Parenting is an ever-shifting space. The rules seem to change as quickly as the seasons, new ‘types of parents to avoid being’ pop up as buzzwords all the time (lawnmower parent, helicopter parent, drone parent to name just a few). It can be hard to feel as if we are ever nailing it. Even if we feel like we are finally making strides with one child, then they go and reach a new stage of development, leaving us high and dry again.
Ultimately, we all want the best for our children. But this can look so different. Do we hover around to catch them if they fail? Stand as far back as possible and give them independence? Perhaps we find ourselves bouncing between the two extremes, hoping that somehow, something we are doing is having a positive impact.
There are many quotes about control, not the least of which that it is actually a complete illusion. This can be devastating to the more control-oriented among us, but it could also be cause for relief. All those sleepless nights spent tossing and turning over how to handle adolescent problems may not really be helping us to be better parents.
Well, if we can’t control our kids, what can we control?
It isn’t a glamorous answer by any means, and it does require work. But the reality is, the most powerful influence we have over our children is not our well-timed lectures (sadly) or our discipline strategies, but the model of our lives.
Have you ever yelled at a child to stop yelling at you? Or stepped over your own piles of clothes to lecture your kid on picking up their own? Pleaded with them to value veggies when you just made a detour through drive-thru because you needed that burger?
Kids are infuriatingly clever. They sort through the messages like ninjas, picking up our habits and reflecting back at us the best and worst of ourselves. It can be maddening to behold your own faults displayed in adolescent form, and ultimately very confronting.
What we do know is that parental response is very powerful – from our own reactions influencing kids’ anxiety struggles, to our consumption of fruits and vegetables (‘the strongest predictor of a child’s intake of those foods’ according to the study referred to in this article).
What we do matters.
This might make you react in one of two ways.
Option 1: Panic! Complete overwhelm and pressure can take over. ‘Well then, I have to be perfect’, you might conclude. No. That isn’t the case. When we do make mistakes (which is inevitable, by the way), we have the choice of how to respond. If we then use that moment to say sorry to our kids and explain what was going on for us, this can transform our relationships with them.
Option 2: Relief! Parenting is a tremendous gift. It allows us the chance to face so many parts of ourselves that we would never have known were there otherwise. Yes, this can be painful, but by exploring why we respond the way we do, we learn so much about ourselves and the world around us. And the best bit? In the process, we equip the next generation with crucial social and emotional skills that help them navigate the complex waters of society with that much more awareness.
So, take heart. Parenting doesn’t have to be too complicated. Just take that next step in your own journey and watch the beauty unfold – not only in your life but in the lives of all who surround you.
Want more? Check out these links:
Falling Upward – A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Richard Rohr)