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Around Our Town...Family

05/01/2005 - HELP! I'M A PARENT!

When I was a teenager, I thought it would be a fairly simple thing to be a parent if you just do everything opposite of the way your parents did it, everything would come out OK, right? It wasn't until I had two teenage stepchildren that I understood that parenting principles are easier to study, research and talk about than to put into practice. I had completed my Master's degree in Human Development and Family Studies at Colorado State University. It was a wonderful program and really did give me a passion to pursue a career in marriage and family therapy. When Brenda and I married, I knew that there would be challenges ahead. My stepson stayed with his dad and my stepdaughter lived with us for three years after we were married. I soon discovered that my stepdaughter was not in any of the textbooks I had read in graduate school and even if she had been, she would have put up a gallant fight against any wonderful intervention I might try. Step-parenting is a totally different kind of adventure. In future articles, I will enlist the aid of Jeri Brabetz, who has been our intern at The Healing Place for the past year, to expound on the research she has done regarding step-parenting and to talk about a program she has implemented that gives support to stepfamilies.

I survived step-parenting (just barely) and I have two wonderful adult step-kids that I love dearly. Then came Matthew we were trying to decide whether we should have a child together and Matt just "happened" (I know nobody is buying this!). Matt was a wonderful, compliant child a joy to parent. However, he did become a teenager and his mood swings, social adjustments and emerging strong-willed determination gave us a new perspective on how tough it is for kids and for parents to get through these changes. His struggles and challenges caused me to question how the child of a professional marriage and family therapist and an ordained minister could have difficulties with self-doubt, stress and anxiety, minor depression and other normal symptoms of adolescence! Brenda and I found ourselves asking the question most parents ask "How did we fail as parents?" By the way, he is an incredible gift to us and, as he graduates from high school this year, we are excited about his future and confident that he is finding the path that he was designed by God to follow.

I have said all this to encourage those of you who are struggling with being parents, "Don't give up." We all have issues from our past, we all make mistakes, and we all question our own parenting. It's important that we continue to believe in our children even when they make choices we don't agree with and to examine ourselves in order to become the best parents we can be. Dr. William Lee Carter, author of Family Cycles and The Angry Teenager has provided three simple guidelines for parenting that I would like to share with you: 1) Learn to think as your child thinks. Instead of continually reasoning, pleading, or giving sermons, listen to your child's heart, try to understand and let them know when you do understand. A common complaint of children is "My parents don't understand me." 2) Keep your emotions balanced. Dr. Carter says that when kids see their parents out of control emotionally, it gives them a sense of being powerful and in control. When a parent is emotionally balanced, the parent gives the child a good role model and will not be easily manipulated. 3) Be consistent in discipline. Predictability means security to a child. When you make a promise for a consequence whether it is a reward or punishment follow through. Children need to know that there are boundaries in this world. They need to know what to expect from you and what you expect from them. As a side note, it seems to me that we have lowered expectations for kids in many ways and I believe that children generally will respond positively to adults who, in a respectful and flexible manner, have high expectations for them.

Again, these are guidelines and are helpful but not so easy to carry out. Hopefully, it can be a place to start for all of us who have the awesome privilege and responsibility of being called "mom" or "dad".

Comments or suggestions for future topics? Mailing address: The Healing Place, Highland Park Community Church, 411 S. Walsh Dr., Casper, WY 82601 e-mail: rkirk@hpcc.cc

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