A celebration at the Buddhist center lost its zen when Sean Grover's daughter had a complete meltdown.
She was 6 or 7 years old at the time, and didn't want to leave the party. Her father dragged her out as she shrieked at him, "I hate you! You're stupid!"
Grover, a psychotherapist who works with children, says he hit rock-bottom in his despair as a parent that night. The incident drove him to seek professional parenting advice himself. The message he received changed his relationship with his daughter, and shaped his views on how parents can regain a sense of control when they feel completely lost.
Grover recently published his insights in "When Kids Call the Shots: How to Seize Control From Your Darling Bully -- and Enjoy Being a Parent Again."
He has seen an epidemic of bullied parents in his own practice -- adults being pushed around by hostile, aggressive kids. The "darling bullies" badger, manipulate and name-call. How did American parents get here? It helps to understand basic child development.
Every phase of childhood comes with a test period, he explains. Nature puts parents on a collision course: Children feel a surge of independence but are not equipped to handle it, then parents step in and spoil their fun.
"As soon as kids learn to walk, they want to get rid of you," he said.
When parents don't provide leadership, structure and boundaries around children's developmental test times, there are gaps left in a child's maturity, he said. Children grow, but they don't mature. This may be why you've seen your teenaged nephew speaking to his mother the same way he did when he was 5.
"It's not unusual to see college students having temper tantrums," Grover said. They haven't been taught to manage frustration properly.
Nearly all children will argue or try to negotiate their way out of a situation at some point. The severity and frequency determine whether their behavior has crossed into bullying. You know your child has become a bully when the scales of power in the parent-child relationship have shifted.
Grover's book begins the repair process by focusing the parent inward, having him or her take inventory of the parenting they received as a child. His book guides readers to consider the "light" and "dark" aspects of how they were parented. The next step is for parents to examine their own parenting behavior -- to figure out how they are responding, in interactions with their kids, to those lessons and emotions from their own childhoods.
Parenting awakens dormant feelings from our youth.
Adults who had authoritarian parents tend to overcompensate in the other direction by being too permissive, Grover said. They don't want to be the strict overlords they grew up under. Parents who are bullied were often raised by very strict parents, he said.
The balancing act involves remaining compassionate, listening to what your child is trying to say and hearing him, while also remaining firm in your authority as a parent. Remaining calm when your child is (over)reacting emotionally, pushing all your buttons and provoking you to respond takes incredible self-control and hard work.
"I did a lot of work on myself," Grover said. "Not losing my temper. Not becoming reactive."
"You can't be a good parent without making unpopular executive decisions," he said.
That bears repeating: You can't be a good parent without making unpopular executive decisions.
But those decisions should not be made in anger or as responses to our triggers.
The advice Grover received from the parenting guru he sought out?
Take your daughter to breakfast three times a week. Don't try to preach to her, share life lessons or tell stories about yourself during this time. Just listen.
He gave his daughter a chance to share her thoughts in a relaxed setting. In the midst of conflict at home, he maintained his own calm. Grover began to see how his own upbringing was influencing his reactions, and he worked on changing himself.
Within time, all the bullying in his home vanished.
Ultimately, parenting is a chance to heal ourselves.