7 Parenting Paradoxes: Embracing the Irony

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parenting paradox's graphic1. The volume paradox: The louder we are, the less they hear.

When parents feel like their child isn’t listening the tenancy is to raise our voices. Logically we can conclude that the louder our voice becomes, the more the sound will penetrate the ears and minds of our little ones, right? Wrong! When parents raise their voices, our kids “freak out” switch gets flipped and they automatically put up their defenses. Yelling is simply verbal aggression and our brains interpret it in a very similar way that it does violence. When we are attacked, we don’t tend to make specific note of details. Everything becomes a blur of self preservation.

Embracing the Irony:

Practice lowering your voice rather than raising it when you start to get upset or when you just really want your child to listen carefully. Inform your child of your efforts to stop yelling and ask them to help you remember. Write things down or for young children, draw pictures and set realistic limits and consequences. Listen to your kids and take the opportunities to simply talk with them rather than at them.

2. The control paradox: The more demanding, punitive and controlling we attempt to be, the less influence we have.

Control is a funny thing and by funny, I mean crazy, infuriating and illusionary. Control is like the mirages I saw as a child on long road trips across the flat desert plains of Utah and Idaho. It’s that illusion of a reflective pool just out of reach. You are always watching it, expecting that you are almost there and then, poof, it disappears. When working with parents in my counseling office, I’ve found their struggle for control frustrates them the most. They want their child to be compliant. They want to find some way to control what choices their child makes, but the harder they try to force things, the more out of control they feel. Force actually has the opposite effect of what it is intended to do. We want our kids to be self disciplined and to make positive choices. However, when we force them to do these things, they push back. The very things that we intend to have the most immediate results in terms of compliance, are often times the least effective in the long run and produce the most heartache, even in the moment.

Embracing the Irony:

Show them what self discipline looks like. Treat them with kindness and respect. Build healthy, connected relationships around daily conversation and time together. Set healthy limits, teach them of consequences and then invite them to make positive choices. When you ask them to do something, use please and thank you, like you would when asking a friend.

3. The food paradox: Kids never want to eat at the dinner table but moments after getting down from the table say, “I’m hungry.”

This is true for some children far more than others but seems to present itself as a general rule at some time during a child’s life. They seem to only be hungry when it’s not “time to eat.” This is simply a fact of life similar to the sun rising in the morning and setting at night.

Embracing the Irony:

Recognizing that this is just one of those things that all parents face, we can embrace it and move forward with confidence. It’s not worth disputing our child’s hunger with statements like, “You can’t be hungry, we just got done eating.” Or making accusations about why they are hungry like, “Yeah, you’re hungry because you didn’t eat your dinner like I told you to.” Instead we can simply prepare for it and respond with empathy and firmness. “I know you’re hungry. I’m sorry you’re so hungry. We’ll be eating again in just a few hours.” Or if you choose to, you can provide healthy “fast foods” like carrots or celery sticks that can be nibbled on at any time.

4. The Potty paradox: When you are ready for them to go, they are not. When it is the least convenient moment imaginable, they need to go.

Here in Idaho we have experienced this paradox on many occasions. My family loves to ski and as my new little ones grow into the ski ranks we make special efforts to make sure they urinate before we bundle them up in their long johns, pajamas, ski pants, undershirt, shirts, coat, neck warmer, gloves, ski goggles and helmet but without fail, one of them will pipe up and say, “I’ve gotta go!” Well, who can blame them? It took 25 minutes to get all that gear on. Even if they did go before getting it all on, their little bladder can only go so long.

Embracing the Irony:

The potty paradox is simply out of our control. It’s like the weather or the lottery. We don’t always like it. We can either choose to laugh about it while we try to get that gear off and our kid in the bathroom as soon as possible. Or we can let it taint the rest of our day with discontent and scars to the relationship. It really is pretty funny. If we can separate it from all of the other things that we think are so important (time constraints, getting out on the ski hill, etc.), then we can laugh and move forward cheerfully and with the relationship intact.

5. The teaching paradox: The shorter the lecture, the greater the impact. The less direct the lesson, the more profound the learning.

I’ll tell you, when I found out my oldest son was peeing in our heater vent shortly after our third son was born, it was pretty difficult to refrain from a lecture and a heated one at that. However, I knew that making a scene and verbally flooding him with do’s and don’ts for hours would lessen the impact of a firm limit and natural consequence. When we use accusatory and harshly pointed words and long, drawn out lectures, it decreases the actual learning experience. The more time we spend directly correcting and dictating what the child should learn, the more they check out and stop their own problem solving process.

Embracing the Irony:

That is why they are called teaching moments, because they are moments. Those moments then reach into the deepest recesses of our kids minds and leave lasting impressions on how they act, why they act a certain way and who they are. Long lectures tend to emphasize following the rule for the rules sake or teach them to avoid future lectures or scolding. However short lessons taught during the good times, through healthy modeling, or through natural consequences bring inner conviction, understanding and shape their moral character. My son helped clean out the vent and through problem solving questions came to his own conclusion that peeing in the heater vent was not appropriate or desirable.

6. The Joy Paradox: Parenting can be most joyful when we become OK with the fact that it’s not always fun.

As I said in a previous post, parenting is hard… And awesome! Recent studies show that parents who want to be parents are happier than their childless peers. These studies found that parenting can be one of the greatest sources of happiness. However, they also found that this is only true when people know what it means to be a parent and actually want to be a parent. The hardship and tasks that are not always “fun” about parenting actually add to a person’s level of happiness or personal joy.

Embracing the Irony:

Parenting is one of the most inherently purposeful activities that people do. It’s selfless. It’s gratifying to watch a child learn and grow, despite and even because of some of the struggle and difficulty that comes with it. It’s challenging and rewarding. I like the phrase, “Lean into it.” Parent on purpose… with purpose. Even the hardest things can bring incredible happiness and satisfaction.

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7. The adaptability paradox: Flexibility is strength.

We often think of something “strong” as something hard and rigid, something that resists opposition. The opposite, in many respects, is actually true. I piece of metal that can bend and flex is often much less likely to break than one that is fixed and stiff. An athlete that is flexible has a far greater potential for strength due to fuller range of motion. When they are limber they are less apt to injury and the pains of rigorous activity.

Embracing the Irony:

The same is true of our interaction and discipline with our children. I’m not suggesting passivity or being a pushover. I’m recommending that we be able to bounce back after unmet expectations or when something has “bent us out of shape.” I’m talking about looking for and recognizing alternative ways to do and deal with things. See other perspectives and challenge your own perspectives from time to time. Be willing to admit when you have been wrong, apologize and change when necessary.

Life and parenting are full of paradoxes and ironies. When we embrace the ironies the results are surprising. Cycles take on new positive forms and things that seem impossible become common place.

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Question: What parenting paradoxes would you add?

If you liked this and want to learn further ways to embrace the irony and get better results, Read “Getting Kids to Listen” or “3 Times When it’s Best to Do Nothing.”

Don’t forget to download your FREE copy of “5 Jump Starters for Powerful Family Cycles: Creating Happier and More Effective Parenting THIS Week!”

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