Thoughts are NOT Facts
Sarah here. We hope that you found last week’s blog on parenting role models and influences helpful. This week, we’re focusing on a topic that Lisa and I work with most of our patients (and their parents) on. It’s a simple but powerful concept: the idea that thoughts are not facts.
This may seem like a pretty obvious point. I mean, you could think about a pink spotted giraffe, but just thinking about it doesn’t make it real, right? But what about thoughts you have about yourself or about someone else. When you think “I’m a horrible singer” or “I can’t cook” or “My child is bad,” those thoughts may not seem absurd, the way that a pink spotted giraffe does. They seem like they could be true, especially in the moment when you think them.
Part of the “it feels true” factor is that when we think something, we “hear it” in our heads. It’s like we’re saying the words to ourselves. And the way we talk to ourselves when we’re thinking something sounds an awful lot like the way we talk when we’re stating facts. To highlight this point, read these two sentences:
I am 5 foot 2 inches tall.
I am a bad artist.
Both sentences are structured the same- they both start with “I am…” and they include a description. In the first sentence, it’s a fact about my height. In the second sentence, it’s a thought I’ve had about myself in the past. Even though only the first sentence is a fact, both sentences read as if they’re literal truths.
Now read these two fictitious (not about me/my child) sentences:
My child is 12 years old.
My child hates me.
The first sentence is a statement of fact about the child, while the second is a thought that could have shown up at a time when the child and parent were arguing. But again, the sentences are structured the same and both sentences sound like facts.
So, why is this important? The way you talk to yourself and about yourself matters! When your thoughts sound like facts, it’s really easy to forget that they aren’t actually facts. And that means you’re very likely to believe everything your mind tells you. So, if you’re having a bad day or you’re struggling in a relationship or you’re feeling a dip in your confidence, the negative self-talk you experience is more likely to be accepted without question.
Here’s the good news: this is totally something you can work on. And, even better, it’s something you and your family can work on together. If you want to stop believing every thought that comes to mind, the first thing you have to do is recognize when you’re thinking! To do that, you and your family can practice labeling thoughts as thoughts. So, instead of saying “Ugh! I’m so stupid!” when you’ve made a mistake, you would say “Ugh! I’m having the thought that I’m so stupid!” or “Ugh! Right now, I think I’m so stupid” or “Ugh! When I made a mistake, my mind told me that I’m so stupid!” The point of the exercise is to literally label thoughts as thoughts.
This can be an amusing activity to do together- as long as everyone is on board. You can gently prompt each other when someone says a thought as if it’s a fact. For example, if you said, “I can’t do this!” in a moment of frustration, your child or co-parent could prompt you to label your thoughts as thoughts. That may help you shift to “I think I can’t do this” or “It feels like I can’t do this.” When we label our thoughts, the sentences do sound a little awkward and funny, which is totally okay. That helps take some of the power away from them. And we’re modeling this strategy and working on it as a family, which can feel really good (so no one feels like it’s “just them” that has this struggle).
By changing the way you talk about yourself aloud, you’ll be more cognizant of how you talk to yourself in your own head. And, by labeling thoughts, you’re creating some natural distance between yourself and your thoughts. Over time, this process becomes more automatic and can even help you shift your way of thinking. So, get labeling and see where it takes you (and your family)!
Who Inspires You?
Lisa here. We all know parenting doesn’t happen in a vacuum. When your child arrives, you don’t suddenly know everything there is to know about parenting. But you do know some things. Some of it you remember learning, looking up, or being directly taught in some way. But there are other things that you know that you have no idea where you learned them.
Just like with anything else, we’re influenced by what we learn from observing and interacting with other people. Your parenting has been influenced by a number of people. Just off the top of your head, who first comes to mind when you consider who has influenced your parenting?
Your first thoughts were probably of people who were close to you- your own parents or caregivers, aunts and uncles, parents of friends, friends who have kids of their own, etc. Sometimes people influence you in positive ways. For instance, you may like the way your friend handled a difficult interaction with their kids and file that away for a time when you may face a similar situation. Other times, you take away things you plan to avoid. You may have that list of things that your parents said or did that you swear you will never do (“Because I said so.” Sound familiar?).
But, what about other, more subtle influences? Do you have some parenting role models from pop culture, television, books, or movies? Do you remember watching something and thinking that when you have kids, you want to be a parent like so-and-so from your favorite TV show? When working with parents, Sarah and I will often use examples from TV shows to illustrate a point. Those examples resonate with parents and will often spark their own recollections of fictional parents who influence their own parenting behaviors.
Knowing who has influenced you can help you gain clarity about your own parenting. If you are noticing yourself saying or doing things that are inconsistent with your true parenting values, take a minute to think about where those specific behaviors came from. Are you saying some of those things your parents said to you? Are you trying to force yourself into an image you’ve seen on TV? If so, it’s probably time to make some adjustments.
The good news is you can always pick new role models. Are there people in your life who make you feel inspired as a parent? Are there people whose parenting style matches well with your parenting values? Spend some time talking with them about how and why they parent the way they do. You’ll likely find some new ideas that resonate with your parenting values or figure out how to implement parenting behaviors you’ve wanted to try but were unsure of how to make them work.
Also, it’s always great to look back on the role models you’ve collected along the way. See what still works for you. As with most things, take what you need and leave the rest.
You’ve got this!
Are You a Satisfied Parent?
Lisa here. Last week, Sarah got you to think about how you define success as a parent. This week, I want you to think about how satisfied you are as a parent. Success and satisfaction are related but not identical concepts. Oxford Languages defines satisfaction as “fulfillment of one's wishes, expectations, or needs, or the pleasure derived from this.”
In a perfect world, when we are successful according to our personal metrics, we are also satisfied. That’s what happens a lot of the time. Unfortunately, in the real world, that’s not always the case. Most of us have accomplished a goal, checked off everything on our to do list, or finished a project we’ve been working on and then felt let down when we did not feel satisfied.
That happens with parenting too. Last week you thought about how you personally define success as a parent. But when you have successes as a parent, how often are they accompanied by feelings of satisfaction? Do you only feel satisfied with your parenting when you experience a success? Or are there times when things are not going well with your kids or with your co-parent that you still feel satisfied as a parent?
Satisfaction can be tied to individual parenting wins (successes) or to your overall feelings about your parenting. You’re not likely to feel super successful when your child is not listening or is having a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store, but what if you take a step back and consider your parenting overall? Yes, they’re having a meltdown in the moment, but otherwise their behavior has been great all week. Is there some satisfaction there? Or maybe your teenager does not want to be bothered with you today, but last weekend they were happy to spend time with you and you enjoyed each other’s company. Parenting satisfaction is often tied more to the overall view than to the in-the-moment occurrences.
Here are some other things to consider when thinking about parenting satisfaction.
A major factor in your parenting satisfaction is whether your parenting behaviors are in line with your parenting values. If you are focusing on things that are not as important to you, it makes sense that you feel less satisfied as a parent. If you’ve found that you’ve drifted from your parenting values, give some thought to how you will get back on track so that you can find some joy in parenting again.
Our year-end-review blog post (12/27/2022) gives some tips on how to determine your values and set your priorities as a parent. Now might be a good time to revisit (or visit for the first time) those ideas to see if you’re matching your behaviors with your values. Are your priorities the same as they were in December? What do you need to add, drop, or change to increase your parenting satisfaction? Remember, you don’t need to make massive changes. Small adjustments can lead to big increases in your parenting satisfaction.
Feel free to peruse our blog and see what Sarah and Lisa had to say about topics related to your needs as a busy parent. We will talk about everything from parenting values, to life hacks, to realistic self-care.
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