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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.

Please Sweat the Big Stuff

Please Sweat the Big Stuff

“Don’t sweat the small stuff” is valuable advice. It’s easy to get worked up over little things when stress is mounting. Not sweating the small stuff requires some kind of reset of perspective. But there are two caveats: timing is everything, and the scale is subjective. You have to realize it’s just not that important in the grand scheme of things to avoid ‘overreacting.’

Overreactions are only overreactions after the recognition that they’re out of proportion. Until that moment, the emotions seem scaled to fit the moment. Telling someone to settle down in the midst of their tantrum is only likely to escalate the tension. Yet, there are precisely four situations when a dramatic emotional response is called for. In order of increasing importance, they are respect, trust, health, and safety.

When any of these four are violated, it’s time to pull the ripcord. The reason is simple. What follows an underreaction to them is harmful. More importantly, they are interdependent. A breach of any of the four affects the others. What’s more, if you allow respect, trust, health, or safety violations to go unchecked, there’s a risk of sanctioning the tolerance. Let’s go through them one by one.

Respect

The way people should treat each other is modeled first in the home. Kids observe their caregivers like squeezed sponges near puddles as they soak in childhood lessons. In the mind of a child, whatever they experience is ‘normal.’ So, if dad treats mom like dirt, that’s the way dads are supposed to treat moms. Families are wise to call some kind of a time-out when anyone says or does anything to anyone that is disrespectful. Once the interaction has been frozen in time, make sure everyone knows what the expectations will be moving forward. Then, make sure to behave consistently with this stance in the exchanges that follow.

Trust

Over time, parents put themselves out of a job by empowering their kids to become independent. Autonomy is a developmental acquisition. Yet, parents hold the reins on the timing and degree of freedom allowed. Freedom must be earned by making responsible choices. The more responsible the child, the longer the leash. Of course, the opposite is true. Short leashes are designed as external controls when internal controls aren’t enough. Whenever you show me that I don’t need to track your accountability, I back off. If your behavior communicates that you can’t be trusted, I have no choice but to exert control.

Health

Wellness is the foundation of effective coping. Nutrition, sleep, hygiene, and exercise create a platform for physical, emotional, and cognitive health. We have more energy, feel more balanced, and make better decisions when this foundation is strong. Slippage, however, is insidious. Neglected wellness is often the consequence of prolonged stress. Unfortunately, neglect gets normalized over time, especially if it is gradual. Like the proverbial plates spinning on sticks, keep an eye on the aspects of wellness that are wobbling and give them a spin before they crash.

Safety

Most parents have an urge to bubble-wrap their kids. There is a delicate balance between exposing them to growth opportunities and protecting them from danger. Every developmental stage increases their capacity to make good judgements while, at the same time, raising the stakes of failure. It’s all about measuring readiness accurately and responding resolutely when your assessment misses. Kids never learn to get up if they’re never allowed to fall. Yet, setting limits when they are tempting danger is a message of love.

Respect, trust, health, and safety. Please sweat the big stuff.

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.

How to Fight (or: How to Love)

How to Fight (or: How to Love)

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your last fight? It doesn’t matter if it was an argument with another adult or your child. In either case, your recollection probably starts with all the ways that person wronged you.

We can’t help but cast ourselves as the main character in our personal narratives. We’re each the center of our own universe. The most mature among us can recognize that there are two sides to every story, but when emotion comes into play, that skill usually goes right out the window. Vulnerability equals self-absorption: it’s instinctual and protective.

It’s easy to get stuck when we’re vulnerable. But there’s a workaround if we spend time cultivating it. First, imagine we each incubate seeds of feeling inside us. Seeds of happiness, pain, safety, sorrow, awareness, love, contentment, worry – all within each person, and all vying for time in the sun. If we pay attention, we can see them as clearly as the outfit someone’s wearing.

Next, think about which ‘feeling seeds’ have been fertilized most inside the person you’re facing. It could be that pain grew wild and unchecked for years, and has been choking out the other seedlings. Maybe safety hasn’t been watered very much lately and is struggling to take root. For some, an unresolved trauma might have altered their soil conditions.

It’s very likely the fight was more about the state of their greenhouse than what appeared to be the triggering event. And it’s just as likely that your response was more about the state of your own greenhouse rather than the surrounding circumstances. Both are usually true.

So next time, think about trying something different. Instead of nurturing the defensive seedlings in the midst of a conflict by pouring water on neglect, anger, and inadequacy, look for the positive seedlings that could use more TLC. Giving those helpful seedlings of love, appreciation, and understanding some nourishment will greatly benefit you both.

Because when it comes down to it, we’re all living in the same garden.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at Elmhurst Counseling. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning.

Parenting: Tilt-a-Whirl or Lazy River?

Parenting: Tilt-a-Whirl or Lazy River?

For many families, the end of the school year means the start of trips to amusement and water parks. Unsurprisingly, my personal experience of those outings has steadily shifted as my children have grown from toddlers into teens. The change has been a pleasant one, but maybe not for the reason you’re thinking.

When my kids were small, visits to entertainment parks meant a lot of stress. As someone who’s easily overstimulated anyway, I had to brace myself against overlong days and too much of everything. Too much activity, too much noise, too much interaction. The depletion of my energy would begin just thinking about the variations of ‘too much’ that were about to drain my parental reservoir.

Beyond that, my natural tendency towards hyper-vigilance didn’t help matters. I tried to manage every facet of every moment. One of my kids was always on the verge of getting hurt, so I was always braced in the ready-stance that moms assume to prevent catastrophe. I frequently operated from a flight-or-fight mode, and I desperately tried to stay in control.

Metaphorically, it felt like a constant ride on the Tilt-a-Whirl. My hands stayed gripped tightly around everyone’s wants and needs, and sometimes I had to muscle everything in the opposite direction to prevent my family from spinning out. I didn’t know when I’d be able to stop to catch my breath, and during the brief calm moments, it was all I could do to try not to feel dizzy.

In fact…that’s pretty much how parenting very young kids felt for me in general.

Now that my kids are older, their immediate needs have lessened. They also (usually) do a better job of exercising responsibility, independence, and self-control. You’d think their new autonomy would allow me to loosen the reigns. But here’s the surprise: their blossoming maturity hasn’t reduced the opportunities for parental stress. It has just changed the source of anxiety and, needless to say, the stakes are higher.

At every new age, there are just as many moving parts and endless ways for me to try, and fail, to control the experience. Eventually, I figured out I had a decision to make. Should I continue to wear myself out by tightening my grip and trying to muscle things in the ‘right’ direction (read: ‘my’ direction), or just disembark from the Tilt-a-Whirl?

If you haven’t already guessed, I chose to hop off that ride. The Tilt-a-Whirl was supposed to be fun, but when it came down to it, it was mostly making me feel sick. I do accidentally step back on it sometimes, but I spend the majority of my time on a different attraction these days.

It’s the Lazy River for me now.

I’m liking the Lazy River parenting style much more. I get to relax, go with the flow, and savor the ride. That’s not to say I’m not actively engaged in the chaos of raising kids. I often crash and need to push off again in order to course-correct. I get turned around plenty and sometimes I’m seriously stuck. Even so, I know I’ll get back on track with a little space and some gentle momentum.

On the Lazy River, I’m still guiding the experience. But now I’m slowing down, taking things as they come, and happily soaking it in as I go. Best of all, I’m no longer dizzy.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at Elmhurst Counseling. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning.

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.