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Balancing Both The Joy & Business Of Being A Parent

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Author:

Lia Avellino, LCSW

July 01, 2024

Parenting Writer

By Lia Avellino, LCSW

Parenting Writer

Lia Avellino, LCSW, CEO of Spoke Circles, is trained as a relational and somatic psychotherapist and supports individuals and groups in being real and vulnerable.

Image by Santi Nuñez / Stocksy

July 01, 2024

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In mindbodygreen’s parenting column, Parenthetical, mbg parenting contributor, psychotherapist, and writer Lia Avellino explores the dynamic, enriching, yet often complicated journey into parenthood. In today’s installment, she’s exploring how to balance the joy of parenting with the business of parenting.

After the birth of my third baby, I took up a new habit of nightly Swiffering. When all the kids were finally asleep, the first thing I’d do was clean the kitchen floors. It was something that made me feel in control like I could wipe away the “mess” of the day.

As a mom of young children and a therapist to parents, I notice the irony of being entrusted to care for these super playful, wild, silly beings, but having the propensity to double down on seriousness. Instead of becoming playful ourselves, many of us tend to become more controlling. 

In some ways, it makes sense that we become more committed to the organization the messier our lives get. Let’s be real—there is the joy of parenting, and then there is the business of it.

You know: making sure the house is stocked with groceries, getting the child from point A to B, or intervening in fights over toys or clothes, all while managing jobs and other life obligations. It can be hard to just be with our kids when it feels like there’s so much we have to be for them.

In a world that demands a lot from parents—regardless of how we feel or what we are going through—it is very easy to feel overwhelmed and then attempt to manage this feeling by controlling our environments and those around us.

Do you want to be able to experience more of the fun moments and feel real joy in them? Read on for five ways to learn what your need for control is all about and how to soothe it, without controlling your kids:

1.

Get to know what your need for control is about

Whenever there’s a behavior we don’t like, I recommend getting curious about it rather than judging it. The more we critique ourselves (and others), the more the negative behavior protests in the form of sticking around. 

Being in the driver’s seat of your life can be a good thing—having a sense of autonomy about your choices or feeling like you have a say in the outcomes of your life are both normal human desires.

However, when the desire to control arises in response to stress or overwhelm, it may be letting you know that you are coping, not really living. Being “in control” tricks us into believing that if we address the chaos around us, we will feel peace within us. For example, if your kids are running around and making a mess in the living room and you yell at them, you may be attempting to control your external environment in order to soothe your internal nervous system. 

Many of us who experience anxiety believe that control is the antidote. The lie that anxiety tells is “If I can manage the to-do list, I can manage the fear.” In reality, it can be helpful to shift the goal from managing the chaos to simply practicing tolerating it better. 

Be mindful of the past:

If you notice you have this response to stress often, it might be letting you know there’s something from your past that needs your attention that has nothing to do with attending to your kids.Maybe you grew up in an environment where there was a lot of chaos or unpredictability, or maybe you were heavily monitored as a young person.Those of us who grew up as “fixers” may continue to play out that role in our parenting.In these cases becoming “controlling” was a really appropriate response to surviving in your home.

However, what happens with all survival strategies is they are helpful until they aren’t. Your child’s mess or speaking volume might not be the problem, but these triggers might be helpful invitations for you to tend to the parts of you that didn’t get what they needed when you were younger.

2.

Pay attention to your triggers

Triggers are stressful in part because they are surprising—they catch us off guard.

To offset this, what would it be like to anticipate the scenarios that lead to your desire for control? For example, is it in the morning when you feel rushed to get your kids out the door? Is it during bedtime hours when you’re low-resourced? Notice how you typically respond and what the internal cues are that are letting you know you are starting to get overwhelmed.

You might even try to do the opposite of what you’re used to doing. This is an emotion regulation technique called “opposite action,” and notice what happens when you do. For example, if you usually yell, see what happens when you whisper. If you usually clean up the dinner table right after the meal, see what happens if you sit. 

Modern life encourages us to tune out of our cues, focusing more on what’s around us than what is happening inside of us. The more you pay attention to your pattern, the more you’re able to disrupt it. 

3.

Allow yourself to imagine the worst-case scenario if you aren’t in control 

Consider what would happen if you didn’t lean into control. If your child spills the milk all over the floor, if she trips while running, if the water spills out of the tub, if you’re late for school drop-off, if the homework doesn’t get turned it. Allow your negative imagination to run wild, and continue to envision what happens next.

Part of what we are attempting to do when we lean into control is avoid the worst-case scenario; however, if we allow ourselves to see that it isn’t “that bad” or doesn’t have a harmful outcome (even if it has a messy one), this might help us be OK with it. 

Most times when we are trying to avoid a “worst-case scenario” in the present, it’s because we’ve already experienced a terrible scenario that we couldn’t protect ourselves against in the past.

Believe it or not, our brains have no future-telling capacities, but they run predictions off past data. “The worst has already happened; I am OK in this moment” is one of the mantras I tell myself in the difficult parenting moments, when I feel like something bad will happen but nothing bad is actually happening.

4.

Learn about the magic of “body budgeting”

Body budgeting is a term I learned about from Mona Delahooke, Ph.D., author of Brain-Body Parenting: How To Stop Managing Behavior and Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids, as a way to understand why we and our children “unravel” and how to respond when they do.

Many times, when we attempt to control, it’s because our bodies are picking up the dysregulation in the bodies of our children (jumping off furniture, whining, yelling, talking back). Understanding the concept of “body budgeting” is about learning how we maintain stability in our physical bodies. 

Our brains are always budgeting what our body needs to stay in flow. Just like with a financial budget, there are factors that withdraw and factors that deposit.

For example, if your toddler has a low budget (hitting, tantrums), they may need deposits (connection, affection), not withdrawals through demands (for example, “sit down,” “stop running,” “if you hit one more time, you’re getting a timeout”). Sometimes, attempts to control their behavior have the opposite impact by actually fueling it (the same goes for teens!). 

What are the signs that you or your child have a low body budget—low on nutrition, sleep, energy, love, or care? How can you pay attention to loud noises or chaotic behaviors and instead of responding with a behavioral intervention, respond with a connection intervention? 

Similarly, if you have a low body budget, you need a deposit. What are you doing to fill your tank with nourishment today?

5.

What would make parenting more fun for you? 

To counteract the business of parenting, we need to create intentional experiences to feel joy when we are with our children. You may have been taught that you should give your joy away to your kids by focusing on what they want to do, but in reality, you need to bring more of your joy to your kids’ lives.

For example, my husband was missing out on surfing, so he taught our daughter to surf and incorporated her in one of his favorite pre-kid activities. I really don’t enjoy the playground, so I’ve been taking my kids to my favorite bookstores with good children’s sections instead. 

Instead of giving away your fun, center your parenting around it. What would make parenting more enjoyable for you? What efforts can you give up on to invest more in fun? 

The takeaway 

It’s important to pay attention to what’s happening inside of us in the momentswe feel the need to control. While this process may bring up some discomfort for you, to sit in the shit instead of clean it up, it may lead to higher tolerance and more enjoyment.

Oftentimes we are the ones who need the soothing, and once we are regulated, we have more space for the normal unpredictability that comes with being a child.

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