Being a parent is the most important job in the world. You are responsible for the care and nurturing for another human being. Your job exists to feed your family, not your ego. Your car is important to transport your family, not to transport your ego. At the end of your life cycle, what do you think you reflect upon?
I have given my job as a parent much thought. I consider myself a “conscious parent” in that my parenting is focused on goals for my child. These goals do not involve the honor roll or college, all good accomplishments to be proud of. If you do not plant the seeds to nourish these goals, how is your child expected to grow into a confident and loving human being to meet the challenges of life?
The seeds are:
- SENSE OF PURPOSE
I’m not a perfect parent. I have good days and bad, as we all do. I understand that sometimes your job and other factors diminish the energy that you have to parent. These six factors, no matter what else you’re doing, are imperative to your child’s development.
- Love-your child needs to feel that you love him or her. Your love should be unconditional. No matter what he’s done, the love you have for him should not waver. If you don’t have unconditional love for him, how can he later feel unconditional love for himself? My child is ADHD and struggles to meet demands that should be second nature at this point. His executive functioning skills are low, according to the benchmarks for his age. When we discuss things that need improvement, I always say to him that I know he’s doing the best he can and that’s okay. I don’t use negative language with him because I know that the language I use is key to his interpretation of the message. The language you use will later become his own self talk. Negativity is not going to help your child gain momentum, it will only keep him stuck where he is. My mother used to tell me I could do anything I wanted and I still believe this to this day. The way you speak to your child will become their own language. Keep it positive, even if you’re disciplining him. Discipline is designed to modify behavior. I personally don’t believe discipline should ever be physical. You can’t have a bond of trust after beating your child. He or she may comply, but there are other undesired consequences.
- Trust-once you have built the foundation of unconditional love with your child, trust will be a natural outcome of that bond. Know your child’s limits and trust that they will function within those boundaries. If he/she messes up, stress that it’s the behavior and not him/her that needs to change. As a parent, you must do what you say you’re going to do and follow through. Once you establish that you are trustworthy, your child will trust that they can rely on you. This is not a natural development; you must demonstrate your trustworthiness for your child to trust you. If your child cannot trust you, they will struggle with their adult relationships. Trust is a two-way street. You must do your part, even on your worst days, to show you are available and reliable. If I’m having an off day, I make sure my son knows its me and not him that’s off. He has grown to understand that even on my worst day, I’m going to be honest with him and discuss my shortcomings. This honest dialogue models for him how to navigate life. I don’t discuss the details, sometimes kids don’t need to know the details, they just need to know it’s nothing to do with them. Trust is an essential seed for any relationship and isn’t going to develop in an environment where it’s not modeled in a conscious way. He can discuss anything with me and know it’s a safe place for that conversation. Be trustworthy and your child will follow.
3. Empathy-when my son brings a problem to me, I listen with empathy. This is another modeled behavior that your child will learn from you. I let him know I hear what he’s saying, I acknowledge that I know it’s hard, and then ask if he is seeking advice or he just wants to get off his chest. He’s in middle school and kids are mean. I just listen and show him that I can take action if he needs me to or just be a safe place to vent. I have spoken to his school about bullying and other issues, after he gave me the green light. I am not listening to solve his problem, I am listening to help him work through his problem. If I need to do something, I do so after we’ve spoken about what steps I intend to take.
Once you’ve shown what empathy looks like, your child will begin to feel empathy for others. We’ve worked with the homeless and he knows there are people who have less material resources than we do. Modeling racism, judgment, and hatred will have a more significant impact than love. Modelling love for others, regardless of their actions, will have the impact your child needs. Even with bullying, I told him that the child must not be happy because happy people do not seek to hurt others. Love for others is the basis of empathy. Imagine a world where people felt connected and empathy for each other. It can start with your child. You do not need to “toughen” your kid up for a tough world. The world will teach him what is safe and what is not. Teach love and your child can have a more loving connection with others and the world.
4. Self-confidence-some kids come into the world with a sense of confidence and others are less so. If you have built the foundation of love and trust, your child will develop a sense of self that is positive. I try to push him outside of his comfort zone to try new things. Confidence is learned through doing. When he was four, we began hiking and kayaking together and my goal (in addition to the pure fun of it), was to help him to feel confident in his small physical body. He did become a confident climber and kayaker and has taken that confidence into his present day. He knows his body can do whatever he wants it to do, regardless of his size. He has always been in the 10th percentile for weight and height. I wanted to offset that by showing him he can do whatever he wants and has no physical limitations.
School is a constant confidence reducer. He struggles to pay attention and cannot stay focused. As an adult with ADD, I told him that no one that has contributed anything significant to the world was considered “average” or like everyone else. Their contribution came from a mind that thinks differently. We’re still working on this one, school is a constant reminder that he is not on par with his peers. I can’t fix this for him, no one could have fixed it for me. I let him know I know he’s doing the best he can and that’s all he can do, and that’s okay. Empathy and listening with positive feedback is all I can offer him. We have engaged in all of the school resources available to him. He will understand one day how to use this non-linear thinking in a field suited for his mind.
5. Sense of purpose-as your child develops, you will see what their natural skill set is. It may be different from yours and your biggest challenge as a parent is to not put your expectations on your child based on your skill set. Your child is a separate human being that may or may not have the basic skills you have. You may be highly analytical and your kid may be emotional and empathetic. You are not the same person, regardless of the gene pool. Help him learn his strengths, emphasize those strengths, and he or she will see a way they can offer something to the world. My son may be a natural healer or perhaps a creative person. He will not be going to the Naval Academy, a ridiculous thought I had when he was an infant. That’s my dream, not his. Don’t put your stuff on your kid. If you loved playing football but your son loves playing the piano, celebrate that. You are two separate beings and your job is to help him develop his natural skill set and interests. Every kid has something that comes natural to him or he is naturally attracted to. Help him develop that, instead of trying to plug a round peg into a square hole. If you try to do that, you will be taking points out of the trust and love account you’ve worked hard to build. Let him be his own person.
6. Self-reliance-make sure your child knows you’re there for him, but as he progresses in life, you must take your hands of the handle bars and let him begin to ride on his own. That means he will make mistakes. Help him learn from them in a loving way. I ask, what do you think you could have done differently? What did you learn? If there is no bond of love and trust, this will be more difficult. Allowing your child to experience consequences is hard to watch, however, is necessary for them to learn. No consequences means no lessons learned. This is my lesson, too. I struggle between helicopter parenting and appropriate parenting. I am working on this, as I suspect many parents are. Knowing your blind spots as a parent is key, here. After all, there is no exact parenting manual for the human you are raising. Be kind to yourself as you navigate the world of parenting. If your kid is suffering, it’s natural to want to fix it. As they get older, they have to learn to fix their own problems. The only way they will learn that is by doing it. Be available for discourse, but allow them space to grow into a functional adult.
We are living in a fast paced and challenging world. Raising your child the way you were raised may not work. I was born in the sixties and I would never expect that paradigm to work today. I take from my childhood what worked and try that, and leave behind what decidedly did not work. If you’re reading this blog, I suspect you want to be the best parent you can be. If you have more than one child, you may have to tailor your parenting to each child. That’s even harder. I know you’re doing the best you can with what you have and where you are.
Peace to you today and always.