I often tell my Mom how amazed I am that she was able to successfully raise two boys without the aid of Google. For me, becoming a parent has been rewarding, but by far the most challenging thing I have ever done. There are great moments of love, joy, laughter, pride, and fun. But there are also intense moments of anger, frustration, and even despair.
What makes parenting so difficult is that following your own instincts can often lead you astray. Our natural instincts lead us to overparent our children, to try our best to control them, and to get angry when we can’t.
These strategies, which often feel right or natural at the time, establish long-term patterns for how we relate to our children and have a massive consequence on our relationship with our children as they grow.
Unlike my mother’s generation, I have the ability to turn to the Google every time I confront a new parenting challenge that I don’t know how to handle. On the internet I can find the answer to every question that comes along and I can find a variety of experts providing advice and recommendations for how to navigate the pitfalls of parenting. One of my favorite parenting experts, who has truly influenced my own approach to parenting, is Justin Coulson, an Australian father of 6 girls (if that doesn’t qualify you as a parenting expert, I don’t know what does,) who is trying to make parenting fun again.
He’s just published a new book, 21 Days to a Happier Family to address the unhappiness that he sees in so many parent-child relationships. The parents aren’t enjoying parenting, as they spend a lot of their time being angry and frustrated. And the children aren’t enjoying being parented, as they feel bullied and domineered by their parents.
Coulson reminds us that parenting should be fun, but to get to that place, we have to give up the idea of trying to control our kids. When you have small children, it is tempting to use your larger size, your intimidating voice and your control over rewards and punishments to get your children to behave. But this approach backfires in two ways. First, while yelling may be effective at first, the child eventually becomes immune to it. The parent is then forced to keep yelling louder and louder to try and force their child into submission. Second, Coulson suggests that getting them to behave is less important than having them learn the reasons for good behavior.
In other words, do you want your child to behave because a larger, stronger, authoritarian figure is demanding that they do so? Or do you want them to behave because they understand how their behavior might affect others around them?
Many of Coulson’s strategies involve parents giving up the quick wins that are achieved through domination, and practicing a more patient, collaborative and thoughtful approach towards teaching our children. Most importantly, Coulson encourages parents to have fun with their children. Any repetitive pattern of struggle (getting kids to pick up their toys for example) is an opportunity to create a new family ritual that is about fun and togetherness (and still gets the job done.)
Reading 21 Days to a Happier Family does not necessarily make parenting any easier. In fact, some of the strategies are extremely challenging because they go against our natural instincts as parents. But I believe Coulson’s approach can make a big difference in the long-term relationship that parents develop with their children, based less on authority and more on love, collaboration and compassion
P.S. This is the second book of Justin’s I’ve reviewed on the site. (See http://psychologyofwellbeing.com/201209/the-subtle-art-of-contextual-parenting.html.) Most of my “book reviews” are more thoughtful analyses of the ideas in books I’ve read rather than testimonials urging readers to go and buy a book. But Justin’s books have been incredibly helpful to me as a parent and I could not recommend them more highly to other parents out there.
References and recommended reading:
Coulson, J. (2012). What Your Child Needs From You: Creating a Connected Family. ACER Press.
Coulson, J. (2016). 21 Days to a Happier Family. ABC Books.
by Jeremy McCarthy