There’s a billboard outside the primary school I pass on my daily travels and for the past few weeks it has displayed this;
challenge for the day – find something good in your child
I don’t know about you but the idea that its a challenge to find good in a child worries me. It reminds me of The One Minute Manager that I had to read when I worked for the Gap years ago. ‘Find something good in your staff, and praise them for it’, is how it went, along the lines of how to win friends and influence people and the like. This billboard doesn’t challenge anyone that far, so I guess its not about kid productivity levels or morale. But as I pass it, even in heavy traffic, it seems apparent that parents might need to see their kids – and parenting itself – differently. So I’m offering some suggestions on how to parent with soul, that is, with acceptance of all its parts, good and bad.
1. Surrender. Yes, you read that right – give up the idea that you’re in control and that everything will go according to your ideas of how it ‘should’. Babies cry for no reason, toddlers poke things in the CD player and preschoolers swear in front of people you want to impress. Teenagers mumble. Some of them do none of these things. Children do as they do; that is the nature of the beast. Rules do not apply, so throw out the ‘what to expect’ book. Boundaries, on the other hand, teach kids and parents how to be safe and to navigate life – and its up to us parents to see the difference between a reasonable boundary and a dumb veto that’s making all concerned crazy. Telling a toddler ‘no darling, daddy’s watch doesn’t belong in the bin’ is crazy-making (ask my friend who lost a few watches); moving the bin, the watch and the kid out of range of each other is a reasonable boundary. Or maybe the kid has a point? The little darlings want to try out everything they see you do (perhaps – who knows for sure what their reasons are?) and have no idea of the value of a Rolex, until we drum it into them. But they do know the value of time together, just playing and making general mayhem. So stop trying to fit the kid in around your life – for every one’s sake – that’s all over now. Better to concentrate on your own self control, and teach by example. Rearrange your house, rearrange your life. Be prepared to at the very least. Trust me on this – by surrendering control, you gain peace.
2. Be still. Stop trying to ‘fix’ your kids, your parenting or your life. You can’t make everything perfect for your kids, you can’t make your kids perfect for your life, and you are the parent you are no more and no less. Every heroic action creates a victim, every martyr creates an oppressor. I see so much solar parenting around me that its no wonder there’s a greenhouse effect. Ah, OK, its a ‘hothouse’ effect – close enough – my point is that we could do a lot better by allowing our kids to have their own failures and teaching them to forgive themselves. While we are at it we can allow our own parenting ‘mistakes’ (if there is such a thing – and here we can throw that damn book of expectations again) and let our children see that we are human,imperfect and lovable. And, you know, your children are great the way they are anyway – complete with mumbling and ‘bad’ grades and black nail polish. Who says they should be any different? (aim that book at them, whoever they are!) Last year my family grew, and we all had some growing pains. My fourteen year old daughter, eldest of five, started having conflict with teachers at school; her grades dropped and she seemed like the weight of the world was upon her, like nothing mattered, like she just ‘didn’t care’. In this situation the only thing I could change was myself – my thinking. I knew I cared and could do with lightening up. The school teachers started calling me and asking me how to ‘get through to her’ and then, later in the year, asking me to ‘do something about her’.
“I have faith in her” I told them.
“I’ve delegated the task of sorting this out to her” I reassured them.
“I’m doing the best I can, and so is she. Please be patient.” I tried, when that wasn’t the result they expected.
“Stop relating to my kid like she’s an animal that needs to be tamed!” I finally blurted. Actually I put that one in writing.
I do have complete faith in her, whether she improves her grades or not. She’s not a performing monkey, she’s a person. I’ve always maintained that there’s no point in making kids miserable so that ‘one day’ they can ‘make it’ in the world. I want mine to be happy and true to themselves now, and because of this I love her even more when she is ‘acting out’. Anyway, she found her own way, with my full support, and she’s fine. Only a few weeks ago her teachers called me to say how great it is to see the kid doing so well. So what I’m getting at is that we are doing too much – we as parents have some kind of compulsion for taking action – just stop. Stop that right now! (I’m waggling a finger at you) Stop doing. Let life unfold as it will and have faith that everything is how it must be, because it is. (more soon)