Julie and I are getting ready to go to Baltimore to the Joint Council on International Children’s Services annual conference. We’ll be presenting on Friday but won’t leave until Thursday. Additionally, my family has a wedding to attend as well as the rehearsal on Friday night since my 4-year-old O. is the flower girl. As you can imagine, I have a lot on my plate this week and O. is almost out of patience with me and I with her!
I think that last statement is key–we are both about out of patience with each other because at this point in time we have conflicting needs. I have a need to spend more of my time and attention on work and trip related tasks. O. has a need to spend more of her time with me–she knows I am heading out of town and is also just a smidge apprehensive about the wedding.
When a parent and child have conflicting needs, one might think of the result being anything from a fender bender to a train wreck. Here is how I think of it:
typical beginning/typical coping skills + short-term conflict = fender bender
atypical beginning/atypical coping skills + short-term conflict = some pretty good dents, but both cars are drivable
either atypical or typical coping skills + long-term conflict = train wreck (typical coping skills just delay the end result)
This is a tough situation to be in, particularly in the 2nd two scenarios. We could expect these reactions (in both parent and child) to be more intense, start sooner and last longer. And, it is more difficult to get back on track.
So, what to do??? Well, in these cases there have to be some compromises made. In the instance of a trip (short term) perhaps the same thing could be accomplished by phone, with the child along with the parent and a friend to help or perhaps the other parent (or for single parents, whoever “co-parents” with you, whether that is a child care provider, good friend, grandparent or whoever) is just ready to step in and provide more structured nurturing attention that the child may need during this time.
If the situation is one that is long-term in nature, then I think it’s up to the parent to figure out a way to have their own needs met in a different way that doesn’t conflict with their child’s needs. This reminds me of when I was single parenting D. and finishing my masters degree at the same time. It was HARD to do what I needed to do (for our family–not just for myself) and find a way to do it so that his needs (for mom and high needs meeting caregiving) were still met. There was not one “right” answer, but ultimately, it was about finding creative ways to be with him more hours and parenting even more consciously and intensely during those hours I was with him. At the same time, my mom was an enormous help in “co-parenting” when I wasn’t able to be there with him and she was able to be.
So, sounds simple, but the truth is that it’s not!!! It’s hard to modify something we see as a true need for ourselves and yet sometimes that is exactly what needs to happen because we are the adults… we do have well-developed coping skills…
Will there be conflicts between needs? Absolutely. We all live in the real world and have to be realistic and yet, we also need to look at these conflicts of needs and decide whether we need to push through a short-term conflict and parent as well as we can through it… or take a hard look at if we need to modify our own needs in either the short or long-term.
For myself, just writing this post makes me grateful that for today I am dealing with a fender bender. 🙂