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The Generational Transition of Parenting Styles

The Generational Transition of Parenting Styles

In the 1950s, freedom gave way to control. In the 1960s, strict gave way to permissive. In the 1970s, improvisation gave way to limits. In the 1980s, engineering gave way to shepherding. In the 1990s, protection gave way to exposure. In the 2000s, choices gave way to options. In the 2010s, decisiveness gave way to negotiation. What will the 2020s bring?

The pendulum never stops swinging. Today’s parents are influenced by the decisions that shaped their own child-rearing. If your background over-emphasized responsibility, you’ll probably seek freedom. Likewise, those gifted with unlimited freedom eventually have to figure out how to be more responsible.

Today’s parents inherit the complexity of a society divided and unprecedented global dangers. Every generation has wondered about the wisdom of bringing a child into a world turned upside down. Famine, world wars, revolutions, economic depressions, and pandemics all provide evidence of catastrophe. Today’s polar ice melt and wildfire blend should be enough to frighten anyone away from conceiving a child. Yet, the world keeps turning and conception is undeterred.

Today’s kids are a reflection of this trajectory. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, so we focus on the moment. Take care of the things that are within your control – shelter, nutrition, sleep, socialization, and unconditional love. Pack in as many enhancements as common sense allows: sports, music, languages, travel, and family experiences. Every day matters, so waste no opportunities.

Parenting will always have universal basics: build trust, set limits, and track developmental thresholds. But today’s circumstances demand a different level of skills. The stakes are as high as they’ve ever been.

If you are a parent of a child, pre-teen, adolescent, or young adult, consider these five tips:

  • Always prioritize unconditional love.
  • Pay attention to the subtle timing of development.
  • Don’t be afraid to set clear limits.
  • Address violations to respect, trust, health, and safety proactively.
  • Step back and widen the lens – there is always a larger context.

Parenting styles are evolving, but some things never change. Letting your kid ‘cry it out’ became ‘sleep training.’ In 2022, the key is the blend. Take advantage of the advancement of the science of parenting while leveraging the wisdom of your predecessors.

This is the ‘Epigenetic Principle.’ Every stage contains both the strengths and weaknesses of the previous stage. Both successes and failures inform the future. Today’s parents, like their own parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, are combining the tried-and-true with new learning to provide their kids with the best chance of making the same choices with their own kids someday.

About the Author

Steve Ritter, LCSW is the Founder and Executive Director of Elmhurst Counseling. He has served as a teacher, author, consultant, human resources director, health care administrator, and licensed clinical social worker since 1977. A fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, Steve has provided coaching, therapy and team development services to thriving schools, businesses and organizations.

He Seemed So Happy

He Seemed So Happy

Everyone carries a burden. We live in a world where showing your pain is a sign of weakness, so most people’s burdens are not visible. Stanford University uses a duck as the metaphor for invisible effortlessness. The objective is to make accomplishment look easy so imagine the waterfowl gliding swiftly across the water while his webbed feet are paddling like mad, out of view, to move forward. Most people respond with “fine” when asked how they’re doing. Are they really fine?

Friends and family struggling with anxiety, depression, loss, failure, and tragedy often post happy images on their social media platforms. Granted, Instagram is not the appropriate place to share your woes. But where is? The therapists’ schedules at Elmhurst Counseling are filled with clients who have no other place to safely process adversity. We create a ‘holding environment’ for them to both vent and problem-solve. Clinical offices are blessed with the protection of confidentiality so the typical consequences of sharing your deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings are shielded.

Imagine an ecosystem where showing pain was a measure of strength. In this universe, looking a problem in the eye and understanding its source would take priority over making the symptoms go away. We would be encouraged to struggle and surround each other with whatever support was needed. This would become the platform upon which coping skills would develop. We would learn to manage difficulty by having difficulty.

The advent of psychotropic drugs in the 1980s ushered in an era of healthcare that focuses on symptom-reduction – shorter inpatient psych stays and fewer outpatient sessions approved. ‘Stabilize and refer’ replaced ‘diagnose and treat.’ Employers saved money, insurers made money, and families kicked the can of the problem down the road. Quick relief became the mantra.

There is now literally a pill for everything, and prescribers promise a happy, healthy life. Here’s the catch. If you just alleviate the symptom, the source goes unmanaged. As a result, the symptoms are certain to come back. You can drug them forever but they will always return. More importantly, every time you medicate the struggle, you reroute your emotional and cognitive development trajectory away from developing healthy coping skills. The medicine makes growth unnecessary – until your symptoms crop up in other places, of course.

We see plenty of adults with child-like coping abilities. Tantrums aren’t very effective when things don’t go your way. On the other hand, naming the problem and locating the resources to solve it works pretty well. And like most things, these dialogues work better with a trusted friend, family member, or counselor than they do alone with a mirror.

So, the next time someone who cares about you asks you how you’re doing, tell them.

About the Author

Steve Ritter, LCSW is the Founder and Executive Director of Elmhurst Counseling. He has served as a teacher, author, consultant, human resources director, health care administrator, and licensed clinical social worker since 1977. A fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, Steve has provided coaching, therapy and team development services to thriving schools, businesses and organizations.

Grandparents Deserve Their Grandchildren

Grandparents Deserve Their Grandchildren

When studying family therapy in graduate school early in my career, one of my most respected professors stated, “Grandparents deserve their grandchildren.” His point was to emphasize the generational transmission of both nature and nurture. Like a boomerang, our history gets delivered to the future. Our grandchildren are more than just products of our children and the way we parented them. They inherit the entire trajectory of whatever shaped those choices.

So, whether your little guy is an angel or a pain-in-the-@$$ may have been determined before he was born. He may be a host for Uncle Billy’s gene pool regardless of his parents’ efforts to keep him away from Uncle Billy. He may be inclined toward patience because Uncle Billy’s mother was a saint. It’s always a bigger picture when you take the time to widen the lens.

Nature and nurture are always competing for influence. There’s little you can do about nature, other than acknowledging its power. Nurture, on the other hand, is fully within your control. You have an immeasurably powerful impact, whether as a parent, a grandparent, or a trusted counsel in the family’s circle.

If you look closely, you can follow the line from the influencer to the influenced. Positive or negative, healthy or unhealthy, the path is usually apparent. No one gets a pass. You either shape the kid’s direction toward success or struggle. Either way, we are all accountable for the outcome. Own that.

Life is short. Everything matters.

About the Author

Steve Ritter, LCSW is the Founder and Executive Director of Elmhurst Counseling. He has served as a teacher, author, consultant, human resources director, health care administrator, and licensed clinical social worker since 1977. A fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, Steve has provided coaching, therapy and team development services to thriving schools, businesses and organizations.

Just When We Thought We Had Seen It All

Just When We Thought We Had Seen It All

As a clinical practice serving families for 38 years, sometimes our clinicians think they have seen it all. Two factors bring us to our senses. First, you cannot have a career in the human services and see everything. Human behavior is complex, and the complexity intensifies when you blend it into relationships and families. Second, the world has gotten more complicated, and the magnified stressors are affecting families like never before.

As a result, our therapists have committed themselves to being curious. With every client and each set of circumstances, we ask the question, “What would need to be true to make these struggles make sense?” More important than our educational training or theoretical orientation is our understanding of the family’s unique situation. You do not need an advanced degree to understand a complex behavior when you are willing to assess through the lens of curiosity.

Yet, three things remain universally true.

  • Symptoms intensify following trauma.
  • Resolution is easier when we can intervene earlier in the progression of struggle.
  • The struggle usually shines a light on the problem if you let it.

Symptoms intensify following trauma. ‘Normal development’ is only normal when everything goes smoothly. Disruptions are valuable indicators and frequently answer the ‘why.’

Resolution is easier when we can intervene earlier in the progression of struggle. Early detection is vital in every healthcare challenge. Once things take root and get normalized, the chances for a quick and effective solution decline.

The struggle usually shines a light on the problem if you let it. We live in an age of symptom reduction. Unfortunately, when you relieve the symptom, the path to the cause gets obscured. Let the pain last long enough to see why it is there if you want to know what to address.

Stay curious. Resist the urge to diagnose. As soon as you zero in on an answer, you eliminate other possibilities. We live in a complicated world and not knowing something right away can offer the gift of discovery. Human lifespans are simply not long enough to solve the puzzle of human relationships. But fortunately, we get to work on the puzzle together.

About the Author

Steve Ritter, LCSW is the Founder and Executive Director of Elmhurst Counseling. He has served as a teacher, author, consultant, human resources director, health care administrator, and licensed clinical social worker since 1977. A fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, Steve has provided coaching, therapy and team development services to thriving schools, businesses and organizations.

Staying Calm Under Pressure

Staying Calm Under Pressure

Is it nature or nurture? Poise during the final seconds of an expiring clock in a sports contest often separates winners from losers. Hitting the high note in a solo during an orchestra performance in front of a packed house distinguishes the virtuoso from the amateur. Making the tough decision at the head of the leadership table usually differentiates the effective chief executive from the ineffective stuffed shirt.

Are these leaders born with such composure under pressure or are these learned behaviors? It’s probably a little of both. So, assuming the gift of nature – the lucky wiring handed down from generations of genetics – is part of the package, where does the nurture – the learned ability to remain graceful when it counts most – come from?

Let’s look at the three most likely sources.

Experience

The acquisition of coping skills happens when situations require us to adapt. A child learning to ride a bicycle discovers balance just as the bike begins to topple over. If the kid’s dad never lets go of the seat permitting the bicycle to tip, his son or daughter never knows to compensate to the left when the bike falls to the right. This is the beauty of struggle – it forces the need for problem solving.

Training

Most athletes and musicians know what it feels like to be “in the zone.” Parents and business leaders find the zone, as well. The zone is the perfect blend of stress and performance that makes competency look effortless. This is a skill set that can be taught and practiced. It’s basic psychophysiology. Learn the early warning signs your body communicates under stress and employ any of a variety of relaxation techniques to reboot your focus.

Change

Managing change effectively builds resiliency. While instinct may clamor to avoid change at all costs, saying goodbye to the old while saying hello to the new is a reliable problem-solving method. Everything cycles if you don’t waste energy getting stuck. As quickly as you can finish trumpeting how awful a change is, get committed to the task of figuring out what to do about it.

Some people are born to keep their cool when the heat is on. They get a small head-start in the leadership race. The rest of us find a way to channel the people and events of our lives into a moment of clarity when our teammates aren’t sure what to do in a crisis. Were you born to lead with calm or will your poise need to be learned?

About the Author

Steve Ritter is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, the Founder and Managing Director of the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation, the Founder and CEO of the Team Clock Institute, and the author of Useful Pain: Why Your Relationships Need Struggle and Team Clock: A Guide to Breakthrough Teams. You can find Steve on LinkedIn.