I lead a team of 30 in my work in financial services. I'm crystal clear about behaviour and boundaries and expectations of my team when I'm there.
When I get home to my 9 and 6 years olds, it's a different story. I struggle to have the same sort of control and know I've been shy on discipline with my kids. Mainly, this is because of guilt, I work long hours and rush to get home before bed time, the last thing I want to be doing is giving out.
Have I left it too late or can I pull things back into order. I don't want the rest of my life to be tantrums and out and out boldness. I want to raise good kids.
It's a wonder. The way we've set up our society is such that we deplete ourselves of the best bits during our working day. When we get back home all we want is to give and receive unconditional love in a nirvana of domestic bliss. Unfortunately, you're children can smell that need and weakness and sling arrows tipped with poisonous guilt. What they really need is for you to fearlessly parent them, because they have no idea what's required. You've spent all day at work guiding and leading, unfortunately, you're not done till bedtime, yours or theirs, whichever comes first. We spoke to experts with two different angles on your issue, Sarah Courtney coaches working parents to manage themselves in work and Hazel Cassidy counsels parents to take control within the home.
SARAH COURTNEY, Workplace Parent Coach
The first thing that strikes me is the worry that you feel you may have left it too late. When we worry we can block ourselves from taking action. If you think objectively with your business head on, you will see that you have done lots of things ‘right’ as a parent (it may be helpful for you to list everything that you feel you do well as a mother) but now you feel that there is an area you want to improve. That of the relationship with your children. That’s great.
It’s tough to admit that we aren’t doing something as well as we want to, but nothing changes without being brave enough to acknowledgethat. Parenting as you well know isn’t 9-5. We parent for life, so putting effort into being a better parent is never too late and I would encourage you to give yourself credit for doing your best.
Understanding your motivation is the starting point in making any change. You might like to spend some time thinking about how you would answer the following questions:
1. What would be different if there is a calmer home life?
2. How will my children benefit?
3. How will my life improve as a result of these changes?
4. What would I hope my children say about their childhood?
5. If I allow things to continue as they are, what are the existing and potential consequences?
Once you understand your motivation you can set a more specific goal. I notice your reference to things you don’t want; no tantrums, not wanting to give out. If I tell you not to think of the pink elephant what do you automatically think of? It is more productive to re-frame your goal into what you actually do want. For example, that could be creating a more peaceful, cooperative atmosphere at home where everyone speaks to each other respectfully.
After you have teased out your specific goal, similar to how you would do things in your professional life, you can start working backwards from there committing to practical actions. This can be the tricky bit. Change will require you to let go of old behaviours and that can be uncomfortable. So my next questions are:
6. Are you willing to change your own behaviour and choices?
7. What would the actions required to create that change look like?
8. How likely are you to commit to carrying out these actions consistently?
The second thing that strikes me is the stark difference in how you view your approach to leading your team versus your approach to parenting. Life is all about relationships. The quality of every relationship will stem from your relationship with yourself. You seem to feel confident in your approach at work. Do you feel similar confidence in your ability as a parent? What elements of your workplace approach could you bring into your parenting? For example, do you set the team goals by yourself or do team members help shape their goals? Comparing that to life at home, do you set the rules or do your children have any choice? At work, colleagues need to be bought into working towards the team goals and the same applies at home. Your choice of language “I’m crystal clear about expectations”, “control” suggests that you want to be, or perhaps are required to be in the driving seat. In any relationship, while there are differences in responsibility, everyone needs and wants some level of responsibility, otherwise they are just carrying out (or not) your instructions. If you gave up some of the control, what would that be like?
Things to consider
There are two elements that are essential to createchange; Awareness and Responsibility. You are aware that there are too many tantrums at home, you are aware that you are not happy about this and you are aware that you feel guilty about working long hours. So next up is what is your role in this?
• Would looking at your working pattern help? You describe rushing home for bedtime; is this every night? Does it actually need to be or are you just stuck in a pattern that is no longer working for you? What would your ideal situation be? Would two nights where you are home in plenty of time to have a pleasant evening and put them to bed calmly be sufficient? What would life be like if that were to happen? What adjustment to your day would be required? Who would you need to have on board either at work or at home? How would you hold yourself accountable to keep the consistency?
•When you are putting the children to bed, be honest about your intention. Is it to have a nice bedtime, or is it to get them to bed asap so you can log back on / collapse on the couch? This is one of those areas that may require a behaviour change. For example, would you be willing to be fully present when you were at home (no checking emails, taking calls) and work with the children to create a happier end of day ritual?
Given the ages of your children, especially the nine year old, could you have a discussion with them about what works well in your family and what each of you would like to change? This can be done in a fun & inclusive way; think flip chart, brightly coloured markers or pictures. You may be surprised with what they come up with? If you try to change things on your own without fully understanding the problems then you may go off on a tangent and then feel deflated if things don’t improve.
While you are of course the adult, you don’t necessarily have to be the boss. Could the load be shared differently? Don’t feel like the burden is on you to fix everything immediately. Break it down into less overwhelming pieces. What are the one or two things you could each change that feel reasonably easy or would have high impact? Once you all feel the improvement you will be encouraged to try other things. It will be trial and error and some days will be more successful than others. That’s normal and ok. You clearly know how to set boundaries at work. Boundaries for children includediscipline. This doesn’t need to be angry or harsh but if you don’t set clear expectations and follow through, how will they ever learn what is acceptable in your home?
Role modelling is essential. This can’t be a case of do as I say, not as I do. If you expect less tantrums then you have to make sure you aren’t shouting yourself and that you apologise when you make mistake
Finally, you mention guilt due to working long hours. What would you need to do to give yourself permission to let go of that guilt, knowing that work has lots of upsides for both you and your family. How would your life change as a result? We probably all know by now that guilt is futile yet we all seem to feel some level of it. Looking at things at home, you don’t mention a partner, but if you have one, what is their part in this?
Food for thought. Best of luck!
HAZEL CASSIDY, Hands Off Parent
Please don’t fret, it is never too late; and awareness of aproblem is the first step to making changes. First off, lose the guilt, easier said than done? When I feel guilty I check in with myself, see if there is anything I can change that works for both me and my family. If there is, I do it. If not, I accept that I am doing my best and move on. Carrying guilt around will not make you more available to your children, and can get in the way of what you should be trying to achieve - connection.
There are many reasons children misbehave but I find most of the time it comes down to a need for connection. When children feel safe and loved they don’t feel the need to misbehave so much. You say yourself that you don’t want tospend evenings giving out; that’s fantastic because you don’t need to. Setting limits can, and should, be done without resorting to arguments or punishments.
You say you’re crystal clear about boundaries andexpectations in the workplace; this is a great start, try to use that skill and be just as committed to setting them at home. I find the best time to communicate your needs are during scheduled family meetings. Your daughters are the perfect age to help you hold these meetings. Have them weekly, at the weekend, when you are not short of time. Meetings should be kept short – I suggest a minute for every year of your youngest child’s age. Make the meetings fun; have snacks, keep the mood light – even if the subject matter is serious.
Before you hold the first meeting tell your girls when it is happening, and why i.e. you’d like to discuss what you expect of them in the evenings. And, (this is the most important part) tell them they will get a chance to say what they expect of you. Suggest they jot down their ideas before the meeting, but don’t push them to do it.
When the meeting begins, you must listen intently to their expectations, don’t dismiss what they say or take offense to it. If they can’t agree to your expectations, listen and try to understand why. The same goes with you, if there’s something they ask that simply isn’t possible calmly explain why it can’t happen. But remember you will all need to compromise if things are going to change.
Write it all down so you have a record. Come up with a set of rules to live by – ask your children what rules they would like YOU to obey first. Something I advise a lot is putting away phones/screens as soon as you arrive home and not checking them AT ALL until children have gone to bed. This goes for the children too. I find putting together a checklist of tasks to be completed every evening helps children keep to a routine rather than shouting orders at them all evening. If they enjoy drawing they could make cards with pictures of each task. Number them in the order they need to be completed and keep them together in a wallet that is accessible to them.
Even with clear boundaries set you will find things don’t go to plan, so when tantrums occur and arguments begin, stay calm. Model graciousness and empathy as much as possible; try to remember your children are not giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time.
At each weekly meeting discuss how the week went – what boundaries worked well, what did you find difficult to keep? Things will need to be tweaked at the beginning as sometimes we think children are ready for certain limits but in reality we’re just asking too much of them. You might also find it difficult to keep some of the promises you made too. If either of these are the case, discuss what went wrong – what can you do to set your children, and yourself, up for success in the future? Don’t expect miracles straight away, it may take some weeks before you start to see changes in your children’s behaviour and mood. But with consistency and dedication it will happen. Best of luck!
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