Many of the best tips on parenting that I know are about our personal growth, and not about our kids at all! I first encountered the idea that parenting is meant to grow ourselves up from an early mentor of mine, Dr. Gordon Neufeld. It was so helpful for me to realize that the ways my kids pushed my buttons were opportunities to grow and become a happier, more mature adult. Reframing the many issues parenting brought up for me helped me have the faith that I could get to a much better place than the chaos of the first few years of parenting.
Like so many parents, my marriage was a huge source of pain and challenge for me! I grew up with parents who had a marriage full of conflict. I inadvertently picked up a tendency to notice all that wasn’t going right in my marriage, and all the ways my husband was falling short of instead of the gift of looking for all the good. Yet I count working on my marriage as one of the best things that I have done and something that has provided me with a lot of satisfaction and happiness.
My daughter has been in the hospital for the last week. During this time, I’ve been reflecting on all the reasons why I’m glad that her dad and I have made it work. Not only have we created a secure and solid base for her by staying together, but my life is way easier because I am still with him. Life is more difficult right now, and being able to rely on him, as well as my friends and family, is very helpful.
Before I go any further, I want to be clear that this is not meant as a criticism of people for divorcing, at least not individually. I know that in some cases divorce is unavoidable, and the best for everyone involved. However, we have not done a good job as a culture of teaching people skills to avoid divorce, such as learning from marriage expert John Gottman how to cultivate more positive than negative interactions. I’m clear that I’ve been very lucky to have found tools that work, and I want to help other parents receive this profound gift.
Power Of Focus
One of the best tips I picked up was the power of focus. I still consciously work to focus on the positive more with my husband than what he isn’t doing well. Hence my gratitude for him looking after the dogs, going to work to keep the household running, and doing extra tasks in the evening to cover for me while I’m with our daughter in the hospital. When he brought me shirts and a pair of sweats to the hospital that I never wear, I chuckled at his manliness instead of feeling critical. After digging some more I realized he actually had brought me shampoo, after all, making me grateful that I had just thanked him and not criticized him for what I thought he forgot!
Avoidance Of Pain
Pain avoidance was a major motivator for me in working things out. I hated the idea of having to share my kids. Many of our differences were around media time (we mostly agree now), nutrition and issues such as what to expose them too and bedtime. I knew if I wasn’t around at all half the time, I’d have even less say. Yet staying had a huge benefit because I learned to focus on the positive, which has helped me in all areas of my life.
Along the way, I discovered Martin Seligman and the positive psychology movement. That has resulted in me shifting from a fairly major pessimist to an optimist. That trait is a huge help in my coping with this long time in the hospital. Again, learning how to make my marriage work has had many tangible benefits.
How has being married, or working through issues with your partner, helped you to be a better parent? If you are divorced, are you able to work together well for the sake of the kids? I know a number of people who have done a great job of co-parenting in spite of divorce. For me, I am clear that the issues that have challenged our marriage would actually have made a split that much tougher to manage. So that is why I feel that learning to focus on your marriage through skills such as focusing on the positive is one of the most powerful tips on parenting.