How to Parent Differently Than You Were Raised

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Photo: Instagram/Drew Barrymore

Emancipated from her mother and absentee father at just 15 years old, Drew Barrymore isn’t kidding when she tells the new More magazine, “I didn’t really have parents.” As a result, the actress has vowed to do things differently with her daughters, Olive, 2, and Frankie, 9-months-old. “In a way, maybe [not having a nuclear family] was a detriment to my youth, but it’ll be the biggest asset to my adulthood,” says the 39-year-old, wed to art consultant Will Kopelman. She declares, “The kind of parent I will be is a good, present parent.” Easier said than done? Not necessarily. 

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Whether you can truly re-write the parenting handbook you were subjected to “is a question that in many ways almost every parents asks,” child and family therapist Dr. Ron Taffel, tells Yahoo Parenting. “How can I be the parent that I would like to be, some of which I will take from my own parents and some of which doesn’t fit anymore and I would like to be different?” The answer, he says, is to approach it with eyes wide open.

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“We all have experiences, scripts, if you will, that stay with us one way or another forever,” when it comes to parenting, Taffel, author of Childhood Unbound explains. But simply resolving to do the opposite (Think: “I’ll never be like her”) or behave in exactly the same way (if, for example, your mom was your best friend and you want an identical relationship with your child) doesn’t work because it doesn’t take into account your or your child’s individual temperament and who each of you are right now.

Say you want to do more activities with your child than your folks did with you. Watch how he or she responds to those three play dates you scheduled for your family in one weekend. That may be too much, says Taffel. “Try to find the parenting style that fits not just your values, but your child’s comfort level too.”

Write the script in a way that fits your whole family, by identifying exactly what works and what doesn’t. Take a quiet moment and actually write down a couple of tense exchanges between you and your child, he advises. Do it for a few days in a row. “What you will see is that, ‘Oh my god we’ve been doing this repetitive predictable exchange over and again,’” he says. “Does it really fit with what my child needs or am I doing this just because of the ways I want to be different or the same as my parents were? Sometimes even little tweaks to this pattern can lead to more effective connections and really getting through.”

Looking to other examples of a role model can help too. “Just because your parents weren’t good role models doesn’t mean you can’t model your parenting style after someone else, or better yet, a compilation of parents you admire,” family therapist Paul Hokemeyer, PhD., tells Yahoo Parenting. “Then fake it ‘til you make it. Act as if you were that parent. Over time, you will become them and your actions and reactions will flow naturally.”

Breaking any cycle requires consistency, adds Hokemeyer, who recommends taking a step back on a regular basis to assess how things are going. “Just like a business needs to constantly take inventory, so too does a parent – of the parenting traits that you distain and admire,” he explains. “Be vigilant about how you are exhibiting them while interacting with your child.”

And no cheating. To successfully stop a replay of your parents’ parenting today, you need to be willing to take an honest look at yourself and perhaps most importantly, be willing to change, says Hokemeyer. “You need not be a perfect parent,” he adds. “Just good enough to enable your child and you to grow into the best people that you can be.”

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