The LONG Road to Leaning Into The Power of Connectedness, Anchoring Our Families and Leading with Love. The Steps I Took to Move From Being a Pressure Parent to a More Purposeful One.
Sweet child of mine….this cherub faced child almost killed me. For REAL.
I found these pictures recently and I cried…..tears of sadness lined with gratitude. I was finally able to look at them with completely FRESH EYES. And perhaps for the first time, I saw exactly what I NEEDED to see.
The one of my sweet boy in a sea of his classmates is especially precious and poignant. I love it most because it’s a gentle; yet, salient reminder for parents to focus solely ON YOUR CHILD. In this case, my child, and let the rest fade away into the BACKGROUND. Without the constant pull of the comparison trap, we are all conditioned to take part in-from birth forward.
As you can likely guess, these pictures are from my oldest son’s kindergarten graduation. A time in my life and in my parenting when I struggled the hardest. It was also a time that was very far from what it “appeared to be” from the outside looking in.
Sadly, this time was sort of a blur for me too….I was unaware of just how pervasive the grips of perfectionism were for me as a person and a mama. Yet, this deep seeded behavioral pattern was leading me down a dark, desolate and lonely road where I was struggling (on the daily) and fully in the throes of becoming a bonafide “pressure parent.”
But THIS TIME when I looked at these photos, I didn’t see any of that, I just saw HIM.
His beauty, his curiosity, his boundless energy and hope-filled eyes, his excitement and mostly, his pride of accomplishment. It feels really different to reflect upon it now because; sadly, I didn’t have quite this clarity of perspective back then.
Thankfully, I do now.
Moreover, our smiles in the picture below not only capture our joy that he (we) actually made it though the year, but, they also freeze-frame the recognition that our particular journey was quite a FEAT (to say the least).
In that first year of structured schooling our boy struggled mightily to conform to collective expectations and to wrangle his overflowing spirit. And I struggled, deeply and painfully, right alongside him.
The guilt, the shame, the frustration, the overwhelm… they were my constant companions during this dark time. I cried consistently before bed as my inner critic politely broke down all of my inadequacies. It played them for me on rolling repeat…each and every evening.
Then I lay awake, staring at his beautiful picture on my nightstand, wondering how tomorrow was going to be any different? I thought about if I actually had what it took to be HIS mom, or if I was somehow scarring him for life. It was a time marred with complex emotions, exhaustion and EXASPERATION.
I was drained, depleted, and utterly overwhelmed as I worked tirelessly to be the best for him while also showing up for my two other little ones, and fulfilling my roles as a wife and professional. No matter what small daily successes we saw, I couldn’t help but feel like a failure and; quite frankly, I was angry and frustrated that I just couldn’t “fix” the “problem” on my own. I was a FIXER out there in my professional life… yet I was falling way short in my own zone of existence.
Come to find out, it had very little to do with my seasoned skill-set and so much more to do with my mindset and the HARD CORE lessons I needed to learn in the UGLY arena of comparison and impression management. I realize now that much of this was a function of the pressure-filled mentality I was willingly subscribing too.
I was choosing to allow these external things to infiltrate my mind, activate my natural tendencies toward perfectionism, and morph into a style of parenting I’m not proud of. At that time, I was literally a poster child for “pressure parenting”; yet, I had limited self-awareness of this destructive pattern or the damaging side effects.
You might be wondering what the heck a “pressure parent” actually is?
First off, I believe that “pressure parents” typically have a tremendous amount of LOVE for their child. However, it’s the intensity of this LOVE and the boundless energy they have to focus on and devote to developing their child to their fullest potential, that is often expressed in a way that is pressure-inducing. Yet, it’s also, almost always, lined with good intentions (at least that’s how it felt for me).
In a way, I liken this type of parenting to a pressure valve that builds insurmountable “pressure” (both real and perceived) from a commingling of both internal and external forces (perfectionistic mindsets, stress, impression management, the comparison trap, and wrestling with the dignity of risk). The pressure builds substantially on the INSIDE and becomes exceedingly volatile. When the valve gives way and bursts (due to overarching stress or a number of other factors) it can spew irreparable damage unto itself and those in its stead.
For me, many of those pressure-filled factors included a completely warped sense of what wife-dome, mom-dome, and a busy professional life looked like all mixed together. I was drowning in a sea of unrealistic expectations, self-imposed chaos and overwhelm and I needed a way out. I actually needed an ANCHOR….because I wasn’t suffering alone. I was slowly but surly taking the whole fleet down with me.
Thankfully, my anchor came in the form of increased self awareness that was an outgrowth of my personal health scare (as crazy as that may sound). Isn’t it odd that so many of us will stay unrelenting in our commitment to patterns (even unhealthy ones) until we are literally or figuratively knocked to the ground and forced to take stock and re-assess? It took one and a half years and believing that I was actually going to DIE to wake me the heck up. Ironically, it’s this EXACT tendency to operate on “autopilot” that can feed the momentum of these pressure-filled patterns. It surely did for me.
I’m now proud to say, that because I’m an avid learner and open-minded mama who is fiercely committed to self-improvement (and a healthy dose of introspection) I finally “got it”. Hallelujah!!! I made some critical connections and learned some key lessons in BOTH life and parenting through this challenging experience and for that I am immensely GRATEFUL.
Namely, I learned that in order to LEAD myself and my family with LOVE I needed to get off of autopilot (which helped to silence my inner critic and perfectionistic tendencies) and move to MANUAL mode, where I operated from a heightened level of awareness, intention, presence and a more PURPOSE driven parenting style.
It was cultivating this full-bodied mindset makeover that lent itself to my massive transformation and ability to spark the success we were seeking as a family. But, admittedly, it was a long hard road.
Over time, I began to understand more fully that if I truly wanted to enact a meaningful change process in our family life, I needed to come to terms with the fact that I was a actually a “pressure parent”. And in order to change what was happening in my household, it was mainly going to be an INSIDE job.
But I had to start with a singular focus before I could effect change on a larger scale. This was challenging in and of itself because it felt “selfish” and initially left me with a boat load of mom guilt. Namely because the concept of self-care was quite counter-intuitive to me (it was not something I was taught and the martyr-mama mentality had been heavily conditioned in both my youth and the early years of my own family’s life).
Moreover, boundary setting and, dare I say, wielding the word NO, felt like sheer blasphemy. Needless to say, I had to get comfortable moving in uncomfortable spaces. But I committed to doing the inner work because, quite frankly, I had exhausted so many of the other options.
Within the trenches of the inner work, I came to learn that the strife we were experiencing had practically NOTHING to do with my cherub faced boy, and everything to do with ME. My mindset, my tendencies, and the allure of the big, bad comparison trap. That admission, took some time to fully unearth and even more intentional soul-searching to grasp this starkly shifting perspective.
I also had to recognize that these previous patterns could not simply be erased (as much as I longed to simply wish them away). This destructive style had consequences and had come at a costly fee…..our collective happiness and my relationship with this beautiful boy. All of which would require some reparations. I needed to own that.
I’m stubborn and quite persistent so even with some serious introspection and insight, I held steadfast to this pressure-filled pattern way longer than I should have. I think we can all agree that ingrained habits are HARD to break (so I have to give myself some grace for that). I also needed to recognize that this burden was not mine alone to carry~and that was key.
So when I finally realized that I wasn’t going to figure a “way out” of this situation on my own (and I stopped holding my own feet to the fire like I was supposed to… like it was ALL ON ME, and like not having the answers meant I was a failure) when I stopped doing that, and put that inner critic on MUTE, everything changed. For both of us.
You see, despite my substantial knowledge in the field of ABA and my successful work with countless other children, I needed to manage my personal mindset but also get out of MY OWN WAY and allow others to get involved because I was just a smidgen too close to the situation to be completely objective.
Initially, I didn’t even realize I was being a pressure parent you guys!! I actually thought I was being a GREAT parent by immersing myself deeply in my sons day to day existence across all settings and being completely “on top of” ALL THE THINGS!
That’s the crazy part! We trick ourselves into believing these lies. That the “pressure” is a badge of honor and an outgrowth of the tremendous LOVE we have for our kiddos and our tireless commitment to their success.
Mamas, this is a CROCK.
Because the only deliverable the “pressure” ever gave us was added tension and stress, heartache, discord and disconnection within our family unit. It broke down our trust and hindered our capacity to operate symbiotically. It was as if our house was a “clash of the titans episode” melded with “groundhog day” eight days a freaking week!! Perhaps exciting to “watch” but not exciting “to live”. Those days were so, so hard (like every single minute)!! And I often remember wondering, is this REALLY what parenting is supposed to be like because I’m not sure I’ll survive this??
Life with extraordinary children is often consistently inconsistent, but the one uber consistent in our daily life at that time was power struggles and BATTLES. Way too many battles, because I PICKED THEM ALL (I’m a behavior analyst remember). So that’s where my training was a bit of a detriment to our optional family functioning, if I’m being fully transparent.
It was becoming less and less manageable to “stay the course” and more and more apparent that my pressure parenting ways were the most TOXIC aspect of our puzzling equation….I was FINALLY beginning to put all the pieces together!!!
I was coming to understand that I couldn’t be the LEADER and the DOER and the QUALITY CONTROL director and the loving MOM simultaneously-which I had tried to do for several years prior and only managed to run myself into the ground (literally and figuratively) to the point of a physical breakdown from the stress. It was not the best choice…. I realize that now.
So, when I FINALLY turned to others, the consensus about our boy was still unclear… from labels like “behavior problem to hyperactive, to having a BIG personality, to unruly and recalcitrant, to attachment disorder, and ADHD”. You name it, we discussed it….at length. But in the end, the diagnoses code made ZERO difference my friends. I mean that wholeheartedly because it is just ONE piece of the puzzle and their are SO MANY VARIABLES.
So I went on the HUNT. An internal, soul-searching, heart-centered journey, and on the flip side, I was fiercely and avidly seeking educational and behavioral strategies around what actually worked for MY EXTRAORDINARY CHILD.
What types of opportunities tapped into his strengths without stifling his spirit? What alternatives were available to help him express his unique capabilities? What hard and fast “rules/standards” could be “flexed” to enable him to function more optimally? How could I positively influence perception around who he was and what he was all about? How could I incite change within myself and FOR him and WITH him?
To this end, I was hell bent on being part of the SOLUTION, which meant actively shifting my pressure-parenting patterns to more PURPOSEFUL ones.
Additionally, I needed to hone my ADVOCACY SKILLS like nobodies business. That was in fact MY JOB… not to have all the answers, not to pull it off all on MY OWN, but to ensure that the team around him (around us) was the smartest, most capable and compassionate group I could muster. And that’s exactly what I did-from that point forward.
So I embraced the notion of becoming more agile, and I began to hone my purposeful parenting skills right then and there. It started by relinquishing my perfectionistic mindset and actually ASKING FOR HELP. An essential first step for me!
The next piece I needed to fully grasp was that being the LOVING MOM was in fact the most important role I would play! I needed to focus intently on building deep connections and fostering an unbreakable bond of trust and unconditional love and ACCEPTANCE. That would in fact be the superpower I’d need to unleash periodically to traverse the ever-changing terrain of raising an extraordinary child.
Thus, creating FAMILY connectedness, became a TOP priority. It sounds so simplistic, I know, but so few of us choose to lean in hard to this foundational concept. We get swept up in the fast-paced current of modern living and sometimes forget the gravity of what actually anchors us amidst it all…the unwavering LOVE of our people. Those are the ties that bind and are what matters most, above all else. We just need to slow down long enough to recognize it and grasp the opportunities….because they are fleeting!
The years I had worked with kiddos with social, emotional and behavioral challenges, taught me many things, but until I had my own child that required MORE, I hadn’t completely pieced all of the critical components together. I was finally FORCED to see the other side of the equation and move deftly and diligently from theory to PRACTICE in my very OWN LIFE.
This enlightening experience changed everything, ESPECIALLY ME. And every fiber of my being was ignited and unified around my one TRUE PURPOSE (finally coming into focus). Which was to be the best possible parent I could be to MY EXTRAORDINARY child, and to help others do the same….with perhaps less detours and sidestepping and landmines, because they would have my learnings to lean on along the way.
My purposeful path was laid in that kindergarten year, but it would still take TEN MORE years of struggling, tweaking, re-formatting, shifting, LOADS of inner work and courage (a BIG dose of that) for me to pull this all together into a succinct and actionable PATHWAY for others to follow as they transform from being a “pressure parent” to a purposeful one.
I didn’t realize it then, but our first baby and the boatload of challenges he brought with him, gave us not only an amazing, unique human being to love and nurture, but my life’s work and purpose was also BORN with him. For that, I owe him everything.
He was by far our HARDEST kid… and he still is. But he is also our BIGGEST blessing. He’s taught us so much about what it ACTUALLY takes to be great parents and has stretched and strained us in ways we never thought possible. The successes we’ve experienced to date, have been all about turning the obstacles we faced into opportunities to grow stronger together. Learning to communicate more effectively, to love more fiercely, and to lean into the value of embracing ones authentic spirit.
Bottom line, although it’s incredibly important to SEEK knowledge, expertise and collaboration along your personal journey with YOUR extraordinary child, you must also remember to look deep within to ensure you are in alignment with the values and ideals you hold most dear.
Likewise, always remember that YOU, and only YOU, are the expert on your child and family. Never, ever forget that my friends. And advocate for them like the fierce mama bear you are!!
If you take just one thing from our story, I encourage you to focus intently on ANCHORING your family and LEADING with LOVE. It will always set you on the right course.
With Big Much Love,
If you are struggling as a pressure parent and are seeking resources to help you finding your footing as a more purposeful parent, I’d love to welcome you to my community of like-minded mamas. You can find us on facebook at HERE.
If this resonated with you, don’t forget to read my previous post where I specifically discuss the relevance of pressure parenting in our kiddos athletic endeavors : Peak Performance Parenting