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"My Kid Is Broken!": When the Script Fails

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Over Thanksgiving break, I worked on potty-training my daughter. If I'm going to be totally honest, I have to say this: never have I felt more inadequate as a parent.



This was our second attempt at potty-training; the first attempt happened five months ago and ended quickly because I hadn't done enough preparation to handle the obstacles we encountered. Rather than forge ahead and turn it into a negative experience for us both, I decided to give her a break. I thought to myself, "She's just not ready. We'll wait."



Fast-forward to now. She will turn three next month, so there is a bit of pressure from daycare, where she is the last child in her class still in pull-ups. Thanksgiving break was coming up, and with it, a long break from work and school. It was time to try again. So we did.



And we tried hard.



I did all my prep work--I watched a popular online course, I read a book, I explored blogs, I talked to my mom friends. I cleared my calendar--nine days at home, just to focus on potty-training. I started with excitement, hope, and a conviction that we could make great progress. She was older, more mature, and had had lots of exposure to her peers using the potty at daycare. This was going to go smoothly, and soon, we'd be celebrating her achievement.



But by Day #5, it was abundantly clear that it was just not clicking for my daughter. By Day #8, after cleaning up the ninety-seventh accident, I finallly admitted that we had made close to zero progress. Back into pull-ups she went, so we could rest and regroup. I held a long debrief with my co-parent; I sent out emails to my daughter's teacher and occupational therapist; I called my friend who's a speech therapist and my friend who has raised neurodivergent kids; I got on the internet and started doing more research. Something wasn't right. There had to be an answer.



I still haven't found the answer (though I'm pretty sure it has to do with sensory processing issues). But I share this story for two reasons. First, I share it because I want you to know that I don't have it all figured out, and I'm in the trenches right there with you; parenting is just fucking hard, and there's a curveball coming your way every other day. Second, I share this story because I want you to know that if your child doesn't fit the script, you haven't done anything wrong. Let me say it again: You haven't done anything wrong! You and your child are okay.



Lots of kids don't fit the script. The problem isn't your kid; the problem is the script.



There is some fantastic parenting content available on the internet these days. Advancements in neuroscience, child development, trauma treatment, and many other disciplines are producing abundant fruit in the realm of parenting education. I truly admire many of the social media influencers who are providing resources, support, and camaraderie for parents hoping to raise well-adjusted, resilient children and reduce the transmission of generational baggage. Something I've noticed, though, about much of the parenting content these days is that it is formulaic and often script-based. "If this happens, then do that." "When your child does this, you say that." "Lay this foundation, and you are guaranteed to get this outcome."



The benefits to this kind of parenting content are manifold: it's easily communicated; it's simple to reproduce; it covers the majority of everyday scenarios and is applicable to most families; it's handy to remember in the heat of the moment with your child; the promise of clear solutions is empowering and hope-filled.



There are some drawbacks, though. Here's one: What do you do if your kid goes off-script?



When it came to potty-training, my daughter went off-script. She didn't respond in any of the ways that the potty-training resourced predicted, she didn't exhibit any of the problems that the experts showed me how to solve, and the struggles she did face received no mention in anything I watched, read, or heard.



There were two conclusions I could draw from is. a.) My kid is broken! or b.) I'm broken!



If you are a consumer of parenting content (and you probably are, if you're reading this blog), then my guess is you've had a moment or two like this. Your kid is doing something no one else's kid is doing, or something happened that the parenting books didn't warn you about, or a problem occurred and none of the solutions the experts recommended are solving it. You've hit a dead-end. And in your panic and desperation, you think, "My kid is broken!" But that seems so harsh, such a heavy burden to put on a kid, so then you push that thought away, and go to the next one: "I'm broken! I'm a horrible parent, and I've ruined my child forever!"



It's such a terrible feeling, isn't it? That helplessness, that sense of failure, of being totally at a loss over the little person you love more than anyone in the world...it's awful. I don't wish it on anyone.



No book or online course can prepare you for every scenario or cover solutions for every problem. In fact, steer clear of anything that promises to be this kind of panacea.



The scripts are often helpful. The formulas are frequently good. But there will always be situations that no one predicted; our kids will always have a wild card up their little sleeves that destroys our strategies and leaves us floundering. That's normal.



I am an attachment-based therapist, and I teach attachment-based parenting. This approach, while similar to gentle parenting, is rooted in the philosophy of attachment theory and the seventy years of science and research that field has produced. It's a powerful and transformative approach to parenting, and has the potential to kickstart an unbelievable amount of personal growth for parents who really engage with it. In fact, I'm in the process of building an online course right now, to make attachment-based parenting available to a wider audience than my one-on-one clients.



I'll be honest, my first version of the course was a little by script-y, and way too academic. It was long, and dry, and I sounded a little like a know-it-all. But I've been learning, growing, and living since then. I scrapped it all and, with the help of a couple of amazing friends, started building something completely new. I am so excited for this project, and I can't wait to be able to share it with you.



And guess what? It's not script-based. There are no easy formulas.



Yes, I will teach some techniques. Yes, I will share some foundational science. Yes, I will offer some practical skills that will help you resolve everyday problems. But I won't try to solve all of your problems, and I won't try to tell you what to expect from your child. That kind of content is already available elsewhere--but I don't believe it's very helpful on its own.



What I would rather do--what I deeply and sincerely hope I can accomplish--is to help you embody the kind of parent you want to be, to transform on the inside, so that you won't need a script anymore.



I want to help parents find and nourish their Wise, Kind Selves, so that they can lean into this inner source of security in each and every moment. My course is specifically designed to teach you how to access your Wise, Kind Self through cultivating inner attachment healing, practicing mindfulness and self-compassion, and applying cutting edge neuroscience to yourself first, so that what flows out of you in your interactions with your kids is presence, empathy, strength, confidence, and connection. I don't want you to have to memorize scripts, or buy the next parenting book on the market, or lay awake at night worrying that you're somehow missing the mark on your biggest parenting priorities. I want you to know, deep in your core, that you are getting the important things right and that your kids are going to be okay.



This approach to parenting will outlast any strategy you remember or any developmental stage you complete. This approach to parenting extends both backwards and forwards in time, and has the potential to impact generations (in both directions), even down to the level of epigenetics--meaning your grandchildren will literally, biologically, inherit the benefits. This approach to parenting will help you in your relationships with your partner, your friends, your own parents, and yourself. And I'm telling you, this approach to parenting can influence a generation who could change the world someday.



I know I'm promising big. But I really, truly think that attachment science has that much to offer.



If you want to be among the first to be notified when this course, The Secure Parent: Finding Your Wise, Kind Self, becomes available, please send me an email at karyn@karynreschcounseling.com. I would love to stay in touch, update you on my progress, and invite you to preview the finished product. You can also check out www.karynreschcoaching.com, where I will be posting about the course as it develops.



And now, back to potty-training research...



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