Transformational Parenting for the Vacillator

So you’ve discovered you’re a vacillator and you have already begun to make progress on becoming a secure connector. You realize your imprint and your pain is affecting your children in ways you don’t want it to. What can you do now?

You can grow. You can change. And you can love your children well.

Vacillator parents are often ruminating about relationships. Your mood is often governed by how preoccupied with this you are and by what you are preoccupied with. If you are ruminating about uncertainty or disappointment in one of your relationships or at work, then you are likely in a very distracted and negative mood. If you are preoccupied with idealizing a new job, situation, or relationship, they you are not mentally present with your children, but your mood like likely more positive.

When you are feeling settled and secure, you may feel more relaxed with your children. They sense this, and feel their time with you is fun, exciting, and spontaneous. Yet, if your thoughts wander to a person you feel might be rejecting you or talking about you behind your back, you may abruptly be exasperated with your child, leaving them wondering where you went.

When you do this, your child will feel the same abandonment that you felt as a child. For more on what it was like for you as a child, check out: The Vacillator Love Style. Even though your are physically present, your child is painfully aware of your mental and emotional absence. Your child is learning to be a good judge of when they are seen and heard verses left out and overlooked. They are beginning to internalize this as being accepted or rejected, liked or disliked, wanted or unwanted just as you did when you were a child.

The Message You Hate

When you are frequently preoccupied and emotionally unavailable, your children are hurting for your full attention. Their natural inclination will be to try to win or achieve your attention in some way. From requests to acting out, your children will make every attempt they can to receive the love and attention they need from you as their parent. Often for the vacillator, this will result in frustration for you. You don’t want to be forced out of your conflicting thoughts that you are trying to sort out. You don’t like it when your kids seem increasingly ill-behaved, needy or clingy. When your children need you most, you will be tempted to simply silence them and push them away.

What is the result? Your children learn the same lesson you did. You know- the one you hate. You’re not wanted. You’re not loved. You’re not known. You’re not accepted. You are not worth it.

Your children will eventually learn that they cannot expect love, comfort, and attention when they need it most. They feel rejected by the one that is supposed to love and care for them unconditionally. They learn that something other than them is more important to you and that they can’t count on your acceptance or comfort when they need it.

Deal With Anger and Resentment

If you could have told your parents one thing when you were little- one thing that they would have listened to- what would you have said? Maybe part of some of these ring true:

  • Please pay attention to me!
  • Come here and listen to me!
  • Value me more than your work/activities/(fill in the blank).
  • I need you to spend time completely with me (not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, too).

If you don’t deal with your anger towards your parents- if you don’t grieve your loss and forgive for your own sake- your anger will be vented on those you care about most (definitely your children).

No child gives full attention on their own at all times. It is a virtue that must be patiently, persistently encouraged in their lives. You must be able to patiently train them to give full attention to anyone speaking to them. Unfortunately, if you are carrying around a trunk of bitterness and anger towards your parents for not paying attention and listening, that trunk is going to open up and spill out on your children when they don’t pay attention. For a child, your vented anger, like a snowball from your childhood, is too much for a grocery store moment when your child doesn’t listen and obey the first time. It could crush your child’s spirit and severely damage their relationship with you (and their relationships in general).

Work with a trained counselor, be part of a support group, seek friends who will pray for you. Make it a priority for you to patiently work through your own pain, grieve what you lost in your childhood, and forgive those who hurt you. When you get angry with your child or spouse or friend, think- “Is this feeling familiar? Does it remind me of how I felt as a child? Likely, your feeling is more intense than the situation demands, because it is carrying that trunk of childhood pain that rolls into a growing snowball of pain as you travel through life. Try to learn to separate what hurt is rising up from the current situation and what pain is weighing you down from the past. Recognize when those feelings of 7-year-old you rise up. Comfort yourself that now you are an adult. You can make different choices to protect and care for yourself.

Learn to Be Fully Present

Pay attention to where your thoughts are when you are with your children. How often are your thoughts fully focused on your kids? How often are you preoccupied by playing out relationship scenarios in your head or being concerned by feelings of rejection or fear that someone is pulling away or not understanding you?

Your children are smart.

They recognize when you are physically present but not really there for them and with them. They are waiting for you, just as you were waiting for your parents. They are hurting, wondering and stressing over when you will be emotionally present with them, just as you may be wondering and stressing over when another person will finally be emotionally present with you.

Don’t imprint your own children to be vacillators.  Learn to be emotionally present with them. It will take time. It will take work. It won’t take all your time or work. But you must devote significant time and attention to this until it becomes natural.

Plan to Be Present

When you are at their game- watch it. When you are sitting with them on the couch, look in their eyes and sincerely listen to them. Smile sincerely. Ask them more questions to understand better. When they are asking you to watch them, look up, watch them, and let them know how they did. When you are with them, be with them. Fully. Present. When you tuck them in, take time to ask them about the high and low points of their day. Plan for extra time. If they open up to you, rejoice! And take the time to listen. It will mean the world to them, just as it would have to you.

Don’t get lost in your thoughts, lost in your phone, lost in your work. If you notice you have, Milan and Kay suggest saying,

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening/watching. I got distracted. I’m all yours now. Tell/show me again.”

Now, if you stay home, you have other things to take care of. You can’t be 100% focused on your kids 100% of the time. However, if you spent 10 minutes with your toddler completely focused on them, playing what they want to or talking about what they want to, that would go a long way for your child. If you have to shift gears then and do something else for the better part of an hour, your child will likely feel content to play alone for some time, having felt truly loved by your full attention. So break up the things you need to do with time spent giving full attention to your child. If your child seems clingy, is following you around, is acting out, or is doing something that usually gets your attention, that is a good sign that he/she feels a need for Mom or Dad time.

Hear their Heart

Your child is saying, “I need you. Please be there for me. Please love me.” Your child is wondering, “Do I matter to you? Do you care about me?” Don’t push away your child, but rather push away your inner world of conflicting thoughts. Better yet, commit that world to God so you can be fully present with your kids. Seek to be there for them they need you (which is not always going to be when you want to). This season is short. It leaves a big imprint. Seek to be there for your kids when they need you (which is not always going to be when you want to). Stamp on them the imprint of always loved, always wanted, always welcome with you.

Transformative Strategies for Vacillator Parents

Here are some ways to be more successful at training your children into integrated, whole-hearted adults who are respected both for their ability to perform on tasks and to manage relationships.

Understand Ages and Stages of Independence

If you never have, seek to understand child development. Recognize that at the toddler stage, it is normal, natural, and important for children to develop independence. This continues through adolescence. Not a time to be hated, this is a time to rejoice in the growing independence of your children as they demonstrate maturity and responsibility and learn to be responsible independent adults. Why is this important? Because the baby stage when you were completely needed and wanted was likely a healing and good one for you. Your child’s growing independence that begins with their learning the word, “No!” as toddlers can touch on painful feelings for you. These natural, normal expressions of independence to be seen with a thankful eye can bring up your old feelings of abandonment and rejection. Check yourself inside, learn to recognize and relish appropriate ages and stages, and learn to recognize and deal separately with old feelings in you. As you child becomes a teenager, don’t text and Facebook them like a peer or be overly permissive in hope of being their friend. Likewise, don’t be overly harsh in discipline when you are angry. Your desire to connect with your child is wonderful. Do so in respectful, unintrusive, reasonable ways.

Understand Your Value in the Stages

Other vacillators don’t so much like the baby stage. Especially if one parent is doing most of the work for the family, that parent can feel especially angry about the baby stage. They can feel like the child is taking away attention that used to be theirs. They can’t wait for the child to develop independence so that they can get back the attention and love they used to feel from their spouse. This parent is more likely to push children to grow up faster than they should, trumping the child’s real needs for their own needs spawned by old feelings of rejection and abandonment. Learn to genuinely love your children. Be sure you know what love really means by studying verses 4-9 of 1 Corinthians 13. Learn to enjoy and embrace the love God has for you. Study God’s love in the Bible and ask God to help you let it soak in and transform you. When you know and believe God’s love for you, you can sincerely love your children and spouse, even though some stages of development will be more difficult for you.

Embrace Sadness

It’s more natural for you to express anger than sadness. You may even feel your anger is justified. However, expressing sadness directly has the power to create the vulnerability and connection you long for. While you may be tempted to pout or withdraw, this would be a very destructive way to parent. Directly talk about sadness with your children. Make their relationship a safe place for them to talk about their sadness. Draw it out of them, teaching them it is safe to talk about sadness with you. Never use those conversations against them or share them with others. By making feelings other than anger commonplace in conversation between you and your children, you are beginning to all grow together toward emotional wholeness and lasting relationships of connection.

Don’t Expect Your Children to Fill Your Gaps

God can fill your love tank. He can heal a lifetime of hurt, abuse, and rejection. I know, because I’ve seen His miraculous power to do that. Working out relationships with your spouse can help fill your love tank. Developing and nurturing healthy friendships can do that, too. But, don’t expect your children to make up for losses elsewhere in your life. Never place restrictive punishments on them. Never pout if they want to spend time with friends or manipulate them to spend time with you when they are wanting to do normal, healthy kid things and develop their own identity. Prioritize family time for sure, but prioritize knowing God, strengthening your marriage, and building friendships to care for your love tank needs.

Recognize All Good is Not All Good

Seek to be aware of how your children are feeling. Outbursts by you have a significant and lasting affect on them. Find out if and when you have embarrassed or hurt them and how they are feeling about it now. Find out if your children are sad or upset about something. For family members of a vacillator, they often feel like a switch flips in you. You feel a relationship is all good or all bad. When you’ve gone back to feeling it’s “all good,” it likely isn’t “all good” for the other person. Children of vacillator parents communicated to Milan and Kay Yerkovich that their parent was completely oblivious to the reality that things were not “all good” just because the vacillator parent felt things were “all good.” Learn to listen to them and work through their sadness and pain. Learn to apologize when you’ve hurt or embarrassed your children. Remind yourself that acknowledging what you have done and apologizing does not make you “all bad.” Recognize that you may have hurt your children in your anger and that it is not okay.  They will not and should not be unaffected by an explosion by you.

“I’m Done.”

Be responsive, not reactive. Watch out for phrases like, “That’s it” or “I’m done.” Your inability to manage your anger in a healthy way leaves your children feeling abandoned.

How Do I Communicate, Then?

When you are feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, unwanted, or hurt, give yourself a moment.  But don’t do it by saying angrily, “I’m done” or “That’s it.” Be sure you aren’t trying to communicate indirectly with your behavior, withdrawal or pouting. These things are very unsettling for your family. Instead, say as Milan and Kay suggest,

“I need a few moments to compose myself and/or respond properly”

Check out the soul words list and come back and express your feelings in soft, low tones. Don’t jump around to past pain and experiences. Focus on the one thing that just happened. Instead of going on and on, try to use the fewest words you can to make your point. All of these things will help you to be heard and understood.

These tips are gleaned from the Yerkovich’s book How We Love Our Kids: the 5 Love Styles of Parenting. One Small Change in You…One Big Change in Your Kids.  It’s well worth the read for more insight.

Naming Emotions and The Comfort Circle

If you are having trouble putting a name to how you feel, check out Naming Emotions for Spouses and Kids.

Remember that strong emotions you are feeling might be triggered by something that happened in your past. Take time to process where these are coming from and what feelings are buried underneath. Finding out and communicating these can strengthen relationships. The Comfort Circle is a great tool to help you do that.

Do You Relate?

If you relate to this, please share in the comments below.

Parenting With A Vacillator

Parenting with a vacillator is can be frustrating and painful.

You may be reading this, because your spouse is an vacillator and it has raised concerns for you. If so, check out Help! I’m Married to a Vacillator! If you don’t relate to this love style, check out the others at the Love Styles page and take the quiz Do You Have A Destructive Love Style? Take This Quiz.

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Want To Know More?

If you’d like to know more about love styles, check out the Entire Love Style Series.

Milan and Kay Yerkovich have written a number of resources on love styles, such as:

They have a whole series for singles, couples, counselors, etc at How We Love. (note, I’m not an affiliate with any of the authors I’ve cited. I just have benefited from these resources and want to share).

I’ll be going through the other love styles in the upcoming posts. Subscribe so you don’t miss valuable information about the vascillator, controller, and victim love styles.

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More Posts in the Series

If you’d like to know more about love styles, check out the Entire Love Style Series.

Photo Credit: Photo adapted from Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash


This information is gathered from Milan & Kay’s hard work and research. Their publications are well worth checking out.

  • Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love: Discover Your Love Style Enhance Your Marriage. Christian Audio.
  • Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love Workbook: Making Deeper Connections in Marriage. Waterbrook: 2017.
  • Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love Our Kids: The Five Love Styles of Parenting. How to End the Struggles and Tension. The Crown Publishing Group: 2011.

Copyright ©  2019 Angela Edmonds. All rights reserved.


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