How not to be a jellyfish

Do you ever feel like your kids control your life? Do you feel anxious about what mood they’ll wake up in in the morning because that will determine whether you can get out of the house on time? Do you resolve to remain calm, and are able to do so for a long time, but then suddenly find yourself exploding in frustration? If any of this sounds familiar, this one’s for you.

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Before I had children, I had great ideas about what kind of parent I’d be. I think we all do it – we see other people’s children throwing a tantrum in public or being a nuisance on a plane and think, “My kids are never going to be like that.” I thought I’d have no problem being strict.

Then I had my kids. They captured my heart, took it hostage, and I turned into an eternal negotiator. I was bargaining, striking deals, bribing, relenting under the pressure of endless requests and whingeing. All too often, I’d find myself trying to figure out how to make them the compliant, well-behaved children that I used to be so confident I’d be able to produce. Turns out I’m not the ‘strict parent’ I thought I’d be. I’m more of a jellyfish.

What is a jellyfish?

Jellyfish parenting is a parenting style that can at times lack rules and structure. Jellyfish parents often prioritise love and connection (which are great values to have as a parent) over boundaries, consequences and follow through. There are many ways to describe parenting styles. At Toolbox, we talk about parenting styles this way – Jellyfish (too soft), Sergeant Major (too hard), Unplugged (uninvolved), and Parent Coach (firm but fair).

Why being a jellyfish is not ideal

As a jellyfish parent, I knew that rules and boundaries were good for my kids, I just had trouble enforcing those rules. I found myself caving all too often to their requests and demands when I should have been holding the line. I was often feeling like my kids controlled my decisions. I felt anxious when my husband wasn’t there and I was solo parenting. I also had a lot of Mum guilt.

Why am I like this?

I could (and have) read a bunch of articles on how to discipline, how to enforce boundaries, what forms of punishment are best, whether or not to use time out – in other words, all the parenting strategies and hacks. But honestly, what helped me the most was unpacking why my parenting style made me a bit like a spineless sea creature.

What I found was that I care too much about what my kids think of me. I care about my kids feelings like a teenager cares about how many likes they get on their latest gram. This can be positive – I’m very compassionate and empathetic. I listen to them and I look to understand what’s going on behind their words and actions.

I used to be hesitant to discipline because I was thinking ‘my kids won’t like me’ or when I had to tell one child something and not the other, ‘I’m not being fair’. What helped me change was understanding what my child might be thinking in response to my parenting style. It was helpful to comprehend that routines, boundaries and structure are good for my child.

What a child of a Jellyfish parent might be thinking 

  • I don’t believe it when you say no because sometimes it means yas or maybe. I will test your limits because you give me mixed messages.
  • I can usually get away with stuff because you always give me a second chance.
  • I love it when you beg and plead with me because I know I have control over you.
  • I know you’ll eventually do it for me if I don’t get around to it.  If I cry for long enough you’ll cave.
  • I don’t bother listening to your angry voice.
  • Sometimes I wonder if you care enough about my safety.
  • Part of me loves that I can get what I want, but the other part is scared and anxious that I’m in control.

This is from Toolbox, Baby and Toddler Years, session five. You can find a Toolbox course here.

Rules and structure are good and necessary

As Kathy Fray, author of ‘Oh Grow Up: Toddlers to preteens decoded’ writes, “It’s their job to push the boundaries, it’s my job to enforce them.” If there was a job description for children, one of the key competencies would be the ability to push boundaries, and keep pushing them until their parents reach breaking point.

Acknowledging this reality changed my expectations, and shifted my focus from, ‘How can I prevent my children from being naughty?’ to ‘How can I best respond to their challenging behaviour?’ This helps because I’m now focusing on what I can control, rather than what I can’t.

Jellyfish parents love their kids to bits. They care about their children’s feelings, their hopes, their dreams, and their day-to-day happiness. These are all great things – but jellyfish parents could do with turning up their ‘rules and structure’ dial. If you’re finding that your kids are running the show a bit more than they should, take it from me – you’re the big person and they’re the little one (even if your child may be taller than you). They need you to be in control.

If you’d like to learn more about parenting styles, book into this workshop to about personality types and love languages here.