A Morning with Steve Biddulph

Parenting our Children

Where are you as a parent? This was a question I was recently asked to consider when I attended a talk with acclaimed parenting author, Steve Biddulph. The Tasmanian resident was asking the crowded room to assess whether they are cold & soggy or warm & firm in their parenting style; or somewhere in between. It was an interesting analysis of how we believe we react to the needs of our children.

This unique event was arranged by staff in the Institute of Technology Tralee with the support of the HSE, the national health authority in Ireland. Introductions reminded the attendees that parenting advice is also necessary for adults who don't have their own children, but regularly interact with nieces and nephews, and therefore have an understanding of their development. This allows them, as much as the parents, to meet the needs of children and to encourage their confidence.

Steve Biddulph explained that he believes that the goal of parenthood is to bring up our dependent children to become independent adults. Children will initially try to gain independence at approximately two years of age, a period Biddulph describes as 'counter dependence'. This is when the parent / child interaction is one of 'relaxed struggle' - we as the parent need to relax while our child struggles to break free from boundaries. Biddulph believes that this is a very important time in the development of every child. This struggle will hopefully create an independent adult child. 

The information shared on the day was presented in a warm manner, helping us to easily understand the research Steve Biddulph  has studied, as a psychotherapist, over the last forty years. This approach is reflected in his writings, especially his popular 'Raising Boys' and 'Manhood'. He recently collaborated with others to bring us a 'Raising Girls' book, which I will have to read sooner rather than later. 

Biddulph claims that the development of society seeking and listening to 'child experts' comes from the upheaval of a traditional society in the early 20th century when war and population displacement threw us into chaos and we began to lack confidence in our role as parents. Therefore, we now seek it from others and it's only when we are older we often look back on a younger parenting generation and make comments like "I could have written that book!"

Amongst the funny stories and anecdotes, Biddulph encouraged adults and parents to try keep our lifestyles calm so that children can flow with us in that. Spending time with your children is very important for numerous reasons, one of which is, that it allows you to recognise how they are developing, so that you can work with them. This concept was expanded with advice on how to react when your child reached puberty. Parents can avoid issues that come with this part of the child's development if they understand that their children will once again become dependent on their parents. Steve Biddulph suggested subtracting twelve years from your teenager's age and then react according to that age group. Example: fourteen year old son seems to struggle with finding his shoes, or fastening laces on them. Consider their ability as a two year old and you will know how to react to them, rather than get excited about their lack of ability or comprehension. This is another 'counter dependent' stage we all know as 'teenagers'!

So, going back to the earlier question - where are you as a parent? One of the reasons I attended this lecture was to revisit the advice I previously read in his books. I went with a friend, also a father to young children, and there were several other men in attendance. It was nice for me to see other fathers there, and Biddulph also noted this positively.

My role as a parent is a combination of happiness and struggle. I don't think I'm alone in this. Trying to maintain a work / life balance is tough - I work part time so that I can be at home with my children half the week. I love that I get to spend this time with them, but I know that my focus strays onto other projects sometimes, and then I get frustrated with the my parenting role. It's a constant juggling act, and it was good to hear 'the expert' emphasise this, and the people in the room nod their heads in acknowledgement.

I enjoyed Steve Biddulph share his observations as a father and as a professional in dealing with children. I know I'll make mistakes and hope I can amend them and move forward. I hope that my children will continue to appreciate my efforts as they get older. Biddulph summed it up in this simple phrase: "Give your children understanding and time". I think, as parents, we need to do the same for ourselves.


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