Psychologists study ways to help people find authentic happiness. Researchers report that using one’s strengths allows for greater creativity, productivity and excellence. While theses are all the ingredients for professional and career success, they have also been found to work in people’s personal lives as well. Utilizing personal strengths yields greater happiness and feelings of well being.
We can apply this principle to our parenting. The parent who understands her unique strengths will be more comfortable and confident in her parenting abilities. She will be more productive and will be able to better interact with her children, thereby parenting more effectively. She and her children will exhibit greater happiness and well being.
Haim Ginott, an eminent psychologist in the 1960’s and 70’s, addressed this issue of strengths in his parenting classes. One mother was feeling badly because her child had asked her to volunteer to be the class mother and she told him no. She complained to Dr. Ginott: “What’s the matter with me? Why can’t I be like other mothers?”
He said firmly, “A question like that only confuses. It presupposes that we should feel like other people. But we don’t. We’re not other people. We’re ourselves. You are you. We come back to the same thing again. We can only feel what we feel. And we really feel differently – each one of us does – not only about being class mother, but about everything. One mother loves to bake with her children, and another can’t stand having them underfoot in the kitchen; one loves gathering the little ones around to read aloud to them, another shudders at the thought. We each have our strengths and our limitations.”
As Jews we are familiar with this concept. In our morning prayers it says, ” My G-d the soul you placed in me is pure. You created it, You fashioned it, You breathed it into me.” G-d lovingly placed a portion of Himself within us. That is our soul. Our soul contains a gift from G-d, our unique personality, aptitude and strengths. We just need to discover and use these gifts to the best of our ability. Using our individual talents enables us to meet our potential and live life to the fullest.
Here are 5 questions we can ask ourselves to help us find our strengths, our uniqueness and our individual style, so that we can parent happily, productively and effectively.
1. What aspect of parenting do you find energizing? What comes easy to you?
We often spend a lot of time focusing on our weaknesses. Our dress is wrong for the party, our house is not clean enough, our children aren’t polite enough and the neighbor does it all better than we ever could. We need to stop looking at what we think we are doing wrong and concentrate our efforts in searching for our own areas of competence and strengths. It is the part of parenting and nurturing that comes most naturally to us. It is what makes us feel fulfilled and whole.
Think about what you love to do with your kids. Is bath time or feeding your children their favorite foods one of your preferred activities? Do you enjoy cuddling and curling up with them to read a good book? Do you love to take your kids out and about town to a new exhibit at a museum or do you like making popcorn and watching old movies with everyone on the couch? Somehow we always push ourselves to do the hard stuff, things we don’t like to do. Ironically, our strengths lie in the activities that we do effortlessly.
2. When do you feel good about your parenting?
Is it the hugs and kisses from your children or teaching your children to tie their shoes and ride their bike? Do you enjoy when your child shares with you something new he or she has learned, like the lifecycles of a butterfly or the habits of a beaver? Or do you relish hands-on activities, like arts and crafts or sewing?
Most of my clients do not tell me about their best parenting moments. They mostly share the times they messed up. In one of my classes we decided to change all that. Everyone was required to tell a story of at least one time where they felt they did it all right. Parents realized, “Hey, I am not so bad after all.” Focus on the positive aspects of your parenting and you will gain an appreciation for yourself and all that you do.
3. What are your five best qualities as a person and how do you use them to enhance your relationship with your children?
Here is a short list of character traits that can help: Honest, cheerful, independent, artistic, wise, athletic, spiritual, fun-loving, laid back, caring, spontaneous, thoughtful, practical, flamboyant, kind-hearted, brave, logical, calm, discreet, cooperative, brave, giving, punctual, friendly, warm, tactful, adventurous.
You want to cultivate your best qualities and find ways to connect with your children using those traits that you are most proud of.
If you are a kind-hearted, compassionate person then empathizing with your child probably comes naturally to you and you can easily find ways to relate. If you are independent minded, then teaching your children the life skills to stand on their own two feet is something you will do naturally. A flamboyant and adventurous type parent will teach her children to enjoy life and find joy in the unexpected.
4. What aspect of parenting overwhelms you?
Be honest with yourself. Some of us are more energetic than others. Get real with yourself, what your capabilities are and work with them. If you have a low threshold for typical parenting tasks, and find yourself often at your wit’s end, get help. Hire a babysitter or cleaning service. If that is not an option have a heart to heart talk with your spouse or get another family member to pitch in.
Touchy feely parents might feel overextended because they do too much for their children. Talk to your more independent minded friends to get tips on how to get your kids to help. Independent parents might balk at an overly sensitive child. Parents who are emotional can return the favor and teach those parents how to better deal with the world of emotions. The adventurous parent might have a hard time with the schedule and strictures of parenting. You might want to use your imagination to do your chores in a fun, original way.
Being realistic with yourself and acknowledging your weaknesses in a soft way allows you to expend your energy on finding creative and practical solutions to manage your limitations.
5. What do you do to recharge and relax?
Parents, specifically mothers, need time for themselves. It is a necessity. Mothers need to unwind and just be. The demands of family can leave you drained and cranky. Everyone has their own way of relaxing. Find your personal preference. Do you love spinning class, curling up with a good book, a stimulating lecture or getting together with friends? You can also think about what you loved to do as a child and haven’t done in a while.
I enjoyed ice-skating as a kid. When my daughter took lessons so did I. I rediscovered a forgotten pastime. Instead of going to the gym, once a week I head to the ice rink. In other words, take note of what relaxes you and try to fit it into your schedule as much as possible.
Notice that nowhere in this article are the questions, what does your best friend do as a parent that makes you feel inadequate and why aren’t you trying to copy her? What gives you the most guilt? How did your mother parent and why haven’t you done everything you can to emulate her?
To tap into your unique, individual personal strengths, the questions you need to ask are the ones that force you to turn inward and take a good deep look at yourself.
Our G-d given personal strengths are the things that we are naturally good at and give us energy and vitalize us. To increase our joy, contentment and pleasure in our children and our families we need to cultivate and build our parenting strengths. Very simply, the key to our happiness and ultimately to our children’s happiness is to find what we love about parenting and do more of it.