Parenting is hard work, and the pitfalls are many. Our children don’t always listen, the try our patience, and they frequently test limits. Here are 5 ways to conquer common parenting hazards:
1. You’ve got to be more flexible
Families are as diverse as the parents and children that comprise them. We bring our own personality traits, strengths and weaknesses, gifts and talents, preferences, and hang-ups. Those similarities and differences define the core of our identity and make our lives and relationships rich, interesting, and unexpected. To think that one broadly applicable parenting strategy would work for all children and families is an outrageous idea. The only tactic that I know that might work for all families in any situation is flexibility. Flexibility, as defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, is the “ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements.” That spells parenting to a tee. The needs of our children and families change over time. Flexibility helps us view our children’s choices and desires from a developmental perspective rather than simply as right or wrong which then better informs our response as parents.
2. Put that directive on repeat
In our house, we say the same thing to our children 50,000 times a day. Well, maybe not 50,000 times but it sure feels like it some days. Our constant refrain goes something like this, “how many times have I told you this” or “didn’t you hear me the first time I asked” or “I tell you this every day.” Does this happen in your house, too? It seems that the only way children learn anything is for parents to say it repeatedly. Truthfully, repetition is a critical skill for any of us to learn a new task. You don’t learn how to drive or master saving money and investing after one attempt. We must practice, practice, practice. Next time you get ready to yell, “how many times do I have to tell you this” to that sweet-faced kid of yours, remember to put that directive on repeat. That’s how we all learn.
3. Age is more than a number
As our children grow and develop, they transform physically, cognitively, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Watching an infant grow from a newborn to his 1st birthday underscores this growth and the incredible maturation process at work. We instinctively know that a two-year-old cannot wash and fold her clothes or that a five-year-old cannot cook dinner, but sometimes our parental expectations don’t match up with what we know to be true. Remember that your child is still growing, learning, and evolving. Understanding a child’s behavior from a developmental framework informs those expectations so that we implement more effective parenting strategies.
4. “Do as I say, not as I do” no longer works
As parents we have adopted this “do as I say, not as I do” philosophy that is unhealthy for our children. We should not only tell them our expectations but model those desired behaviors as well. We have household rules in place that we ALL must follow: we ALL have to eat our veggies, we ALL need to exercise, well ALL must say our blessing before we eat and our prayers before bed, we ALL should respect each other’s time and personal space, we ALL need to manage our frustration in healthy and respectful ways, we ALL need to practice patience, we ALL should treat each other with kindness, and we ALL need to be slow to anger and quick to forgive. If we ALL do these things, it can eliminate confusion for our children. We no longer send the unfair message that it’s okay for parents to make bad choices without fear of consequences while our children must be perfect or else!
5. Say “NO” to perfectionism
There are no perfect kids and no perfect parents. Perfectionism is nothing to which to aspire. Even the highly respected pediatrician-turned-child-psychoanalyst Dr. Donald Winnicott coined the term “good enough mothering” to speak to the tension that exists between selflessly caring for a child while balancing a mother’s own needs and desires so that the two goals are reconciled without harming the baby. We don’t have to be perfect to be good moms, and we will fail often. The key is to apologize for our children when we do inevitably make mistakes, continue to love them, vow to try and do better, and then do it all over again. Our children learn most, not when we are doing everything right but when we face adversity. They grow when we demonstrate faith, hope, tenacity, and the power of the human spirit amid challenges.