Spotlight on Parenting: Are you a ‘Supportive Parent’?

Spotlight on Parenting: Are you a ‘Supportive Parent’?

November 13, 2018

A focus on resilience, meaning and purpose creates the groundwork for accomplishment and happiness

DARBY BONOMI

Recently, I heard someone remark that a particular junior rider had ‘wonderfully supportive’ parents. The comment made me pause and think—what does it mean to be ‘a supportive parent’ in the horse world? Sometimes this phrase is used to mean that parents are financially generous. Those gifts are one kind of support, yet there are other essential aspects of parental support that often go unacknowledged.

Sometimes saying ‘no’ is the most supportive thing you can do.

I know as a parent of teens that I am often cast as ‘unsupportive’ when I say ‘no’ to something or set a boundary that my child disagrees with. I know—even when I’m being railed upon—that my ‘no’ is actually very supportive of their well-being. Being able to say ‘no’ requires a certain fortitude and determination—and a keen grasp on the long term.

In my professional and personal experience, I have found that one of the hardest things for parents to do is say ‘no.’

As parents, it’s imperative that we are guided by overall principles—what is overarching goal of our parenting? And do we check back in with that goal occasionally to make sure were on the right track? What I see when kids (not just riders) get really serious about their sport is that parents also become wholly committed. Sometimes the overarching parenting goals get sidelined for more short term goals (such as winning a particular event.) We parents get carried away by success sometimes and need reminders to recalibrate.

Generally, I think most parents will say that their goal is to raise resilient, self sufficient, happy kids who go on to lead a life of purpose and meaning. (No small task, let me tell you.)

So, if you’re with me, let’s think about each piece.

Resilience: being resilient means you can rebound from hardship. You can fall, pick yourself up and go at it again. Sports are great at teaching resilience because we all know one day you’re batting 1.000 and the next day you’re striking out. One day you win your hunters; the next day you can't find the single oxer. Or your horse went lame. Resilience, in my view, is the single most important characteristic behind long term success. One of the reasons I love riding as a sport is that it fosters resilience. We riders fall off and get right back on the horse. That’s our cardinal rule. Every equestrian I know is proud of her toughness and determination.

As parents, how do we foster our child’s natural resilience? It’s hard, but we parents have to resist the urge to fix everything. We all hate to see our kids upset (me too), but sometimes upset, struggle, and frustration IS the work that must be done. Those feelings are appropriate and motivating. Sometimes it’s supportive to say ‘yes, you can have that new horse, or attend that show or go to that party.’ But sometimes it’s more supportive to say, ‘no you have to work with the horse you have, or you’re not ready for that particular show or you can’t go to that party.’

Self sufficiency—this trait develops out of resilience. Promoting self sufficiency, figuring things out for your self, taking on responsibility—these can occur at any level of development. A toy is out of your toddler’s grasp? Allow him to reach for it. See his joy in being able to grab it himself! A division is too tough for your daughter? Let her figure out how to get there; allow her to brainstorm with her trainer about next steps and strategies. Maybe she’ll learn something that she never even imagined.

Purpose and meaning—we all need to have a purpose in life, a reason for being here and doing what we do. It needs to be something larger than ourselves, something that makes our existence meaningful for ourselves and the world around us. Purpose and meaning are something that each of us must define individually. It may sound strange to say, but I encourage you to ask: what’s the meaning of my riding?

Why do all this internal work?  Thoughtfully supportive parenting will provide the groundwork for happiness in and out of the ring. We all know that blue ribbons don’t bring happiness. We’ve seen too many unhappy riders carrying around tricolors. Happiness comes out of a sense of accomplishment and mastery; it’s a feeling that you matter and are effective in the world. Most of all, happiness, like accomplishment, is something you earn over time; it can’t be given to you—or taken away—by anyone else.

DARBY BONOMI

“Winning comes in many colors.”

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ABOUT
Darby Furth Bonomi, PhD

Horses came into my life when I was 10.  It didn’t take long before I realized that being at the barn provided a calm shelter from family life and daily pressures.  To this day, barn time remains precious—offering up a much needed transformation from the noise of regular life to being grounded in the present.

As I advanced in my riding career, I rode with esteemed trainers Lu and Butch Thomas and Linda and Champ Hough.  I came to understand the pressures and stresses of being a competitive rider. In California, I was one of the early junior riders to ride against professionals in the Open Working Hunters on my horse K-Doc. I also showed nationally and Indoors, earning good ribbons in the hunters and a top 25 placing in the ASPCA Maclay Finals at Madison Square Garden in 1980.

I continued to ride in college, competing as an amateur and catch riding as time permitted.  I then turned to focus fully on my career, receiving my A.B. from UC Berkeley in 1985 and earning my PhD from California School of Professional Psychology in 1991.  I completed my postgraduate psychoanalytic training at the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute. There, I joined the faculty and taught psychiatric residents and psychology interns at various Bay Area hospitals.

Having three children changed my direction. After 17 years in private clinical practice, I decided to spend more time with my family and shifted my career to fostering health rather than treating illness. As a consultant to pre-schools, I empowered teachers and school administrators with psychological skills that aided their understanding of and connection to the students and their parents. As a parent educator, I taught group seminars and consulted with parents on both problem behaviors and family wellness practices.

My belief has always been that parents are the experts on their own kids; I decipher the messages and provide tools to boost communication, but parents’ intervention is the most powerful.  

When my older daughter was 6, it became clear to me that she needed to ride.  As I searched for the right program, I realized I was returning to the equestrian life that I had missed so much. Ten years later, I find myself happily entrenched in the show world as a competitor, parent of competitors, herd manager, judge in training, and trusted advisor to riders and their families. I have several horses in training at Sonoma Valley Stables. My daughters and I are regulars on the A show circuit.  







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