Everywhere you look, there’s a book that can teach you how to do anything in life. From how to be a millionaire to the “learn literally anything” for dummies series— and every topic in-between. As a therapist and a parent, one book genre I cannot avoid no matter where I go is parenting. There are so many of them, and they all have a different angle and delivery. And as all parents know, even if you decide not to engage, you will get all the advice from friends, family, and well-meaning strangers (solicited or not). I can understand the need for them; parents have concerns, they feel that they do not know what they are doing, and they are looking for validation or a community to feel that they aren’t messing up horribly. Although these blogs, posts, and books provide a plethora of information, at times they can produce more anxiety about our behaviors rather than provide us with support. In this blog, I will not be giving an instruction manual but suggestions for your thoughtful consideration.
Let them make choices.
Let's start our focus on our children. They are the reason we do what parents do daily (work, pay bills, etc.). It is easy to forget that children are capable human beings who want to learn about the world around them. As they grow, they become more curious, and the world looks so much brighter in their eyes than ours. Often parents forget that children want to have the same choices as adults do but are unable to due to age or maturity. In short, it is a promising idea to start giving them more choices.
Let me stop here and say that there are exceptions to the choices offered, namely those that can cause harm, or it will be dangerous to them. However, small choices such as clothes, chores, or even activities can provide them an opportunity to have them make the choices that they usually do not have. Now I hear parents screaming at this blog, "Well if I give my kids choices, they will not do anything!" But what if at the time when we gave them choices, we did not listen to them?
This brings me to my next point: listen to children. Adults have so many responsibilities including jobs, taking care of children/elderly/family, bills, and chores that often clients describe these things as "whack a mole." Understandably, we are not being listened to daily but what about the children? In the humdrum of daily life, we are asked to survive but parents, have an added responsibility of raising little citizens of the world. However the race for perfection leaves little room for the growing minds and curiosity of children. They have questions and they want to mirror what they see from us, autonomous adults. They do not know right from wrong; they are learning. They have good questions (even if they sound repetitive and silly).
Children also have big emotions. Often even though children may look like they are out of control, they are expressing big, scary, and even uncertain emotions. To help as parents, we can teach children how to identify and manage the expression these emotions. Remember, what you teach is how they will learn, children are mirrors, they will notice the subtlest of reactions. When I say listen, I mean to not only hear the words said but how they are saying them including body language and context. Perhaps if you pay attention to words as well as body language, you will find that children speak volumes.
Give yourself grace
At this point, this is starting to sound like parenting blogs and posts about what can we do for our children rather than focus on ourselves as adults. So many of the blogs/books/posts that I read are always about what we can do for our kids and how we must make sacrifices (as if we do not do that already). I want to be the first to say: parents are people too! Not every parent can be a well-adjusted human being, often parents grapple with their concerns including less than ideal childhoods, stressful jobs, and even their own unmet basic needs.
When it comes to parenting, there’s good amount of pressure is to raise upstanding citizens of the world—but we can only use the tools given. And for some, there were no tools passed off. There is no perfect formula, give yourself grace. If there is a time that you snap at your child instead of giving them choices or listening to them, that is okay. You are human and You need to feel seen too. Remind yourself that you are not perfect and, to be honest, that is what children need to see.
Lastly, be aware of yourself.
Life is hard, and I can say it is even harder as parents. Many times, I found myself saying that parenting is a hard job; it is like having a job you never get to clock out from. But embracing imperfection is good. We should strive to know ourselves too. In my sessions, I look to parenting and childhood as an inroad to help clients with their insecurities, depression, and anxiety. Although we cannot change the past, there is always something that we can do presently (and in the future) that can help ourselves and our children continue to grow.