How you became a parent was a journey. Whether you planned to have a child, found out that you would be a parent by surprise, or had an infant dropped on your door step this article is for you. After spending years with adolescents and teenagers struggling with their mental health I have heard accounts of every type of parent you can imagine. A child’s mental health is not solely dependent on their parents however the parental relationship is a key component of a child’s understanding and outlook on the world. The purpose of this article is to give parents encouragement and discuss what I find to be the most important attribute of a strong parent child relationship. Intentionality.
First it is important to understand what it means to “be intentional”. I recognize intention as acting with a specific purpose to accomplish a goal. For example, I struggle to eat with intention. It is much easier to swing through the closest fast food restaurant and fill my hunger with readily available processed junk, then it is to eat with purpose. I have to be cognizant daily about what I eat and why I am eating. I remind myself as often as I can, “consume good food that nourishes your body and gives you energy”. It is tough enough to eat with intention, so how is a parent supposed to be intentional with their children. You wake up early to get the children out of bed, struggle to get them ready for school, rush to pack their lunches, and finally get them to school (just on time). You then go to work, eventually you make it home exhausted from your day, get dinner ready, and prepare the kids for bed. You try to unwind but can’t because the reminder of having to wake up and do it all over again is unavoidable.
You don’t need more time to be intentional you need more patience and practice. It is nearly impossible to be intentional 100 precent of the time but you have to start with the little things and over time your skill set will improve. Evidenced based interventions that can help foster patience and assist with being intentional include mindfulness training, controlled breath work, and grounding exercises. These interventions can be researched on your own however having the support and guidance of a licensed professional can assist with mastering these techniques.
When helping my parental clients practice intentional behavior we begin by identifying daily activities that are repetitive and often get completed without much thought. For a parent with a young child this could be diaper changes or bottle feedings. With parents who have older adolescents and teenagers these activities could be the morning routine, family meals, or homework time. We first make efforts to understand and describe how the parent acts in these given situations. If the parent finds themself going through the motions and being absent minded during the activity, this is a good place to start. We will take one of the above situations and make this our focus for the next several weeks. For example if meal time with my clients teenager is mundane and repetitive, I will work with the parent to apply the above interventions and increase the parents intention during this time. Why are you sitting down to eat with your child. Is it to rush through the meal so everyone can get back to their individual activities? No! Understanding “the why” is paramount. You are sitting down to have a meal with your child and the purpose of this time along with eating is to decompress and have a conversation about experiences during the day.
There are barriers that parents will face when trying to be intentional. My kids don’t want to talk to me, I don’t have time, I don’t know how to communicate with my children. These barriers are nothing more than a temporary blockade. Given the appropriate practice, patience and support you can have authentic and meaningful relationships with your children. Children who have intentional parents will confide in them. When a child is faced with a difficult social situation or mental dilemmas having parental support makes processing these stressors much easier. A child left to navigate and evaluate life by themselves will have a difficult time making safe and healthy decisions for their future.
Do not be discouraged if you find a lack of intention in the relationship with your children. You can start making steps in the right direction today. When you are tired, overwhelmed and disheartened remind yourself why you want to have an intentional relationship with you kids. You are preparing your children to be adults who will one day themselves need be intentional to have a successful live of their own.