The Key to Calm Parenting

A few years ago, one of Melanie Dale’s kids started wearing unmatched shoes to school every day.

“It drove me absolutely bananas,” Dale says. “I would watch this kid walk out of the house with two different shoes every day, but I was like, ‘This is not a big deal; eventually the kid’s feet are going to hurt and they’re going to go back to wearing matching shoes.’”

Indeed, that’s exactly what happened a few weeks later, so crisis averted. But the next crisis is never far away when you’re the mom of three kids ages 11 through 16 who come from three continents and share among them an assortment of diagnoses and special needs.

Dale has learned a lot about calming down, so much in fact that she wrote Calm the H*ck Down: How to Let Go and Lighten Up About Parenting (Atria, 2020). Here are a few key lessons she shared with Scouting.

Don’t Set the Bar Too High

According to Dale, parents set themselves up for disappointment when they create unrealistic expectations.

“We have expectations for how we think we’re going to be as parents,” she says. “We have expectations for how we think our kids are going to be.”

One solution: Acknowledge your unrealistic expectations, and then let them go.

“Mourning my expectations for how I thought parenting was going to look, mourning these unicorn kids that don’t even exist, has freed me up to love my actual, unique, amazing kids and to appreciate the parent that I actually am,” she says.

Don’t Major in the Minors

Dale says it’s also important to decide what’s non-negotiable for your family and what you can let go of. For her, the latter category — especially during the pandemic — includes expectations about school.

“I’ve had to loosen up about what school’s going to look like and even what my kids’ grades are going to be, because just getting through this with our mental health intact is more important right now,” she says.

Constantly Calibrate

Finally, you have to constantly adjust your expectations to make sure they’re appropriate.

“When I can go and do that work by myself, that can allow me to be a calmer, more peaceful, more loving parent,” she says. “A lot of times when I feel tension with one of my kids and I think through what it is, sometimes it’s a needless expectation that I don’t need to have on them.”

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