Ah, parenting. Isn’t it one of the most rewarding jobs and relationships of your life time? Did you know how wonderful this was really going to be before you had kids? Your child hangs on your every word, following all of your suggestions and directions, cooperatively and enthusiastically, right? You never second guess any parental decision you make because you know following your instincts is always the best solution for both you and your child, right?
Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Or, perhaps for you, this isn’t so much funny, as it is painful!
If your child is more than an hour old you are now fully aware your child has his own opinions and her own preferences. Among the many lessons children teach us about life is the lesson that we cannot control them. We cannot control any other person other than our own self. And sometimes, even that, is challenging.
“The glaring problem with this belief is that it’s not true.”
Sadly, there is a mistaken belief one person can control another person. Included in this conventional wisdom is the idea adults certainly can control children. And there is almost a mandate parents (and teachers) must control children. The glaring problem with this belief is that it’s not true. One giant step you can take in resolving your relationship with any person in your life is to accept, maybe even be grateful for the fact, you cannot control any other person, only yourself. This also means another person cannot control you either.
Since September is the month we are focusing on Resolving Relationships,I’ve decided to share some basic ideas regarding your parent-child relationships. Hopefully you and your child have some happy, connecting, pleasant moments in your relationship. If not, if all of your interactions with your child are unpleasant, angry with an unspoken war between you, then you best consider, Repairing and Restoring Your Relationship. Check my website for details.
Here are six practical ideas that will help you resolve your relationship with yourself as you learn and grow, through parenting. Along the way, you will also build and sustain a strong, loving connection with your child.
1. “This is not optimal teaching or learning…”
You already know parenting is one of the most important, challenging jobs of your life. Most parents have very few lessons or training on how to parent effectively. In fact, for most people, the only training they get was watching their own parents. The drawback to these lessons is you are remembering what your parents did, or didn’t do, from a child’s perspective. This is not optimal teaching or learning because they were doing the same thing, i.e., doing what their parents, your grandparents, did.
But be patient with your parenting skills. You are doing the best you can. If you don’t want to repeat what your parents did, then seek information, counselling or coaching to help you parent differently. After all, it’s really hard not to repeat what your parents did if you don’t know what else to do instead.
2. “All parents want their children to live to grow up.”
There exists an inherent conflict between parent and child that starts pre-birth, or before your child became your child (for those of you who are parents but not birth parents). Let me explain.
Most parents have the same wish or dream for their children. We all want our children to grow up to be happy, healthy, responsible adults, who like us enough to come home to visit on occasion, or invite us to visit them. Within this desire is another that may not be as obvious. All parents want their children to live to grow up. Whether you are aware of it or not, almost all of the choices and decisions you make as a parent are your attempt to keep your child safe and alive, so they will grow up.
Most children enter the world driven to meet their need for curiosity and learning. Almost everything a baby, then toddler, then child, then pre-teen, then teen, then young adult does is an attempt to meet her need to discover and explore the world and herself in the world.
So here is the basic conflict between parents and children. Parents are trying to keep their children close and safe. At the same time, children are trying to break free and get out into the world without restrictions to learn and grow. Peaceful Parenting is a program to help parents learn how to honour their children’s need for freedom while teaching their children how to grow out into the world in ways which keep them safe. This helps both parents and children resolve their conflicts.
The challenge is how to balance your need for safety with your child’s need for freedom. The challenge is to learn how to slowly increase your child’s freedom while you teach him how to handle the safety factor of that additional freedom. There are no strict guidelines or guaranteed steps you can take. But you and your child can learn together how to balance what you and your child needs and wants even when these seem to be in conflict.
3. “I am not advocating you and your child become pals.”
The key to all effective and connecting relationships is sharing time, interests, and laughter together. Think about this for a minute. Who is your best friend, the person you look forward to spending time with, whose company you enjoy? What do you do with this friend? Don’t you enjoy similar interests, hobbies and opinions? Do you share time with each other? What do you do during this time? Are you willing to do some things with this friend that may not be your favourite activity, but, you are happy to spend time with a friend? And doesn’t that work both ways?
Consider how, when, where and why you spend time with your child. I am not advocating you and your child become pals. I am advocating you treat your child with the same loving kindness and attention you do a friend.
Let this practice begin from your child’s beginnings. Certainly your toddler’s interest in building blocks or nursery rhymes may be more enthusiastic than yours. If you follow your child’s curiosity, attention and lead, he may show you the delights in blowing bubbles or the charm of a dancing teddy bear you have forgotten about. Sharing this time, interest and learning with your child will become more mutual as your child grows. There will come a time when going for a hike, fishing, playing basketball or reading together will also be part of how you enjoy one another’s loving connection.
You do not need to spend hours and hours, together. Quality time consistently spent will solidify your strong tie with one another. This is probably the most important and rewarding aspect of being a parent.
4. “They are closer to independence than they are dependence.”
Prepare yourself for parenting your teenager now! A terrible thing happens when your child enters the preteen and teenage years. Just when you are more curious and worried, your child may suddenly become sullen and silent. Sadly, and to your great frustration, this verbal shut down seems to be mostly with you. Your daughter is perfectly willing to chat all day and night with her friends. Your son tells his uncle and coaches everything, often before questions are even asked of him.
Before you get too angry, hurt, or upset about this state of affairs, understand what your child is doing is perfectly natural, normal and expected as your child grows and develops. At this stage in your child’s life, they are closer to independence than they are dependence. That doesn’t mean they are ready to go out into the world and make their way surviving without you. But they are preparing for that day.
And on some level you want this, remember? You want a child who will someday be able to meet all of his financial, emotional and physical needs, independent of you. How do you think they will arrive at that independent level without practicing and planning for the goal of independence you both want?
This doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings of ambivalence in the process of helping your children arrive at independence. Just as your children were ready, without you, to walk and then run, go to school and then to an overnight camp, they often were ready to gain greater independence, before you were ready for them to be ready. This developmental progress is no different.
Be ready to listen more, while talking, telling and lecturing, less. Get on your child’s side when he wants more freedom and power by teaching him what he needs to do to earn it and handle this additional freedom responsibly. Be sure you continue to spend time together, pursuing her interests, as well as, yours, even if what she is interested in is awful. She probably feels the same way about what interests you. Continue to be respectful toward, and with, one another.
5. “Where there is no winner or loser, but rather two satisfied people…”
If you are already a person with skill and knowledge on how to negotiate differences, terrific. If you are not, learn how, now!
Remember, there are going to be plenty of parenting times in your life where you want one thing and your child wants another. Learn how to work this out, so you both get some of what you want, where there is no winner or loser, but rather, two satisfied people.
This is a critical parenting skill for resolving differences in your relationship and a priceless skill to teach your child as she enters the world, living independently of you. Imagine how our world might be different if every person knew how to negotiate and work out differences rather than severing relationships or declaring war! Learning the magical questions from Peaceful Parenting is one resource to help you with this skill. There are others too, including most of Dr. William Glasser’s books.
6. “When you change how you interact with your child, eventually, he will too.”
And finally, for those of you who need to repair and restore your relationship with your child, I strongly urge you to get help either through counselling or coaching. I do not mean to say this is all your fault or problem. But, between you and your child, you are the adult. That means you have more experience, wisdom and resources. That also means you need to learn to parent, so you can interact differently. When you change how you interact with your child, eventually he will too.
Criticizing, nagging and complaining to, and about your child, doesn’t work. This may sound counter-intuitive and yet it is more effective. Instead, spend time with your child so that you like her again. (Please see #3 above.) He may not feel the same toward you. But, at this point, you need to find again something about your child that helps you uncover the love between you.
With these guidelines, you now have ideas to help you resolve your relationships with your child, and also yourself, as a parent. The more you practice these ideas, the more skillful you will become. Along the way you will resolve your relationship with yourself and your child, creating new special moments in your family’s life.