By Barbara Desmarais
I began working with parents in 1988. I started out facilitating the course “How to Talk SoKids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I led the course for several years and then went on to lead S.T.E.P. (Systematic Training For Effective Parenting) by Don Dinkmeyer and Gary McKay. I learned a lot through both programs and was introduced to the whole concept of “democratic parenting” which I was able to apply while raising my own children. I was also hugely influenced by Barbara Coloroso. I learned effective ways to discipline that honored both the child and the parent.
After leading both programs for several years, I went on to create my own parenting workshops that I’ve been delivering to groups of parents for over 20 years now. In 2002 I began coaching parents and working with them privately. It was then I learned not only the issues they were having with their kids, but other things that were going on in their lives. I started learning about marriages that were not working, mothers who were completely unfulfilled, relationships with in-laws that were unhealthy, and much more.
It occurred to me a few years into my coaching, that I could arm my clients with all the best discipline tools but if their marriage was on the rocks, it was very difficult to apply what they were learning. I learned that parents who were yelling at their kids all the time were really struggling with personal things and the problems had little to do with their kids. I learned that mothers who had never learned how to establish good boundaries in their personal relationships, had a very difficult time establish boundaries with their kids.
I remember many years ago coaching a mom who had an ongoing, problematic relationship with one of her daughters. I gave her some different communication strategies but my intuition led me to ask her what she did for herself. I wanted to know what she did for fun and were there things in life she wanted to do but had never taken the time to do. She came up with a long list of things. She had devoted her entire life to her husband and children and that’s the ways it always was. She told me that one thing she’d always wanted to do was learn to belly dance. She was tentative when she told me, as though there was something wrong with wanting to belly dance. I told her I thought that was great and her assignment for the next week was to find a belly dancing class and sign up. A few weeks later she reported that she’d found a class and was loving it. I knew doing something for herself that she loved, would have a direct impact on her relationship with her daughter and she was setting an example to both her daughters that doing what brings us joy is an important part of living well. I knew her girls would be proud of their mom and her joy would rub off on them. I knew many of the things that were coming between her and her daughter would melt away. It was not hard to convince her that for her, learning to belly dance, was in fact part of being a great parent!
Our kids learn mostly by watching. We can teach through our words but it’s through our actions that we really teach. We can’t teach them how to effectively handle their emotions if they experience us yelling all the time. We can’t teach them to be patient if they see us always being impatient. We can’t teach to respect others if they don’t experience us showing respect. We can’t expect them to go out and live a happy and fulfilled life if we haven’t shown them what that looks like.