mad. Don’t tell them how they should or should not feel. Remember, if you want them to be connected to you, your job is to be compassionate about whatever they feel, not selective about which feelings are acceptable to present. Try to hear all feelings with equanimity and not try to talk them out of their feelings.
  6. Listen. Hear them out. You don’t have to say too much. (In fact, it’s best if you hear yourself debating, bargaining, negotiating, giving advice, lecturing, moralizing, etc., that you try to get quiet instead). See if you can identify their feeling (aggravation, annoyance, pissed, upset, sad, scared, etc.). “I hear how pissed you are that you can’t go to the movies tonight. That must feel pretty rotten. I’d be pretty mad too if I couldn’t do something that was important to me.“
  7. Gently but firmly move to a deeper layer of emotion: “It’s really disappointing, isn’t it, to miss out on something you know will be fun.“ “It hurts when it feels like we are so unfair and like you’re the only kid who can’t go.“ “You probably wish you had different parents right now, huh?“ “You’re so mad right now that you’re afraid you’re going to cry.“

Try to move to the deeper emotion and let your young person know you understand where he’s coming from and why his frustration is so big. It generally never works to get someone to back down by throwing a heavier harder bigger punch, so don’t battle your kids about their frustration.

When they do cry, or fight back tears, or tell you all the other things that happened today that really hurt them and that’s why they’re so mad, accept and love those feelings.

8. Of course, as the parent, you have to know, own and respect your own frustrations and emotions, with kindness too. Check how you act when you’ve had a really frustrating day. Be willing to examine your own expression of emotions. Try to notice how that comes across to and affects the people around you.

Do your own self-care (yoga, exercise, a walk, meditation or mindfulness practices, BREATHING) so you have the resilience to help your kids with their frustrations. Model positive ways of dealing with difficult emotions. GET TO YOUR OWN CRY.

…Your thoughts about helping your kids get to the cry? Reply back and share.

If you or someone you care about needs help Getting to the Cry in your family, please contact me for parenting therapy and support.

Also, don’t miss a FREE parenting series happening NOW about raising children with challenges – that is chock full of ideas and support to help you get through more gracefully this time of parenting. Susan Stiffelman interviews several experts and the talks are free to listen to for 48 hours. Click here to register.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

Parents Need Support Too

Parents’ Lives Matter

raising children with challenges; positive parenting; mindful parents

So, I believe in the importance of giving parents as much support as possible, while they are raising their children – you know, while raising those young ones who will be taking care of all of us; or leading us; or will be our policy makers a decade or two in the future… but who right now may be challenging us at our core.

I think the way we support parents directly impacts the way they are then able to support their children; which directly impacts the future and quality of our world. Providing parents with emotional and practical support is a powerful way to make the world a better place – and to make it a little kinder, one family at a time.

Parenting is hard work

Parenting is a challenging, difficult, requiring hard work, demanding and often thankless job. It can be exhausting; at times overwhelming; so confusing, to be responsible for all the decisions and care that need to be made. Each stage presents a multitude of developmental challenges for the child; and for the parents of the child. Parenting can be isolating and can lead to doubts and self-judgments, even among busy urban professionals who are successful in many other areas of life.

It is humbling to be the parent of a child who “falls out“ in the crosswalk as you hold his hand to cross the street; or who hits another child at school; or who maintains poor study habits and doesn’t get her work done; or the tween who is so critical of everything you say or do; or the teenager who feels everything to the nth degree and seems overly dramatic in expressing their feelings. Humbling, and painful to have daily battles over homework, screen time, chores, emotions run amuck.

We cringe as parents when our kids are hurtful, or unappreciative to us, especially after we do so much for them. We feel frustration and sometimes the awful resentment when they don’t listen to us, or they embarrass us and make us look bad in front of our peers.

Stress in the world, in our home and within ourselves can be too much

Of course urban parents have a lot of other stressors going on in their lives at the same time – huge economic pressures if living in places like the Bay Area; work demands that often don’t fit perfectly into a 9-to-5 schedule; illness; marital struggles; exhaustion; your car not starting; or a leak in the roof; relatives who are forever dependent upon your assistance in some way; trying to protect family members from dangers or bullies at work, school or home, or any other pressure that doesn’t go away.

Not to mention the added stress of having had painful struggles with your own parents when you were a kid; or suffering some profound loss or trauma – Then or Now; or generally never feeling quite good enough. We can feel alone in the parenting world, even if we have a partner; or such shame when we see how others only post all of their wonderful family experiences on Facebook; or guilt when we realize we aren’t doing enough, or our work/life balance is out of whack.

We can feel all too often like a Hot Mess of a parent.

…I just read that becoming a mother is considered a high risk factor for developing depression… or as my colleague said, “a child never needs to have a mommy more than when she becomes a mother”!

All of these conditions (and more) can come together and create a perfect storm of stress for the parents and family, often causing angry outbursts or crying spells, ongoing arguments or conflict, or troubled health – in the parent and/ or the child. No one wants to suffer the family disharmony that can easily be ignited. Yet these family struggles are part of everyday parenting and family life.

How to make it better

But getting parenting support can make an enormous difference in a  family’s life. With support parents can feel like they are not alone. They can internalize the wisdom and care that comes from external support and develop a sense and source of calm from within that helps them learn to maintain their balance, even when the kids act out or are disruptive, or have special challenges. Parenting support can strengthen the connection between partners; and between parents and their children.

Receiving parenting support is like securing your own oxygen mask before you secure your kids’ – it’s a way of getting your own security in place so you can truly be attentive and responsive to your kids’ need for security. It’s a way of healing the hole in your own bucket, so you can not drip your own resources away as you nurture them.

Getting support around parenting can create a stronger foundation, so when the blowups or stressors or daily challenges inevitably happen, both parents and kids can have more stability to stand on.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. We know it also takes a village to support a parent. It’s so much easier to go through hard things when you feel like someone has your back and you are not alone.

So what is supportive to a parent? Here are four things that are helpful to the hard work of parenting:

1) Listening

This is actually the number one tool necessary to develop a good and secure attachment with your kids, which ultimately helps them to succeed in life and become positively contributing human beings. When you as a parent are deeply listened to yourself – allowed to feel what you feel, given a chance to express what’s on your mind or in your heart, and caringly understood, you’re in a much better position to offer that to your kids. Parents can create listening partnerships with partners, or friends to share the experiences of hardship and joy of parenting, and develop a supportive network. Take turns to just listen to each other without having to fix or change anything. Notice how when you feel heard, things seem a little easier and more hopeful.

2)  A Chance to Breathe 

Yes, deep breaths, mindful attention, time to be quiet with your own thoughts, daily mindfulness or meditation can be enormously supportive,  helpful and calming to one’s inner parenting distress, so that it doesn’t seep out (in destructive ways) to your everyday life. Fortunately, daily parenting offers many moments to center oneself, take a few slow deep breaths, notice the sounds, feelings or body sensations that are going on inside and around you. Each moment welcomed as it is, creates a more secure foundation for future moments, however, they present themselves, and builds a deeper sense of ease, with which to respond from.

3) Community

You are not alone in this struggle. Do yourself and your family a favor, by engaging with others; looking for parent support groups; mindful mama groups; parenting classes. We all do better when we don’t feel alone and when we can share our burdens and responsibilities. Maybe your biological family is not one you can count on for support; but you can create “family“ with other parents who are struggling just like you.

4) Parenting Tools, Skills and Education

You can work with a therapist like me. I especially like working with urban professionals, people of color, parents who care about diversity – and sharing tools that are all about healing past and current family relationships. I believe that giving attention to the sacred time of parenting – with all of its joys and frustrations – is the most important thing we can do – and the most fruitful – in creating a better world.

You don’t have to be overwhelmed in this struggle in your family as you do this most courageous and personally challenging job. You can benefit from learning some practical skills and concepts that maybe you never have had exposure to before, like mindful parenting, non-violent communication, purposeful pauses, self-compassion, everyday mindfulness, etc.

An excellent resource I would highly recommend that I know will be extremely useful in learning some new ideas and practical skills about how to be the best parent you can be is an online FREE series coming up next week (March 20-22) called “Raising Children with Challenges”, hosted by my respected colleague, Susan Stiffelman. She writes a parenting column for the Huffington Post and has offered other summits for parents that are hugely valuable and down to earth and REAL about parenting without power struggles, or parenting in the digital age. (If you can’t catch the free live presentations, they’ll be available for purchase so you can keep all the talks in your own parenting toolbox library).

So what comes up for you as you reflect on your own parenting struggles and joys? Are you getting enough support? Share your feedback here.

If you or someone you care about is having a hard time managing the parenting struggle and would like some solid heartfelt support, please contact me for a parenting therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445