Being The Soft Place To Land Is Hard…(Like Really Hard)

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“All that children need is love, a grown-up to take responsibility for them, and a soft place to land”  -Deborah Harkness

I am officially six years deep into parenting two small humans, and I still have no idea what I’m doing. Every day, my husband and I ask ourselves, “Is this normal?” and “Where did we go wrong?” usually in the midst of a huge blowup with one of our kiddos or in the middle of World War III between the two siblings. In the back of my mind, I have to keep repeating that quote from Deborah Harkness that I am my kids’ soft place to land. I am the one they feel so utterly comfortable with, so much so that they let all their emotions fly without any filter whatsoever. 

We have bright moments, too, that make me scratch my head. For example, any of the last few times we’ve gone out to eat as a family. One thing that we taught our kids from a really young age is to be able to order for themselves at a restaurant. Now, at ages 5 and 6, they can look over the menu, decide what they’d like, and order it all on their own. Just last week, our waitress even commented, “Your children are so polite and well-spoken and well-behaved,” my husband and I looked at one another and smirked. We both smiled and said, “Thank you,” knowing that is one of the highest compliments you can receive as a parent. As soon as she walks away, I look at my husband and say, “If she only knew about the 20-minute fiasco that just went down in the car on the way here…” 

This brings me to the moral of this message: kids will always act their worst when they feel the most comfortable. And I’m sure you all know who has the privilege to experience the most frustrating, troublesome, and obnoxious behaviors…parents. It has been long explained that children feel the most free at home, within their own space, with the people who love them because they know it is where they can be unapologetically themselves. They know that the people they live with love and care for them unconditionally, regardless of how ill-behaved they have been that day. But that doesn’t make it any easier. In fact, it is the most infuriating aspect of parenting. 

This theory goes hand in hand with another similar idea called after-school restraint collapse, where young kids hold themselves together all day long at school. As soon as they get home, their behaviors escalate, making it difficult for parents to manage. At our house, we refer to the time frame between 5:00 and 7:00 as the “witching hour” because historically, both of our kids (who are in school full time, kindergarten, and preschool) have challenging and defiant behaviors during that time period in a normal week. When I have used all my tactics and am at my wit’s end, I often end up googling parenting advice, and somehow, I always end up back at this theory of “Home is a child’s safe space.” The concept completely makes sense, and even with my psychology background, I can fully understand how small children, who have little to no control over their emotions, completely unload on their parents at home. Even as adults, we speak freely at home and tend to filter and censor ourselves elsewhere, so I am not arguing that this is not a true phenomenon. All I am saying is that sometimes, it is really, really hard to be that soft place to land, particularly when your own tank is empty, you are not fully regulated, and you have a million other things on your plate. 

No one will argue that parenting isn’t the toughest job on the planet. Regardless of which stage your child is in, learning how to navigate the waters around raising a small human is extremely challenging in a variety of ways. But maybe it’s a little bit comforting knowing that we all feel the same thing during those times of complete and utter chaos.

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