One of the first things they teach you when you become a social worker is to “meet the client where they’re at.” That is one of the hardest lessons you learn because many times your client is not in a pretty “place” and they are often quite comfortable there. Learning to meet them there takes a lot of patience and many deep breaths. Before I became a parenting coach, I worked as a hospice social worker. Meeting those patients where they are has led to some of the most challenging moments of my career because sometimes adults make poor choices — choices that you know, from having an outside perspective, can hasten their death or leave them alone in their most vulnerable state. But still, you meet the client where they are. Learning how to do this in the most difficult of situations has provided me with an outlook on life and death that I could not have formed in any other way. It has helped me to become a better social worker — and, subsequently, a better mother.

What does this have to do with parenting? How do we meet our children where they’re at? The easiest way for me to explain is to share a personal story with you. Last weekend, my husband and I took our daughter to an indoor water park. Our daughter is four years old and, by nature, a very cautious little girl. I’m the opposite; I have always been a thrill seeker. Once my daughter walks through her fear and tries something exciting, she is frequently happy she did — but it has be on her terms. I honor that because I believe in mutual respect and the golden rule. But walking into that water park and seeing all of those water slides, I would be lying if my heart did not sink a little bit when I realized that I would be spending my weekend in the little kids’ section because that is where my daughter’s comfort level is right now.

The good news is that because I have the experience in meeting people where they are and it has become a part of my value system that I apply to my parenting, I had planned ahead. I scheduled a babysitter on Friday night so that my husband and I could have an adult water slide date night. Doing that provided me with the opportunity to have fun without developing any resentment towards my daughter for “keeping me from having fun” by simply being a four-year-old girl. So often it is all about our expectations as parents; if I had gone into the weekend expecting that all of a sudden my daughter would be a different little girl and go on all of the water slides, I would have set myself up for disappointment, frustration, and resentment. Plus, I would have created a lot of unnecessary upset for her.

The basis for our influence in our relationship with our children is our connection with them. We develop and maintain connection with our children in so many ways but we can destroy it quickly. One of the ways we can do that is when we fail to meet our children where they are. We have those opportunities each and every day; we do not have to be away on vacation to look for those times when we can meet our children right where they are at that moment. Maybe they are feeling nervous to talk to people they do not know very well, so you choose not to force them to hug their relatives at Thanksgiving, respecting both where they are and their body autonomy. Maybe they like pick out what to wear in the morning, so you surrender control and give them some power. Maybe last week they could get into their car seat and buckle themselves in on their own but this week they are feeling like they need your help, so you give them that love and attention.

If you are struggling to meet your children where they are and you are having a difficult time trying to develop and maintain connection with your children, I am here to help you and your family. Parenting is the hardest job there is and you do not have to do it alone.