Therapeutic Parenting means simply giving our kids a ladder to climb out of situations, rather than a spade to dig deeper in.
Positive parenting strategies and tools that fit the bill on paper have a tendency to crumple and fail in situ. Problems experienced by traumatised kids are misshapen and multilayered, and do not fit the neat, round holes of theory. Tools – especially those that tackle behaviour ‘mid behaviour’ – simply apply more pressure to confuse or escalate issues. And those that reward, incentivise or penalise just add pressure or increase feelings of shame and failure.
Opting into these parenting methods – however brilliantly and gently we use them – translates what our children do as defiance or disobedience. It misses the trauma their behaviour is communicating, and it turns our backs on the call for help contained within. Bit by bit their use pushes our children deeper and deeper into those fox holes; more lies, more concealment and deceit, more secrets, more conflict. For CHT and me the patches of calm between issues grew shorter until they almost disappeared from view. For a while back there, I began to feel like I was simply ‘managing her’ – no time nor heart nor energy for ‘active’ love, mothering, or fun left; I became little more that a lion tamer. Then worse came, her withdrawal and silence; sure signs our relationship was eroding. I was doing all the ‘right things’ by the book, and yet her perception of me was slowly changing to that of an enemy to fight, rather than an ally. The tools and strategies had become a wedge between us, and we were both exhausted and lost.
One day, as I stared down into yet another deep dark hole, it dawned on me that fighting the behaviour was like fighting the hole: impossible, ridiculous, and harmful. I took a deep breath, and I jumped right in that crater alongside her. I rolled up my sleeves, and asked her to come along with me to fix what was happening. I stopped asking questions, stopped quizzing and looking for confessions.
TP in its fullest application stops us from delving into the whys and wherefores that pinpoint what went wrong; it ends the dissection and explanation over specifics. Instead it has us recognising and understanding, mirroring and acknowledging. I started asking for help in fixing without looking for confessions or truths. I began to reflect and offer simple understanding for what was happening and why that might be, and to search for the escape ladder that makes practical amends, and then thank her for doing such a great job. I ended my focus on the behaviours I wanted to stop, and regrouped my efforts into starting the solutions we needed to see.
TP is crazy hard. Hard enough to get right while safe and secure in an emotional vacuum – armed with an instruction book – let alone when all hell is breaking loose around you. It feels one sided, with you the adult being tested and pushed and pounded while having to maintain calm and restrained and engaged. The scales feel loaded, and getting it right can feel like a thankless task.
But little by little the change comes. The magic moments are hard won, and they come with no bells, no whistles or celebration. They come from knowing that in the face of it all, we done good. They come from watching our traumatised children draw a little closer, ask for a little help, and start lifting themselves onto the first rung of that ladder – unprompted.