Cop On: What is it?

The following is a brief excerpt from the book Cop On, what it is and why your child needs it to thrive and survive in today’s world. I hope it offers you a small insight into the theme of the book and maybe even whet your appetite to read more..   

 When I decided to write this book I came at the task from a number of angles. I wrote it from the perspective of a Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist, as a keen technologist and as a Dad, the latter having as much influence as the other two variables. I asked myself as a parent what would I want to know and how would I like to find it out? I am a firm believer that ‘what’ is said is less important than ‘how’ it is said or delivered and so I tried to remove all aspects of being a finger wagging expert from the text of this book and wrote it in as informative and non-preachy way that I could. I figured being a parent is tough enough without being told you are getting it wrong all the time as well. Not a week goes by that we don’t hear of another survey telling us how we are getting it wrong and how we need to do better. My view on parenting is that it is not complicated but it is very difficult. It is a bit like golf….It’s easy, it’s just not simple. So for me it’s not about making it complicated but rather returning to the basics. To love, understand and care for your children is the starting point and amidst all of the challenges of technology and ‘on demand’ cultures it is easy to get caught up in doing things drastically differently. For me this is not necessary, rather it is a return to the traditional aspects of family life that are called for now more than ever. It is about valuing time when it becomes less available, about building meaningful relationships in the face of a culture that is trying to dilute them and about communicating in a real way, now more than ever, not only with our children but also with ourselves.

 Fail better: the learning curve of being a parent

As should be clear by now, this is not a ‘step-by-step guide’ to creating the perfect child. In fact, it is perhaps the opposite of that: a realist’s guide for the imperfect parents of imperfect children. I am very critical of many of the books on parenting that present an ‘ideal’ or ‘foolproof’ way to raise your children. Books that uphold these ideal scenarios add to the pressures modern society already places on parents, using fear as their marketing strategy.

I read some of the books aimed at parents-to-be as the prospect of fatherhood loomed in my own life. Many of these publications, often directed at mothers, paint a hazy, rose-tinted picture of the doting mother, sitting in a rocking chair, gazing lovingly into her sleeping infant’s eyes and glowing with the wonder of it all. The message I took from my reading was that if I followed the methods contained in these books this image would be my reality. Soon, I was driving up the Naas Road at 5 a.m. trying to get a colicky baby to stop screaming, and it hit me just how inaccurate these images could be. Colic notwithstanding, in the great majority of cases, these books are simply not representative of any real-life parenting situation. ‘What harm?’ I hear you say, but these publications can be seriously unhelpful. All that I had read about being a parent before I became one focused on how to do it perfectly, under perfect circumstances. When the time came, and my child screamed from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. non-stop despite my following what the book had told me to do, I felt like I was doing something horribly wrong.

The parenting ideals that these books sell to us often run the risk of knocking our spirit when we’re down due to lack of sleep, overwhelmed and over-tired, further hindering our attempts to do what we can. After all, we typically read these books before we’ve had children, when we look at them as a kind of owner’s manual, or we buy them to ‘solve’ a specific problem we’ve already had for some time. The sales pitch that being a parent is easy if you follow the instructions makes admitting that you are struggling even harder.

I regularly speak to parents about their experiences of the early days of their children’s lives, and I am continually told about mothers’ struggles with post-natal depression that was left untreated or undetected for long periods of time after their children were born. When I ask these women why they waited to tell anyone, they all say similar things: ‘I didn’t know what it was’ or ‘Everyone told me it was normal and to “get on with it”.’ More worryingly, others say that they were ashamed and could not bring themselves to tell anyone.

It is so common for mothers and fathers who are struggling with being parents not to feel able to admit their struggles. They are ‘blessed’ with this ‘bundle of joy’ and don’t feel they can complain that it’s hard. From the get-go, parents are under pressure to get it right, without taking into account the real-life challenges that often make getting it right very difficult, if not impossible. A significant number of women report having post-natal depression for the first one to two years of their child’s life, so the notion that ‘struggling on’ is the best thing to do is just not correct. Those formative years are so important for both parent and child, and many attachment theorists suggest that the ‘hard-wiring’ of a child’s personality is developed in that crucial period. To try to raise a child when either you or your partner is under a cloud of depression naturally affects how that process unfolds, so I urge all new parents who feel they are struggling to ditch the books and talk to someone.

 Parents are not always the problem, but they are always part of the solution.

From the outset, I want to state that I see parenting as a ‘task of failure’. Don’t worry: this isn’t as negative as it sounds. It’s simply important to understand that as parents we will all fail, perhaps in many aspects of what we do with our children. But our goal should be to avoid some of the possible pitfalls of raising children today. First, we must look at ourselves and address our own issues as adults. Once we have done that, we can examine the effects of these patterns of behaviour on our parenting styles and consequently on our relationships with our children.

It is also important to acknowledge that each child is different and needs to be raised differently. As parents, we need to account for what we can do with our children and, more importantly, what we cannot. One of the main differences that separates one child from another is their individual temperament. As parents, we can only help our children to manage their temperaments better, no matter what it may be. Whether your child is mild-mannered and passive, fiery and highly emotional or somewhere in between is a significant factor in the outcome for any child. Even with aspects of a child’s personality that fall more on the ‘nature’ side of the divide, there’s plenty of ‘nurturing’ you can do to help them along. A colleague of mine with whom I worked in Edinburgh used to always say to me, ‘Parents are not always the problem, but they are always part of the solution.’

Parents are not always guilty of misguided parenting if their child’s behaviour takes a worrying turn, but there is always something that they can do to help. Parents can learn to understand these difficulties and to assist their child in learning to cope, manage or respond to them.

More generally, as parents we need to take into account that many aspects of our lives are beyond our control, so dwelling on our missed opportunities or questionable choices in raising our children is futile. Instead, we must think about how best to support our children, whatever kind of children they may be.

 Why cop on, And Why now?

So we’re determined to do right by our children, and to raise them as well as we can, even though it might be a rocky road. We may be stretched in terms of time, money, childcare, energy or inspiration, or we may struggle with only a few of those things, but our children all have one thing in common: if they are to be happy and healthy in our busy, distracting modern world, they’re going to need to have their feet firmly planted on the ground – and they need us to show them how it’s done.

 Children need to understand their own value, the importance of their family and friends, and to learn in time how to overcome life’s trials and tribulations. For this, they need cop on.

It’s in the positive construction that the true value of cop on lies. For me, cop on is the ability to be rational, resilient and sensible, and to have a bit of grit. Among my aspirations for my own children, cop on ranks highly on the list. Children with a good deal of cop on can be trusted to make sensible decisions when the need arises and to handle tasks that might challenge them a little bit. In a time when parents’ supervision of their children’s physical activity and whereabouts has never been so tight, but when their regulation of their children’s online communication is frequently very loose, cop on is an absolute must to instil in our children. Cop on incorporates all kinds of the skills and qualities that academic journals describe as ‘emotional intelligence’, ‘resilience’, ‘self-awareness’ or ‘adaptive decision-making’.

If you decide to raise your child to have a good degree of cop on, it will determine many of the decisions that you will have to make about them as they grow up. If you succeed, it will make them more capable of making good choices themselves.

Colman Noctor is a Child and Adolescent Psychoanalytical Psychotherapist. He has worked across a range of Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services both in Ireland and abroad and he has a wealth of national and international clinical experience.

His book Cop On. What it is and why your child needs it to thrive and survive in today’s world is available to buy Click Here