Adaptability — An Essential Parenting Trait

By Danny Huerta, MSW, LCSW, LSSW
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ADaptability — an essential parenting trait; this illustration of a woman wearing many different hats
A flexible mindset, adaptability, can make a big difference in how we respond to challenges

“I just can’t do this anymore,” a woman told me over the phone. She was crying. 

I was on a counseling call with her; she had locked herself in the bathroom because she was afraid she might hurt her children. Through the phone I could hear her kids calling for her and knocking on the door. 

As we talked, the mom revealed that she was exhausted and overwhelmed. 

My immediate goal was to help her calm down and regain perspective. But I knew what this mom really needed were the skills to adapt to trying, parenting situations.

The ability to adapt is crucial for parents. It’s simply not possible to anticipate every stressful event and change that life can bring. 

After all, plans and people change. Relationships and expectations change. And that’s not even considering earthshaking events that temporarily close schools, churches and businesses, wreaking havoc on the daily workings of family life.

Yet we’re not helpless. We can grow in the art of adaptability — an essential parenting trait. Let’s consider four qualities we can embrace that will help us develop as adaptable parents.

Practicing flexible thinking

We have a couple of mottos in the Huerta house. When we face difficulties, we say, “There is always a solution.” And we frequently ask ourselves, “Is there another way to look at this?” Having a flexible mindset makes a big difference in how we respond to challenging circumstances.

Imagine you’ve caught your child in a lie, and perhaps your child seems to be acting defiant, too. The easy thing to do—the inflexible thing—would be to focus on the dishonesty and disrespect, and dispense some kind of consequence. But flexible thinking may lead you to a different approach.

You might ask some questions about the circumstances that led to the dishonesty. What might your child have seen, heard or interpreted, that could possibly have motivated this lie? Is your son struggling with a particular emotion—fear, anxiety, frustration or anger? That might have played a role in shaping his behavior. Is your daughter afraid of telling the truth because she thinks it will get her into trouble?

Flexibility is the ability to see things from multiple perspectives. It requires an open mind and a willingness to dig deeper. It’s about leaving room for imperfection in the midst of the pressures and disappointments of everyday life. It’s a skill we all need to cultivate if we want to thrive as parents in a world of unpredictability. Adaptability is one of seven traits needed for effective parenting.

Pausing to see the bigger picture

Busy parents often get caught in a vicious cycle of stress and shortsightedness. Shortsightedness creates stress because as we focus on short-term problems, we can lose touch with the rest of the world. This will heighten our sense of helplessness. Stress, in turn, can cause shortsightedness by magnifying our difficulties and making them look bigger than they really are. Under the influence of stress, problems swell to the point where we can no longer see beyond them.

To break free from this cycle, we must strive to shift our thoughts toward the larger goals of family life. That starts by pausing to consider how we’re interpreting what is happening. And then our trying to see things from multiple perspectives. 

When we watch movies, we can hit the pause button to think about confusing bits of dialog or action. This is true in family life as well. Sometimes we need to hit the pause button to get our bearings and think through our plan of action. 

When my kids were small, I often had to pause and recognize some basics about misbehavior. I had to remember that very little of what children
do to misbehave is deliberately done to hurt their parents. They’re just responding to their experiences in life as they learn how to manage themselves.

I once counseled a mom who told me she was overwhelmed by daily life. She was ready to quit being a mom. As we continued meeting, she agreed that putting her reaction on pause for a few minutes would be helpful. That allowed her time to figure out what to do and where to go mentally and emotionally. 

She began consistently taking time to pray, go for walks and enjoy a good laugh. She even drew “pause buttons” on sticky notes that she posted around her house and in her car. As a result, she was able to listen more attentively to her children and respond with more patience. 

Pausing to see the big picture helped this mom fill her emotional reserves and become a more adaptable parent.

Choosing a growth mindset

A few years ago, Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset: the new Psychology of Success, described two important approaches to life challenges: the growth mindset and the fixed mindset. Dweck describes the compelling scientific evidence for the importance of having and instilling a growth mindset in ourselves and our children.

I’ll admit that I sometimes fall into a more fixed mindset in times of stress. I think, Itiswhatitis. In other words, I succumb to the belief that I either have the skills to deal with the issue at hand or I don’t; my abilities can’t really change. This fixed perspective keeps me from seeing creative solutions or allowing myself space to experiment, change and grow. It stunts growth. 

In contrast, a growth mindset sees life as an ongoing opportunity for change and personal development. A growth mindset encourages letting go of the pursuit of perfection and giving ourselves (and our children) room for experimentation, failures, do-overs and restarts. In a growth mindset, grace toward ourselves and others helps us adapt to human imperfections. The grace inherent in a growth mindset also helps us maintain the perspective that raising kids is a journey of ups and downs. 

Letting go of the ideal and moving toward growth as a child of God is freeing. And God gives us so many opportunities to grow. He never said parents were going to start out with all of the necessary skills. He consistently says to trust in Him and connect with Him along the journey. Indeed, an open, growth-oriented mindset, founded on trust in God, helps us adjust to the amazing life God has planned for us.

Adjusting on the fly — adaptability

Do you ever wish each child came with his or her own instruction manual? That’s not the case, unfortunately. Indeed, your unique challenge is that nobody on earth has ever raised your child before. No book or expert speaks directly to your child’s specific design. 

And that brings us to the final essential element of adaptability, an essential parenting trait:: a willingness to learn on the job.

In parenting, you are shaping another human being while also being significantly shaped along the way. There are moments of growth for both you and your children. This growth includes learning about your own personality, each child’s personality, and specific triggers that tend to bring out good and bad parenting.

There’s only one way to meet these challenges effectively. You have to stay in the game, even when things aren’t going right. Stick close to your children as you discover what ets them moving in the direction of learning and growth. Study them to see patterns emerging.

In the meantime, accept your own imperfections, seeing them as inevitable opportunities for growth. Lean on the Lord for strength and understanding. Take notes as you progress and learn from your mistakes. 

Finally, adjust your parenting strategies. Use the knowledge you’ve acquired. Rely on the wisdom you’ve gained from what God is doing in the lives of you and your children.

If you do this, you will succeed at your task. You’ll also be better able to set the kind of example that will encourage your children to grow spiritually. All you have to do is bring your imperfect self to the job and give everything you can give.

You are, after all, the very best candidate for the job.

©2020 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. This article has been adapted from the book Seven Traits of Effective Parenting and first appeared in the August/September 2020 issue of Focus on the Family Magazine.


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