Since Christmas is tomorrow, I wanted to take a moment, open up my heart and share the reason behind why I do this work.
My parents loved me. They had the greatest of intentions, but, like so many parents, they had big dreams but had little to no idea about how to raise children effectively. With all the stress that they faced each day trying to make ends meet, they struggled to manage their own emotions, let alone mine. Like so many children, I was the product of loving parents who accidentally and unintentionally ran a dysfunctional family. In part, that’s why I do this work. To help people like my parents get out of survival mode so they can enjoy raising their children.
Fast forward, 30 years. For some reason, I had a lot of confidence as I considered parenthood with my wife. AND THEN WE HAD KIDS. Suddenly, I discovered just how hard parenting really was.
When our first son was born over 17 years ago, I felt a newfound sense of purpose, mission, and calling. I hoped he would become an independent little person who thrived. I hoped he would grow up to know he was loved, respected and very important to me! Little did I know what the future was about to reveal.
By the time my second son was born, my children were running my home! The stress of working two jobs, changing a multitude of diapers each day, and dealing with frequent and intense temper tantrums sent me over the edge. While other parents seemed to enjoy their children, I was sleep deprived, and my family harmony was on the rocks! To make matters worse, my solid marriage was starting to crack as well.
Desperate, I did what most parents do—I followed my instincts when I could get centered enough to find them. When my instincts fell short, I did the only thing I knew how to do. I dropped to my knees and prayed.
Those early years taught me a BIG LESSON. One that’s not really popular or politically correct, but here it is: YOU DON’T NEED HOPE.
Let me say that again. You don’t need hope. While hope can help, those early years taught me that what you really need is a clear plan. You need a plan that gives you the clarity and confidence to get out of survival mode and nurture a family that somehow thrives in the midst of meltdowns and tantrums. After that big revelation, I felt compelled to start investing in my sanity, my dream as a parent, and the future of my family harmony.
So I vowed to be a different kind of parent—one who followed the science behind best parenting practices instead of Granma’s approach or the opinions of an over-confident novice who posts on social media. As such, I started to read everything I could get my hands on, from research studies to well-researched parenting books.
As the fog lifted, I vowed to raise my children to be emotionally intelligent, securely attached, and well behaved. I vowed to raise them with greater awareness, increased sensitivity, and more confidence than my parents ever did.
With my newfound parenting “powers,” I started to listen to my children from a new perspective. I started recognizing the subtle attachment cues they were sending me on a daily basis. Thankfully, I’ve had several “big moments” along the way about connection and what empathy, compassion, and acceptance really looks like when kids refuse to listen, backtalk, and meltdown.
Through that journey, I discovered something really powerful: how utterly impossible it is to control the thoughts and behaviors of my kids—even though most “experts” teach that I should. I do this work so you don’t have to be led astray by well-meaning “experts” who are NOT familiar with the biological, psychological, and social forces that drive human behavior.
Thankfully, I also discovered the remedy to having virtually no control over my children. I stopped trying to change and control their behavior with punishment or some fancy reward system. Instead, I got clear on what I wanted and expected—and promoted those desires in the form of questions. I started giving my boys choices instead of orders.
- e.g., “Would you like to get out of the pool now or in 10 minutes?” Versus “Get out of the pool! We’re going home now.”
I also discovered the power that comes with making “I statements” so I still had control over my behavior when my boys didn’t listen, talked back, or melted down:
- e.g., “Sweetie, you sound upset, and I don’t understand screaming. When your tone of voice matches mine, I’ll be happy to listen to what you are trying to say. Until then, all I can do is give you a hug. Do you want a hug? Or, do you want to use your nice voice so I can understand you better?”
Don’t be fooled. I wasn’t a perfect Dad, and I’m still far from it—real far. (My teenagers can testify to that now). However, my wife and I have worked as hard as we can to:
- Intervene in ways that are warm, patient, and still firm.
- Stay consistent with the standards we hold.
- Offer control that is fair and reasonable, not random or inconsistent.
- Develop expectations that are in line with what my boys can deliver for their age.
- Make demands that promote (not discourage) their growing independence.
I call this approach to childrearing “In Touch Parenting.” Thankfully, this approach is aligned with the research behind what Developmental Scientists call best parenting practices. I do this work because it’s aligned with science and not gut instincts or intuition that can breed overconfidence.
What I’m so deeply grateful for this Christmas are the success stories that evolved from the parents I have coached, or continue to coach. That’s why I do this work.
Each time I present at a parenting workshop, I get to work with parents who love their children dearly, but typically struggle in some way. I’ve come to realize that with the challenges we face in today’s complex world, parents often lack tools and the accurate information they need that can make life with their children easier.
And THAT’S why I do this work. To give parents, just like you, the clarity and confidence you need to thrive each day.
The heart of my work has always been the readers (and listeners) who welcome me into their lives. I feel blessed to work with parents, just like you, who are so fiercely committed to your children, that you’re willing to do the hardest work there is: look in the mirror and make changes in yourself.
So this Christmas season, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for:
- Reading my articles each week.
- Being the parent, you are to your child.
- Having the courage to reach for compassion in the face of your own inevitable imperfections.
Periodically, I get notes from parents telling me that following the advice in my articles offers clarity, confidence and something we all want: family harmony. I also hear from parents saying that they need more than my articles can give. Typically, this is when they schedule an appointment. (I feel so humbled and honored when the call and make an appointment).
So thank you for putting your faith in me. Thank you for putting your trust in me. And thanks for stopping by each week to read or watch what I’ve posted.
Author: Steve Cuffari For many, Steve Cuffari is the mentor that parents call on to make their parenting style warmer, easier and more affective. He is the founder of inTouch Parenting, a company devoted to helping today's parents calm the chaos, raise emotionally intelligent kids, and nurture families that thrive. read more about Steve Cuffari here...