Parenting and the Order of Operations

by | Parenting

Back when I was in high school, I had the most off-the-wall math teacher. Let’s just say he was a unique individual who had his own way of approaching life! He also had some very bizarre teaching methods. I well remember the day he introduced the concept of mathematical order of operations. In an attempt to demonstrate the fact that the order in which we do things matters, he spent an entire class period attempting to take off his socks before removing his shoe. For real.

He put a chair on top of one of the tables, climbed up, sat down, and proceeded to tug, pull, twist, bunch, and struggle with that sock for nearly an hour just to prove a point. He chattered to himself the entire time about how hard this was, about how this method didn’t really make sense, and how there must be an easier way to do this, and wondering aloud if he was even doing this right.

Yes, he was eventually successful in his quest. It took a very long time and a whole lot of ridiculous struggle to accomplish the task. His method was inefficient, exhausting for everyone, and made all of us want to bang our heads against the wall…because, of course, he was also very tuned in to us students. If we drifted off or weren’t paying attention, he knew it and he called us un it! Though I’m not a fan of math and still get frustrated at times with the actual mathematical order of operations, I suppose the fact that I still remember his obnoxious demonstration means the lesson was effective.

Let’s be honest about a couple of things, though. First, he cheated. Though he was finally successful in accomplishing his task, the only way it’s possible to take off your sock before you take off your shoe is to cut the toe portion off the said sock before putting on the shoe…which is exactly what he did (and he admitted it.)

Second, once he was finished with his demonstration, the sock he pulled off was useless. It has already been destroyed in order to start the demonstration and then was so stretched out of shape and frayed by the time he finally got it off that it was unrecognizable…and at that point was nothing more than useless trash. 

Order matters when it comes to parenting, too.

Did you know the order in which we do things matters just as much when it comes to parenting tough kids as it does when solving an algebraic equation? Well, it does. This is a tough job. Though there are no “magic bullets” or “quick fixes”, but the order in which we do things makes a huge difference in how quickly (and even if) we arrive at that place of peace and healing we all long for.

Unfortunately, usually without even realizing it, so many of us parents find ourselves sitting up on that table with my crazy math teacher! We’ twisting and tugging and pulling…and essentially trying to do essentially the same thing my math teacher was doing….except we’re doing it with our kids.  We’re using all the parenting tools and skills we have and doing everything we know how to do in order to make things work with our struggling kids. Yet in the end, we’re the ones who end up frayed, stretched out of shape, and feeling useless ourselves when our kids still aren’t making significant progress.

This is an easy place for us parents to find ourselves in, too.  I was up there on that proverbial table for a long time myself. Here’s what I’ve learned since then, though. When we get the order right, the whole process goes a lot smoother, real healing starts to happen for everyone, and things just naturally fall into place. 

 So what IS the right order?

1. Seek training, support, and help for MOM first!

I cannot stress the importance of this one enough and will preach it until the day I die!  Step #1 is not fixing the kids, whipping them into shape, or even getting them into some kind of treatment program or therapy. In fact, Step #1 has very little to do with the kids.

The real first step  (and also most frequently missed and overlooked step in this whole process) is getting the RIGHT training, support, and help in place for the parents first, especially Mom! What we do is hard. We’re not dealing with ordinary kids who think the same way we do or who will respond to conventional wisdom or even logic. It is imperative that we moms fully understand all the issues our children are dealing with, we know how to parent said issues and explain them to others, have our own stuff under control and out of the way so we don’t keep tripping over it, and that we have a solid network of support in place for ourselves to keep us going.

We moms are the ones on the front line. We are the ones responsible for keeping everything running and holding everything together in our family. We are the ones responsible for keeping everyone in the home safe. We are the ones who know our kids best, know what they are truly capable of (both for better and for worse). We are the ones know them best and are also the ones who will have the most profound influence on their healing.

…And we are also the ones who get the full brunt of all that “special” (aka horrible) stuff our sweeties can dish out.

That is a whole lot of responsibility to place on one person. It is critical that MOM has the proper tools, training, and support she needs to do this job. Otherwise, it is quite likely our kids’ issues will eat us alive and we will sink faster than they get better. No one wants that! 

2. Change ourselves in order to meet the needs of our child.

This is another critical step that is very frequently overlooked. It’s also one that isn’t popular or easy for parents to do. After all, we’re the adults and the kid is the crazy one who needs to get with the program, right?

It would be nice if things worked that way, but they don’t. It’s simply not fair to expect a child who had a rough start in life to come in and conform to the family that is very different than anything they have ever known or to be solely responsible for their own healing…especially when they might not even know what “healing” means or why they need to do it. They don’t have the skills, know-how, or sometimes even cognitive ability to do it on their own.

Thanks to the lovely way trauma hardwired their brain, they don’t think the same way we do, they don’t see the world the same way we do, and they don’t process information or situations the same way we do. Unfortunately, there is nothing logical about trauma and there are no quick fixes or magic bullets that make it go away. Trauma leaves lifelong scars and can shatter an entire family if the issues aren’t properly addressed.

However, the bulk of healing, especially for our kids, doesn’t come by spending an hour a week in a therapist’s office. They may be necessary helpers, but the best shot our kids truly have at healing is by building a solid relationship of trust and connection with their parents…especially their mom! Therefore, our job is to figure out what their real needs are, adapt our own thinking and behavior to meet them where they are, and then lead the way in healing. 

3. Master the art of therapeutic parenting.

Whether you’re new to the world of trauma parenting or you’re a seasoned pro, you’ve probably heard of “therapeutic parenting.”  Unlike when we first adopted our kids, there are now literally hundreds of resources available for learning these essential skills. Those resources are a God-send, too! I have a whole bunch of them listed over on my resources page.  Check them out!

Here’s the tricky thing about therapeutic parenting, though. There is no one right way to do it!  It will look and feel different for each child and family based on their own unique circumstances and situation.  It can be very confusing to know what to do or where to turn when there are so many often conflicting voices out there.

My thoughts on that are that most all of the resources out there are good. All of them offer great ideas and strategies. None of them, however, will work for every child or every situation. The most successful cases I’ve seen don’t just follow one particular person or method. either. Kids change, families change, and situations change. It is likely you will need an arsenal of tools available to you because what worked yesterday may not work again tomorrow and what didn’t work yesterday may be exactly what is needed today. Having options to choose from is a very good thing! Learn from everyone and find what works the best for your child. 

Regardless of the approach you choose, getting the whole therapeutic parenting gig right takes a lot of trial, error, patience, and practice to figure out what will and won’t work for your unique child. Most therapeutic techniques also don’t come naturally to most of us parents. They truly are learned skills that require a significant amount of mental and emotional energy on our part to implement. They’re also not easy to understand or get right if your only resources for help and support are books, a Facebook group, or even an annual conference.

I also firmly believe the #1 reason there are so many burned out parents and kids who aren’t healing very fast is that parents either don’t truly understand what therapeutic parenting is or they are trying to implement it as step #1 instead of step #3. Remember, order matters in parenting just as much as it matters in math. These are hard skills to learn and they’re even harder to keep going, especially for the long haul if you’re lacking critical information, are missing some pieces that connect everything together, or you’re running on empty yourself.

 4. Find appropriate therapy for your child.

Though the lion’s share of healing happens at home and through relationships, kids will eventually need therapy to address their behavior and trauma-related issues. There’s no question about that. However, not all help is created equal. Just because someone says they know about attachment and trauma doesn’t mean they actually understand it or know how to treat it.

As you look for helpers for your kids, ask a lot of questions. Anyone who works directly with your child needs to specialize in treating complex trauma. That means it’s all they do! Most of them will also have additional certification specifically related to treating trauma in addition to their college degree and mental health practitioner license. Ask them about it! They should also be well versed in the latest treatment techniques, be able to explain the neuroscience behind them, and be able to share how they plan to treat your child, involve you in the process, and demonstrate the success they’ve had using their methods.

Good helpers also know they aren’t the ones who will ultimately help your child the most. You as a parent are…and they will support you in making that happen. Parents should never be banished to the waiting room so a child can bond with their therapist. Not only is that practice ineffective, but it also opens the door for false allegations of abuse and for the child lie their face off and snow the therapist. 100% parent involvement in all sessions, especially for kids with RAD, is a must!

 5. Get help for the whole family.

Trauma doesn’t just affect one person. It’s contagious and it can infect an entire family.  If there are marriage issues, sibling issues, or you need help learning to work together and live together, seek help from someone who understands the whole picture, the dynamics that trauma has brought to your family and can help you figure things out.

I’ll give you a little hint. You probably won’t find them on your insurance plan and making it work will require some significant investment of time, money, and emotion, especially on your part. The best helpers probably won’t be where you expect to find them…but they ARE out there…and there are a lot of them. I’m one of them!

There is also a reason seeking help for the whole family is step #5. From what I’ve observed through my own experience with my own family and also in working with other families, when you master steps #1,2,3, and 4 in the right order this step often takes care of itself. While family therapy may be needed in some situations, it may not be necessary for all situations. It can also be extremely difficult to find people who are qualified and skilled enough to treat the whole family at the same time when you’re dealing with situations as intense and complex as our families can be.

That’s overwhelming!

Yes, it is! But it’s not impossible. Finding the right help and the right information and the right help for our situations can be challenging and frustrating…but it might also be right in front of you.

Have you heard about The Parent Transformation Academy?  It’s a unique membership site that specializes in supporting, educating, and strengthening parents (especially moms) of children who suffer from intense emotional and behavioral issues associated with developmental trauma and/or other forms of mental illness. Inside the Academy, you’ll find a step-by-step roadmap that will lead you through every step of the healing journey and detailed courses to help you find the missing pieces and build a solid foundation of understanding and knowledge. Each lesson is also accompanied by a lesson workbook that will help you apply what you learn to your own unique situation. In addition, you’ll have access to many exclusive downloads, a private peer support community, and regular members-only live calls. Academy doors are open 24/7. You can learn at your own pace from anywhere in the world…and that help you’ve been looking for is more affordable than you might think, too!  Come on over and join us

But, leading the way is scary!

Well, so is algebra. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this equation. Unless you’re a math whiz, this equation probably looks more than a little overwhelming.

Solve for y when x is 2

(2x-2) (y-3)^2  [5/2(y-3) ] = [(10-y)/(y-3)^2 ] (3x-4) (y-3)^2

Guess what, though? The answer is 5.  A measly little 5. What’s even more amazing is that as long as we follow the rules and do things in their proper mathematical order (plug in the known information, then brackets, then parentheses, then multiply or divide, then add or subtract), most of us can probably solve this beastly looking equation in our heads.

Guess what else? It’s been a very long time since I’ve done algebra. I didn’t make this equation up. I asked for help. I also didn’t know how to solve this problem on my own. I had to ask for help on that, too.

Parenting hurt kids works much the same way as solving an algebra problem. I’ve tried to do it all kinds of different ways. By far the best and most effective ways were when I stopped trying to do it on my own, asked for help, and did things in their proper order.

How about you? 

Are you doing things in their proper order? Do you have proper help, support, and training for yourself? How might things change in your home and your life if you followed this pattern and did things in the correct order?

Are you ready to do it…and are you brave enough to ask for help?

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