Becoming a parent is the most anticipated and exciting event in most people’s lives. Since childhood, we have circled around new mothers and their babies, smelled the new baby head, carried baby dolls, and imagined what it would be like when we were finally able to shape the future in the form of our own miniature self.
Along the way we accepted and rejected parts of our experiences. We decided to do away with spanking, and putting beer in the bottle before bed – anachronistic behaviors of a bygone era. But we kept rich family traditions like doing community service together, or passing along a faith tradition.
We wanted to be the perfect parent. We were going to do EVERYTHING the right way.
Then the baby came home. Suddenly we found ourselves in need of sleep and a shower. Our adorable baby’s cries became the source of conflict and some grief. The messes got smellier and harder to clean up.
We kept at it. Every age was better than the last.
Except, we weren’t perfect. And we somehow forgot that all of this could be fun.
Parenting doesn’t have to be perfection
It happens as our kids get older and can start to reason. They want to pick their own weird costumes for school. They have their own ideas about how to organize their bedroom.
They start to do things that cause some parents embarrassment.
Take, for instance, wearing a costume or mismatched clothes to school. As parents we often force our children to dress a certain way. We push against their efforts to make their own choices.
But why? Do we do this because there is objectively a reason to wear matching clothes to school? Do they help your child learn? Or are we worried bout judgment we might face from other parents?
Allowing your child to develop their own sense of style and autonomy over their clothing is its own milestone. Do you envision picking out your child’s clothes for the rest of their lives? Why not give it up now?
You want your child to learn to make their own decisions, within safe boundaries.
We think we need to be in control all the time.
And when we do this, we create power struggles in our relationships with our children. This creates the very kinds of conflicts that we hoped to avoid, and sets up decades of resentment.
Choose rules based on health and safety
Many times we intervene in our children’s curiosity and willingness to help us just so we can speed things up or to keep up appearances.
Shopping is a common example.
When we walk into a store, our senses are overwhelmed. There are new products, new smells, new things to entice us around every corner. This is especially true for our children who have less experience managing all of this.
Your child will naturally want to go away from you to explore. They will want to look at and touch things, and maybe even smell them – even at the grocery store!
Of course they do! They are curious. They are children.
We often make up rules that make shopping easier for us.
- Don’t touch anything
- Don’t ask me for anything
- Keep one hand on the cart at all times
- Don’t sit down
Any person would have trouble with these sorts of rules.
Instead, we should anticipate the needs and natural tendencies of the child, and make rules that help them feel engaged with the process. And we should word them as helping phrases.
- Please help me pick out one fruit for this week
- You can choose which cereal we buy today
- Can you help me find [insert brand]?
- What else is in the aisle with [item from shopping list]?
I’ve talked before about how to make shopping with your child easier in this article.
Anticipate needs instead of battling wills
The power struggles that we get into with our children can often be avoided. Examine closely the time of day that these struggles happen. Think about where you are when these struggles happen. Pretty quickly you will begin to see a pattern.
And where you see a pattern you can interrupt it.
In her book Parenting Outside the Lines, Meaghan Leahy observed how her own habits created a lot of the conflicts she had in the morning with her daughter.
She woke up late, and ran around the house trying to take care of many things at once. She found herself ordering her daughter to do a series of different things to get ready every day.
The daily meltdowns were not her daughter’s fault. They were her fault.
She changed her own habits to get her mornings under control. By setting out clothes the night before, or making lunches in advance, she freed up time in the morning to enjoy her daughter instead of ordering her around.
Struggling with co-parenting, or just looking for an outlet for the stress of parenting? You likely will benefit from talking to a licensed therapist like Sakina Issa.
Luckily, these conversations can happen discreetly and by appointment using the same tools you have grown comfortable using at work, like Zoom or GoToMeeting. Just click the button in the upper right hand corner.
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