Have some power struggles in your family? Kids wearing you out? You wearing them out? Enter the lovely and down-to-earth Susan Stiffelman, author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids while Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. Ms. Stiffelman is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child counselor, an Educational Therapist, and Parent Educator. She's also a teacher. And a mom. A mom to a college student, which means that she raised a child to adulthood without killing him or having a nervous breakdown. This alone would give her the authority to speak on the topic at hand, but, oh, there's so much more.
I had the very great pleasure of interviewing Ms. Stiffelman and hearing her speak at an event this week at HOLA Charter School in Hoboken. Although she speaks all over the country and has a insanely busy schedule, she appeared to be quite calm and very personable and warm; she was also extremely passionate about her topic, which makes sense as the name of her website is Passionate Parenting. Her approach is both spiritual and thoughtful and rubber-meets-the-road practical, a blend that I personally appreciate.
If I were to summarize Ms. Stiffelman's approach to parenting in one phrase, it would be "Captain the Ship". Parents should be confident with being in charge of their children. Not "in control", which implies a gritted-teeth helicopter parent, but "in charge", radiating powerful authority and kind care without words. When we negotiate with our children (or bribe or make threats that are transparently empty), we become, as Ms. Stiffelman puts it, "the two lawyers", constantly in a stalemate of each party presenting their side of the argument.
So how do we regain our "Captain" status of this wild boat ride called parenting? Ms. Stiffelman gives many practicals, one of which is "coming alongside" your children instead of "coming at" them. To illustrate, she has an audience member come up on stage and do a little exercise. They stand with the palms of their hands against each other and Ms. Stiffelman starts to push. Her partner immediately and instinctively pushes back. This, says Ms. Stiffelman, is what our parenting is often like. We are all wired to resist coercion, so when we come at our kids with rules, orders, even explanations, they immediately and instinctively push back against us. We need to override this impulse with connection and attachment. The ways to do this are numerous and varied and I think I'll leave that to Ms. Stiffelman to explain to you in her book. I will say that my favorite moment in the lecture was when she spoke about "Mom TV". This is the accidental entertainment we give our children when we lose our grip on our "Captain" status and become needy, begging, emotional wrecks, willing to sell our souls if they would just put their shoes on and get out the door.
You can find Susan Stiffelman on her website, in numerous magazine and TV interviews, and on AOL's Parent Dish as The Advice Mama.