Parenting with presence: Trust your own instincts

leadership-parenting

Listening to Amy Cuddy’s new book “Presence (Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges)” highlights the importance of body language and the ability to display “presence” when parenting effectively. Cuddy defines presence as “the state of being able to comfortably express our true thoughts and feelings and values and talents and knowledge — so knowing who you are and being able to access that when you most need to.”

The renowned parenting researcher Dr. Diana Baumrind described effective parenting as parenting with authority while providing emotional support and nurturance. Parents who practice authoritative parenting display presence. They are able to hold their children to a high standard even in the face of challenge, resistance, opposition, disappointment and anger. These parents do not respond to their child’s acting out, and instead they are able to offer emotional support even while their child is being difficult. These parents are not seeking approval and validation from their children or others regarding their parenting methods. Rather, they are parenting based on what they feel inside is right and not on how their children or others will react to their decisions. In essence, they are parenting with presence.

They defeat themselves before they even begin. So often when I talk with parents, I hear statement like, “I know I should push her to do that, but I can’t handle her reaction when I push her” or “If I set that limit I know that he will make the rest of our weekend miserable.” These parents’ fears about managing their child’s negative responses overtake their judgment and ability to act with presence and authority.

My answer to parents’ concerns about upsetting the family equilibrium is that they must decide to act in their child’s best interest first, and worry about the outcome later. In other words, it’s best to do the right thing and keep doing it. Over time, parents will get more comfortable and experience the benefits of parenting with presence and in ways that they know will benefit their child. Parents are frequently amazed to see that when they do parent with authority, their child will often respond positively.

Part of what parents struggle with today is the tendency to lose perspective and get further from their authentic selves, thus losing their presence, as Amy Cuddy defines it. Deep inside, parents know what their child needs, but layer upon layer of doubt blocks them from accessing it. This doubt stems from many factors. One is the need for parents to be popular with their children. This may stem from parents who work long hours and are away from their children, or who are divorced and may see their children less often. Their guilt about not being available 24/7 impacts their ability to be an effective parent. Popularity and parenting are not congruent.

Another factor is comparative parenting. Parents compare their parenting decisions with those around them, and feel the need to compete with what other parents share through social media and in conversation. They tell themselves that they must not be an adequate parent if their child isn’t doing three activities simultaneously, or if they don’t have sleepovers and playdates every day, or if they haven’t purchased the latest technology for their child. Comparing one’s parenting style and decisions with what other parents discuss and display publicly is unrealistic and unhealthy.

Helicopter parenting undermines parenting with presence and authority. Many parents today are consumed with shielding their children from failure and disappointment. When parents are overly focused on outcomes, it detracts from their ability to be present. These parents inadvertently teach their children that the results are more important than the process. The process of reaching goals is what builds character, not the goals themselves. Over-focus on outcomes can undermine children’s ability to learn to be present for themselves as well.

Dr. Baumrind’s Authoritative Parenting model has existed for more than 40 years and has gained support from hundreds of research studies that validate it. When Dr. Baumrind developed the Authoritative Parenting paradigm in 1966, she didn’t consider that there would come a day when parents don’t feel comfortable being authoritative. I fear that day has come.

Parenting with presence may be one way for parents to regain their authoritative position over their children. My suggestion for parents who struggle to feel in control when parenting their children is to listen to Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk and then practice the now well-known “power pose” as they prepare for their daily parenting challenges.

 

Dr. Kate Roberts is a psychologist and parent coach on the North Shore. Questions can be directed to www.drkateroberts.com, www.twitter.com/DrKateParenting, or www.facebook.com/Dr.KateRoberts.

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