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Mindful : April 2014
36 mindful April 2014 family I thought I knew what I was in for when I became a parent. I had been around children my whole life—babysitting in my teens, becoming a teacher in my 20s, and eventually counseling kids as a family therapist. I thought I knew a thing or two about parenting, and the truth is, I did. But there was so much I never imagined, includ- ing a love so primal I’d never known anything like it, and parenting storms in which I was certain I had lost my way. I tried some things that worked, and many that didn’t. Like all parents, in raising my son I learned things about what kids really need that I would not have figured out otherwise. When my son reached the stage of pushing back when he wa nted something he couldn’t have, I found myself torn between the influence of my own childhood and what I was coming to see was best for him. My fa mily history led me to reason with him plaintively, or get loud a nd bossy. But reasoning with him when he was in the midst of a big upset got us nowhere, a nd shouting “Because I said so!” didn’t have a g reat outcome either. When I paused to think about it, I recalled vividly how those approaches had made me feel as a child. What frustrated children need is not an expla- nation of why they can’t get what they want, and they don’t need someone who just gives in to their demands. What they need is the reassurance of knowing there’s a grown-up in the room who can help them through their emotional storms by creating a safe space to let those big feelings move through. What I was able to practice in my own parenting was what I’d known theoretically: children need the comfort of knowing that someone is genuinely in cha rge. I like to call this role for parents “Captain of the Ship.” It makes all the difference when your children know you are at the helm. One of my clients whose parenting life changed radically after she understood the importance of cap- taining her ship was Caroline, the mother of Gemma, 8, and Carson, 5. (The names have been altered in this story to protect the identity of my clients.) Ca roline came to me because she felt over- whelmed by the challenges of parenting. She found that none of the approaches she tried was working. “ Before I had kids, I imagined how sweet each day would be,” she told me. “I pictured giggles Susan Stiffelman is a licensed marriage, family, and child counselor, an educational therapist, a parent educator, and the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles.