A little understanding of your own development may provide insights that can assist you with the challenges of parenting or managing other life experiences.
Even though we often feel behind the learning curve when it comes to parenting or understanding our children, adulthood is a time of growing abilities and expertise. In young adulthood, maturity provides for gains in focus and goal-directed behavior. In professional and home life, adults gain abilities in problem-solving, adaptability and creativity. Life experiences make some thinking more automatic or intuitive which leaves room for responding to and seeking new challenges. In addition, the accumulation of experience and knowledge can help balance out or buffer declines in other areas. So, acknowledge and embrace your growing competencies.
As we age, we have declining abilities in staying focused on one task, paying attention to the most relevant information, switching attention between tasks and attending to more than one thing at a time. So, multitasking becomes more of a challenge and distractions slip in. You may find yourself thinking aloud, getting frustrated when trying to listen to or do more than one thing at a time or notice a greater level of distraction by or difficulty disengaging from electronic devices. Interruptions in attention can be induced by normal changes in development. As if these changes were not enough, it is also natural for declines in eyesight (near & far) and hearing as we age. So, being distracted is not always the children’s fault.
While expertise is a benefit, it can also be a liability. It can take special effort to see the world from our children’s perspective because our ways of thinking have become more ingrained or rigid. As we age, our accumulated experiences provide wisdom and intelligence, yet they can also reduce flexibility in thinking. Not recognizing how we have changed in our thinking can also lead us to believe that children or teenagers today are not like we were. In many cases, it is not a change in generations, it is that we don’t remember how are thinking used to be. We have to step back and see the world from the child’s continuum of knowledge or understanding.
Adults continue to grow and follow a developmental path. We have our own cycles of equilibrium/disequilibrium which may be triggered by life events as well as development. Our children may be doing just fine and the challenges of coping, feeling out of sorts, not feeling capable or in sync resides within us and our own life cadence. As we age, we find greater satisfaction in intrinsic rewards and meaningful endeavors. This is supported by parenting or caring for family members but success or accomplishment of a task well-done is less distinct or obvious. Our cycles may not follow clear ages/stages as they once did and our joy may be gained from less tangible experiences.
In addition to shifts in focus & attention, disruptions in sleep can occur due to aging. Sleep deprivation or disruptions make all types of thinking more difficult. Lack of sleep can impede focus, slow speed of processing and reflexes as well as increase irritability and feelings of hunger. These effects can impact your parenting, relationships, appropriate expression of feelings, as well as management of daily tasks or broader life complications. Also, learning will be remembered and become part of your mental pathways only if you get some rest. You really do need to ‘sleep on it’.
Routines reduce the need to make decisions and provide the mind and body with a natural rhythm. Notice effects of poor nutrition or influences of caffeine. Limit caffeine in amount and lateness. Practices that promote sleep for children also work for adults. Provide a routine for yourself that includes winding down and limits screen time before bed. Screen time can interrupt circadian rhythms. Get fresh air and exercise, plan ahead, make lists, set out things for the morning, so that you can rest easy with a clearer mind.
Some parents offer tips or strategies that have worked for them because they hope they might alleviate some of your stress or provide examples of possible solutions. Others may seek validation for their own choices by encouraging you to follow their lead. In the end, you need to make choices that provide developmentally-appropriate care and guidance for you and your family. You can adjust expectations, interpretations, and frame interactions to reduce frustration, anger or pressure to do-be-sign-up-for more. Look at a stress and its source, with a new lens. Maybe something just is not a good-fit. Maybe an action was unintentional or a person has unseen reasons for their choices that are not relevant to you. In any case, you can reduce strain by identifying the source and determining what you need or what is most important to you. You may not be able to control events but you can control your responses or reactions to it.
By acknowledging and/or attending to your own developmental needs and progress, you can provide yourself with some well-deserved understanding and some wiggle room for being at your best.
Considering Adult Development, Paula Oakes, M.A. Child & Adolescent Development, Paulaandplay@gmail.com