Diana Clark, President of the O’Connor Group, presented at the NASTAP (National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs) conference on promoting resilience versus comfort in our parenting efforts. She left us with many great nuggets we hear everywhere among parenting experts: we need to stop trying to “protect” our kids from adversity–as the experience allows them to build true self-esteem and confidence. Every parent wants their child to feel happy, have a sense of purpose, and be connected, so how can we get out of our way and help our children thrive?
Let’s begin by reflecting on some of the parenting trends and movements, all of which have been followed with, of course, good intentions. Most “normal parents,” as Donald Woods Winnicott describes, have “sound instincts” and want to support their children, create happiness for them, and be successful. Donald Woods Winnicott coined the term “Good Enough Parenting” in the 50s to show the benefits of parents who “fail” their child in some way, creating resiliency, not harm. Today’s notion is that parents have increased their expectations of themselves and reduced their expectations of their children, which isn’t helpful.
Trending among child psychologists have been various concerns that have emerged from the “Psychology of Self-Esteem,” which began as a paper in 1969 by Nathaniel Brandon. He suggested that “feelings of self-esteem were the key to success in life.” The result of that proclamation was that countless parents wanted to find ways to make their kids “feel good,” regardless of the circumstance. There was a disillusionment that if our kids “felt good” or we protected them from hard situations, they would have higher self-esteem. The problem has become that self-esteem is not something you can give someone; it is earned, which requires taking risks and developing skills. The lack of competence we have provided our children to protect them from “harm” or experiences of discomfort has created more significant problems than just a lack of self-confidence. Diana challenges us to consider how this also raises children to have a high focus on themselves and entitlement. Often the sense of entitlement creates a sense of inferiority, which can become imposter syndrome because the sense of being good at something is not coming from an authentic place.
It is not within our parental code to enjoy watching our children struggle or even struggle ourselves in front of them. However, it is within these moments and instances that growth and self-confidence can be born. Diana tells us we have to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves as parents to be “perfect”; in fact, she says, “Perfect is the enemy of “good enough”.
According to Diana, “Entitlement cripples the ability to fail well and hampers the ability to learn and grow from failure.” This experience creates a variety of costs in our children’s development, including coping skills, handling life on life’s terms, lack of motivation to reach adult milestones—or change at all, lack of purpose, expectations of immediate gratification, high expectations, and so much more. Walking alongside our children through these challenging times and fighting our built-in nature to rescue them allows them to form healthy relationships with the world around them, solve problems, and, most importantly, develop a sense of purpose. Wendy Moguel also addresses this in her book Blessing of a Skinned Knee, suggesting that children denied some of these hard experiences are less capable of overcoming hardship.
At NATSAP, the audience was not just left with this information but also action items they could use immediately. Diana shared with them that it starts with how we manage our expectations, which includes redefining “normal” and “acceptable” and defining boundaries we want to ensure are implemented. Parents need to pause and make sure that they are not creating barriers for their children to seek help when needed. We want to create healthy boundaries with loved ones and keep the dysfunction out. To do this, Diana suggests that the family work hard to define their family’s values, what keeps them sane, what privacy means to them, the importance of peace, and even the understanding of money.
What does resilience look like? According to Diana, There are three main characteristics: “A staunch acceptance of reality, a deep belief, often buttressed by faith and values, that life is meaningful, and the same tragedy that fortifies one person’s belief can destroy another’s uncanny ability to improvise. How do we start today to become more resilient? Focus on connections, adopt a growth mindset to criticism, see the crisis as an opportunity to grow and learn, accept that change is part of living, move toward your goals, keep things in perspective, and most importantly—take care of yourself!”
Let’s focus on that runway Diana leaves us with in her presentation. We must start moving towards a growth mentality versus comfort, surrendering our old ideas, creating healthy and supportive boundaries, and using “Good Enough Parenting” as a standard.
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If you are struggling with all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophizing, over-personalizing, over-generalizing, using “should” statements, or magnifying/minimizing—we can help! Diana is also available to help with presentations in your community. Reach out to us to learn more.