How to be a “good enough” parent.


It’ s not easy being a parent. Despite all your best efforts, the drip, drip, drip effect of  demanding children, babies crying, nappies and housework, to name but a few, all add up to ensure a steady rise in stress levels. Of course, there will be times when you feel you’ve done brilliantly, but there will also be times when you chastise yourself and feel you have failed abysmally. At times it may seem that the demands are endless, but it need not be like this.

Begin today by taking the pressure off yourself.

Here are thirteen tips that might be helpful.

1.If you find yourself feeling as if there are too many demands on your time, make a list and then prioritise by breaking your list down into 3 parts – Needs, Wants and “Oughts.” “Needs” are top priority, “Have-to-get-done-right-now-or-there-will-be-consequences” sort of things. “Wants” are things you would really like to do if you had the time. While, “Oughts” are things you feel you ought to do to please someone else or because you think others would do them, such as, “I ought to cook a big family dinner on Sunday, just as my Mother did.” – From today, take care of your “Needs” first, then move on to the “Wants” and then only attend to the “Oughts” if you have time. The “Oughts” are no longer on any priority list.

2. Take a tip from twentieth century American Theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, who in his “Serenity Prayer,” tells us to, “Accept the things we cannot change, have courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

3. When your children are misbehaving, remember they are not “bad” children. It is merely their behaviour that is “bad.”All behaviour means something. Step back and see if you can spot the meaning. In CBT circles we talk about “front stage” and “back stage.” Front stage is what the world sees and back stage is what is really going on behind what we see. Think of “attention seeking” behaviour as “attachment seeking” behaviour, in other words, they want to be with you. Praise them when they are demonstrating the type of behaviour you regard as “good” behaviour. Also give yourself some praise.

4. Find time to breathe. Get into the habit of taking five minutes out for reflection, breathing and contemplation. Just five minutes quiet breathing can restore, calm and promote inner peace. Learning to meditate will help you to develop patience and greater tolerance, so that when your children are demanding you will be less irritable and better able to react calmly. Daily meditation (five minutes only) is all it takes, to gain a better perspective on life, where you will feel more relaxed, less out-of-control and your day will seem more manageable (see my November 2012 blog on Mindfulness Meditation).

5. Teach your children to meditate. Silly as this may sound, teaching children the tools to manage emotions such as stress or anxiety can be a godsend. You know what it is like to see your child having a tantrum, out of control and at the mercy of major upset.It is distressing for them and you. Well, showing them how taking deep breaths, learning to visualise a nice calm safe place can really help, furthermore, it will stand them in good stead to cope with the stresses and pressure of young life. Teaching children and young people to learn controlled breathing and use affirmations and visualisations is a key facet of my work with children in my private practice.  Something I thoroughly recommended to all parents.

6.Remember that children and adults have different needs and expectations. Children are not “mini grown-ups.” They want different things. If you are entertaining aim to reduce stress by focusing on the needs of the smallest and youngest. Adults will be able to appreciate what you are doing and why you are doing it. Everything from how long a child can sit still, concentrate or be quiet, is so different from an adult. If you go out, choose child friendly places, do not expect a child to “fit in.”

7. Surround yourself with positive energy. Avoid those friends who are stressed, tense or negative. Avoid the ones who are always bitching about other friends or moaning about their partners or life. Instead, find some friends who are happy and smiling. Learn about positive self-talk ( see my October 2012 blog on self-criticism) as this is an important way to reduce stress and maintain a positive frame of mind.

8. When those around you, whether it is Mother-in-law or your partner are critical this can really undermine your confidence, which will in turn affect your parenting. Apply the following:

  • Stay focused on the present, don’t drag up the past, this will not help.
  • Listen, don’t interrupt, don’t become defensive. Hear the others point of view and remember it is only their opinion. Now reflect back to let them know you heard them.
  • Try to see their perspective, let them feel understood. Get them to explain in more detail if you do not understand and give you examples.
  • Now respond calmly and take responsibility. Accept what is right to accept. Remember, if you feel you are being attacked you are likely either to retreat in shame or lash out and attack..
  • Instead of trying to “win,”look to compromise and try to find a solution or resolution. Remember,It is OK to get it wrong.

9. Rigidity and inflexibility are major sources of stress. Keep your plans flexible, there are countless ways that plans can change. Make allowances for change, have a plan B. If you are more relaxed then those around you will also be more relaxed.

10. As a young parent it is very important to get out and join mother and baby or toddler groups. Being a parent can be very isolating and the friendship of others can a real help when things look tough and lots of fun can be had.

11. There is an old saying, “Choose your battles wisely.” Sometimes, letting  things go is so much better and far less stressful than having mini battles on all fronts. With your children it is so easy to find fault, point out their mistakes and “correct” them. Instead, look to build your children up,to make them feel better, You have plenty of time to demonstrate to your children the right way to do things. Model the behaviour you want your children to adopt. Being a critical parent should not be one of them.

12. Let go of “multi-tasking.” I am not referring to low-functioning activities such as listening to music while you play with your offspring or leafing through a magazine while the television is on. No, I mean doing several things at the same time with your attention split across different things. If you listen to your child when they are speaking to you, they will feel appreciated and respected. Driving while answering your phone and keeping one eye out for the children in the back is positively dangerous. Being present in what you are doing, whether it is playing with your child, washing dishes or eating ensures, you are fully present in the moment.

13. When you find yourself pulling your hair our and are tempted to throttle your little darlings, STOP. Instant fury is triggered by reflex action and responses come from a small part of the brain known as the “amygdala” located in the”limbic centre” of the brain. This is the part of the brain responsible for the “fight or flight” response when we sense danger or threat. In the case of instant anger, the thinking part or “central cortex” has been bypassed. This is known as an “amigdula hijack.” By simply lengthening the fuse and counting from one to ten slowly, it will allow the thinking part of the brain to engage.

Remember, pause, step back and breathe.

With best wishes, Steve

Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

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Image ref: Elisa Franci Gonçalves, Wikimedia Commons images, Adults with children.

Recommended reading: “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and its all small stuff” by Richard Carlson, published by Hodder & Stoughton.

Are you in a controlling relationship ?

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Is your partner is subtle controller? Does he or she take care of everything, household bills, choosing the new car, buying you clothes and helping you with the weekly shopping and then paying for it? Do you find that you don’t even have to think about holidays or what you do at the weekend? This kind of controlling by taking away your independence, albeit in a very caring manner is one of the most common ways partners gain control. Over time, not only is decision making taken out of your hands, but you lose all ability to make decisions because its so long since you have had to make any.

Think back to the time before you met this person. Were you quite capable of taking care of yourself, managing and making decisions without asking? I bet you were. Now, instead, you question your ability (and perhaps your right) to make decisions without asking first. This subtle taking over, may often go unnoticed until you realise that you have totally lost your confidence. Your partner may seem kind and loving giving you a lift and then picking you up after a night out, but beware, the kindly text to see if your having a nice evening, may  be your partner checking up on you.. The need to know where you are going, who you are with and what time your leaving, is all designed so that they know exactly what your doing, when and who you are with. Not,as is suggested to make sure your alright.

Other less subtle controlling involves put-downs, criticising what you say and do, criticising your friends and suggesting you may be better off not seeing them. Criticising what you wear or how you look. Indeed, even telling you what to wear and choosing your clothes for you.  This kind of controlling should be alerting you to warning signs.

Controlling behaviour may progress to questioning you on what you spend your money on, perhaps controlling the amount of contact you have with your family, wanting to know where you are and who you are with all the time. Perhaps, you’ve seen signs of jealousy when he or she says they don’t like you talking to members of the opposite sex, perhaps regularly checking your face-book, phone and emails? Attempting to control your activities this way leads to much greater dependence and eroding of independence.

Hazard lights, alerting you to danger should not be ignored. These include playfulness which goes too far, for example being hit or held down so that you feel helpless. Drink or drug use leading to outbursts of anger or violence, breaking your belongings or property, being cruel or harsh to your children and or your pets. Threats of suicide or self-harm. Even if these are followed by apologies and promises to never repeat such behaviour, you must not be taken in and accept what is happening. Remember, the other person needs help as much as you do.

Here is a questionnaire to enable you to audit your relationship.

Answer the following questions for the past six months.

3 = Frequently   2 = Sometimes  1 = Rarely  0 = Never

1. Your partner monitors your time, wanting you to account for every minute of the day.

2. Your partner is suspicious of you and you are accused of having affairs.

3. Your partner is rude to your friends.

4. You are discouraged from having friends.

5. Your partner wants you to account for how you spend your money.

6. Your partner criticises your cooking, your clothes, or your appearance.

7. Your partner has frequent mood changes from very calm to very angry, or vice versa?

8. Your partner interferes with your work or stops you from working?

9. Your partner drinks and readily becomes angry.

10. Your partner pressurises you for sex more often than you would like.

11. Your partner becomes angry if you do not want to have sex.

12. You and your partner frequently quarrel over financial matters.

13. You frequently quarrel over having children or how you raise them.

14. Your partner strikes you with hands or feet, slapping, punching, kicking, etc.

15. Your partner strikes you with objects.

16. Your partner threatens you with an object or weapon.

17. You partner threatens suicide or to kill you.

18. You have had injuries inflicted by your partner such as welts, bruises, etc.

19. Have you needed first-aid for your injuries?

20. Have you needed to seek medical help following injury?

21.You have been hurt sexually by your partner or forced to have sex against your will.

22. Your partner is violent towards the children.

23. Your partner is violent to other people outside of your home or family.

24 Your partner breaks or throws things when angry.

25. Your partner has been in trouble with the police because of their violence.

26. You have called the police or tried to, because you feared violence.

To score your responses add up the points for each question.

0-12  Your relationship is not abusive.                                                                                                 13-34 Your relationship is moderately abusive.                                                                               35-92 Your relationship is seriously abusive.                                                                                               92-120 Your relationship is dangerously abusive.

If you need help contact:                                                                                                                  24-hour National Domestic Violence                                                                                             Free-phone Helpline                                                                                                                         0808 2000 247

Alternatively you might wish to access confidential counselling.                                                  Please contact us on –

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

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