Revised post, originally posted on 3/17/21 titled “Keeping things in Focus”
“Never let a problem to be solved become more important that a person to be loved.”1
This wise counsel came from one of my favorite people, Thomas S. Monson, a former leader of my church. For me, this advice is deeply connected to my experience as a special needs parent. Why? Because I often need to remember to stop and refocus myself matters. It’s kind of like being a photographer: if we are looking through the wrong camera lens, the image we see is a distorted view of reality.
For parents like me, normal everyday activities often become monumental struggles.
Getting a pre-teen boy to shower is tough for any parent, but it is 100 times harder when he is autistic; when the spray of the water literally hurts him and the feeling of the soap on his skin is more than he can bear. Getting kids off to school is hectic and frustrating at the best of times; but when the list of foods your child will eat for breakfast or take for lunch is ridiculously short; or the only clothes your child is willing to wear aren’t at all appropriate for the weather; or your child with severe ADHD can’t concentrate long enough to take the medicines they need to be able to get through the day – phew… it’s a whole different level of challenging! There have been days when I have collapsed into an emotionally drained, sobbing puddle after a two-hour struggle over what should have been a 5-minute homework assignment – that still didn’t get done.
It’s times like those when our parenting lens can easily slip out of focus.
When that happens, we start to see our children as a problem to be solved rather than a person to be loved. Of course, we ALWAYS love our children, always. We love them so much it hurts, and all we want is what is best for them. Sometimes though, we forget to focus on the right things because, well… life. Sometimes we get so caught up in struggling to help our children manage the day-to-day things which come so easily to other kids, that we get blinded to what matters most. We are stressed. We are worn down. Sometimes, we are broken.
With our parenting lens out of focus, life becomes a battle of us-against-them.
Through our poorly focused lens, we start to see our child as a problem. We are fixated on the fact that they won’t do what we want them to do; and not on the fact that there is most likely a very good reason why they won’t. We find ourselves struggling to try to persuade them to do what we want with sticker charts, rewards, and penalties that don’t work; or don’t work for long. Life starts to feel like an uphill battle we’re doomed to lose. When we begin to recognize those feelings, that’s when it’s time to refocus our lens.
When our lens is properly aligned, we see ourselves as teammates with our child.
We start to work with them, rather than against them; teaming up to solve problems together. Because we are focused on how much we love our child, we see that they have a problem that they need our help to fix. We are no longer locked into a battle of wills.
With a focused lens, we are able to investigate, discover, and solve the real issues.
We see the problem as the shower that is an uncomfortable experience, the homework that is too stressful, or the challenge of not being able to stay focused without medicine; and then we can work with our child to find solutions that really work. Life starts to feel more manageable, and we realize we absolutely can do this!
Life is so much better for both parents and children when we look through a lens of love.
One of the things I love most about being a parent coach is helping parents refocus their lenses. I become a temporary member of their team; helping them see things they might have missed, brainstorm creative options, and set realistic goals. It is such a privilege to see families grow together, strengthen their relationships, and deepen their love as they tackle their unique challenges through teamwork.
1 Monson, T. S. (2008) Finding Joy in the Journey. October General Conference, Saturday Morning Session. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Retrieved from: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2008/10/finding-joy-in-the-journey?lang=eng