As a parenting coach, one of the first things I teach is how to change the way you respond or react to challenges. Be it your child’s challenging behaviors or expectations you place on yourself. Many parents say they’re overwhelmed and, as a result, have adopted an automatic response pattern that often causes overreactions.
As a parent myself and someone who has worked with children for over two decades, I had to teach myself how to show up and take control over the way I responded. Sometimes our responses feel like they have a life of their own, as if they don’t belong to us. Some parents will say, “I have no other choice. What am I supposed to do when my kids do _____.”
Frustration and overwhelm are part of the process, but society will never tell parents that. We talk about all the positive aspects of parenting. When we name challenges, we often disregard them as par for the course. We try not to focus on them since we should always be grateful and joyful as a parent. Yes, it is true. Being a parent is a blessing and, indeed, the greatest gift in my life. Yet, it definitely comes with challenges that should be looked at and addressed. For me, parenting is the ultimate invitation to continue to examine yourself and evolve. This process of self-growth allows you to be more available to your children.
Getting a hold of the way you respond can have the most significant impact on your parenting journey. Is it hard? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.
PARR (pause, acknowledge, respond, reflect) is the four-step practice I teach parents to help them understand their reactions and gain the ability to respond rather than react.
Step 1 is to practice pausing. For me, this step was the hardest. Pausing is the process of interrupting your automatic response pattern. For example, I am someone who feels instantly bothered by messes or clutter. As my children were growing up, I would erupt if I walked in to find a mess (e.g., backpacks on the floor, papers all over the dining room table, shoes left in the middle of the walkway). There was no space between the sighting of the mess and my reaction.
My children knew it and would jump up quickly to start picking up everything, shelling out routine apologies. I hated that this was a daily occurrence. In my mind, I kept thinking, if they had listened and not made the mess in the first place, I wouldn’t have to respond this way. As if I had no other choice.
One day I asked myself, “Is it working?” This is an important question to ask yourself routinely. The answer was no. Nothing was changing, and I was becoming more depleted each day. I decided I wanted to change the way I responded automatically.I knew I wasn’t putting my best foot forward. I knew I needed to interrupt this pattern.
The next day, I saw the mess and said to myself, stop. I was ready to erupt, but instead, I had an out-of-body moment. It was as if I was observing myself amid this response pattern, knowing I was headed down the same dreadful road. I heard the word “stop” so loud and clear in my head that it felt like a jolt. I listened. I stopped, focused solely on my breath and waited. I stayed still, avoiding the urgency to do anything other than to acknowledge my state. Acknowledgment is the second step in PARR.
In my acknowledgment, no judgement or explanation occurs. You are just acknowledging that you are in a heightened state. You’re triggered and reactive. You accept this state and recognize that if you allow it to, it will impact the way you respond. This is the difference between responding and reacting.
When we react, we have little control over what we say and do, and the power lies in the external. We consider ourselves a victim of the circumstances. We think, I have no choice but to yell at you. On the other hand, responding is a choice. We consider how we want to proceed.
I acknowledged that when I saw the mess, it triggered me to want to implode and yell. And I recognized that if I chose to respond from this state, my response would turn into a reaction, most likely an overreaction. Acknowledgment of your state allows you to respond, which is the third step in PARR.
Once you acknowledge the state you’re in, you can choose how to respond. In some cases, I know I need to wait. Sometimes my response feels more settled and refined. It doesn’t have the same explosive quality as it did before. Sometimes you may even let it go, realizing the situation doesn’t warrant a response. Every case is different, but once you pause and acknowledge it, you will always find yourself responding in a healthier way. Your relationships with your children will improve because you find steadiness and balance in how you communicate a need.
When I saw the mess this particular time, my response shifted from yelling to simply waiting. I waited and decided to communicate my desire for a clean space at a different time. Something inside of me knew I needed to sit with this. I needed to reflect and ask myself questions, which led to the fourth and final step in PARR, reflect.
This is the most critical part of the four steps because it is here where you will learn the most about yourself and what you’re holding onto. For me, it leads to the uncovering of subconscious beliefs that I hold onto about parenting and how this governs the way I interact as a parent. I look deeply at the core of the situation and why I am so bothered. Besides the obvious reasons, who likes a mess in their home? Why does it bother me to the point that I am willing to yell and conduct myself in a way that I know isn’t setting anyone up to thrive?
In my reflection, I recognized what I was holding onto. Growing up, I was taught that a kept home directly reflected a mother who was doing a “good job.” The opposite was also true. If there were messes or chaos, the parent was called into question. People made judgments and assumptions about the dedication of that parent. I absorbed this idea and held onto it without even realizing it. That’s why I call them our “subconscious beliefs” because we are often unaware of them, but they shape the way we parent.
I considered this and thought, is it true? If your house is messy or chaotic at times, are you a bad parent? The answer is obvious. No. My big reactions to the mess came from that belief system. If I didn’t take the time to reflect, I would have continued to think my reactions were warranted because my kids weren’t listening. Reflecting is the most important practice to unlock who we are and who we want to become.
Did I allow my kids to create messes and not pick up after themselves? No. But, did I proceed calmly and talk to them about the messes and their responsibilities? Yes. Something remarkable also happened as I learned to let go of my subconscious belief. My kids started putting their stuff away. In life, the minute we surrender or let go, things miraculously fall into place. The only way to get to true surrender is by walking through the process: pausing, acknowledging, responding, and most importantly, reflecting.
Parenting allows us to make self-discoveries and explore our growth, allowing us to be more available for deeper connections and meaningful life experiences. Allow these four steps to enrich your growth, and learn to show up as your best and most whole self — not just for your kids but, more importantly, for yourself.