Thoughtful Parenting: Time out for parents
Have you ever felt beyond your wit’s end and up to your eyeballs in alligators, wishing you could run out the door through which your patience seems to have escaped? The noise, the demands, the bickering, zero cooperation, one mess to clean up after another, no one listening to reasonable requests, to the point that we parents begin sounding like demanding children ourselves.
A normal reaction to such parental overload is to put our hands over our ears and get away from it all. Everyone needs a breather, a time to recover our wits, space away from the causes of our loss of equilibrium. Sometimes, deep breathing and counting to 10 just don’t do the job. We dream of sitting by a peaceful river, inhaling the serenity and quiet of nature.
What would happen to our children if we did take flight? They’d be dismayed, confused, scared and wonder if Mom and/or Dad were ever going to return. In the minds of very young children, who’ve not yet learned that just because someone can’t be seen doesn’t mean they’re truly gone, being left alone is terrifying. It’s truly a life-and-death matter. Though unaware of it consciously, very young children fear that, without a parent to assist them in all things, they could die. Remember the panicked crying of infants who need to be fed?
Slightly older children may know that out of sight doesn’t mean gone forever, but being left by a parent is still frightening. Unlike rare and remarkable examples of self-sufficiency shown by some 2- and 3-year-olds, children of this age need the assurance of the presence of an adult caregiver or competent babysitter. They need to feel safe, secure and valued enough by their parents that they won’t be abandoned.
Preschool-aged children have a greater sense of their own competence but have both rational and irrational fears when left by a caregiver. They know they can do as they please but are, at the same time, aware that they could endanger themselves. This is the age when monsters live under beds and boogiemen are hiding in the closet. Threatening to abandon children in a car, store or at home is devastating to them at any age.
Young children need to interact with adults who are attuned to them but can also set limits that provide safety. Feeling recognized and valued by adults helps children develop a healthy sense of self and self-esteem. For all of us, when we’re at our worst is when we need people around us to reassure us and accept us as we are.
What’s a parent to do when he or she has reached his or her limit? Is there a good way to take an adult time out and regroup? After assuring that everyone is safe and explaining that we need to be by ourselves for just a little while, we can go to the bathroom, the bedroom, the garage, the basement, the patio, the front or back porch — wherever the children aren’t — but where we are available to them. We can call a friend or family member to provide care while we get away.
Bearing in mind that being a parent is sometimes a thankless 24-hour-a-day job, getting perspective on what is truly important to us will yield great rewards. For the vast majority of us, our children are precious treasures who are with us for a very short time. We, too, need to feel safe and valued. It’s important that we get our psychological tanks filled by our trusted friends and family. Then, we have what we need to help our children develop in a psychologically healthy manner.
For more information and suggestions about managing ourselves as parents, “Hold Me Tight,” by Johnson, “Ghosts from the Nursery,” by Karr-Morse and Wiley, “Born to Love, by Szalavitz and Perry, and https:childdevelopmentinfo.com are recommended resources.
Chris Young, Ph.D. is a retired licensed psychologist who specialized in children and families. She can be reached at 970-291-9259 for consultation.
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