The following guest post is from Corey of Simple Marriage:
We live in a world of endless responsibilities: work, households, bills, and schedules to name a few.
But when it comes to our family life, many times us parents fall victim to a lie.
Before I tell you about this lie, answer me this: Who would you say is in charge in most families? Is it the parents or the kids?
In America, the answer is often the latter.
Take a look around at other cars as you drive down the road. The stickers plastered on the back window and bumpers tell the tale of child focus as the latest status symbol in America.
And, think of the time spent running kids to and from one event to the next. Days are filled with events geared solely for the kids. Family life in America has moved from “Children should be seen and not heard” to “No adult conversation possible.” And the kids know it too.
Who’s in charge? Who gets their way? What is the organizing force in family life – the life of the adults . . . or the kids?
Is it possible that too much focus can be on the kids? Absolutely! And it’s this over-focus that is harmful to them, the family… and you.
Here’s something you may not know; kids that function best in life – in relationships, education, careers – are the kids that were most free of “child focus” during their growing up years.
Child focus can be negative – the scapegoated kid who can do nothing right – or positive – the golden child who can do no wrong. The results of either kind of child focus are a lifetime of struggle.
The kid left to find his/her own way [not absent affection and not neglected] is the one best prepared to deal directly with life.
A Real-Life Example
A couple of years ago I’m walking down the isle of Target with my 4 and 2 year old. As we progress through the aisles — wouldn’t you know it — something caught my 4 year old’s eye. I can’t remember what it was but it must have been pink and princessey. She made sure I saw it and then the negotiations commenced.
So here I am, battling it out in the court room of the aisle at Target. And it’s starting to intensify.
“Honey, put that back, we’re not going to buy that toy.”
“But I need this daddy!”
“No, honey, you don’t.”
And we’re off. You know where this is heading. The tears soon follow (from her, not me, although there are times I wish I could) and the tantrum pressure cooker is warming up. I’m beginning to feel trapped.
Add to this pressure building inside myself, I’m a licensed marriage & family therapist, my skills are now on display for all of Target to see.
What my kids need at a moment like this is a parent who can keep his cool. A parent able to calm himself down will allow a child to explore his or her full range of emotions without spiraling out of control.
Understanding the Lie
So, what’s this lie I alluded to earlier? It’s the idea that you are responsible for your child.
Many parents have bought into the idea that it’s our job to get our children to think, believe, feel, and behave like a good person. We are responsible for their life. After all, they are a reflection of ourselves. Right?
Hear me out. They are a member of our family and will act out our family patterns and beliefs — but ultimately, your child is his or her own separate being.
We are much more responsible to our children than we are for them.
Our children have been granted the same power of choice as us. And if you think you can program your child to act, think, and behave a certain way, you’re fooling yourself. Remember my incident in the aisle of Target? The more I tried to control my daughter, the more the tantrum escalated.
As parents, we have tremendous influence on our children, but we have more responsibility to them than for them.
Our Responsibility to Our Kids
So what’s our main responsibility to them? Be consistently cool in the face of ever-present change.
Here are a couple of ideas how:
1. Focus more on yourself. This is not at the cost of others, it’s actually FOR others. When you are at your best, you are able to give the best of yourself to others.
2. Do what you need to calm down without taking it out on the kids. Start by taking several deep breaths. Get a drink of water. Walk a short distance from your child, or to another room and calm down. Not every situation needs to be addressed immediately.
In fact, one of the great tools for misbehavior is the delayed consequence. This gives you time to calm down and think things through. You might even collaborate with a few friends about what would be an appropriate consequence for the given situation. Meanwhile, your child has the opportunity to think about what’s to come, thus increasing the weight of the bad choice. This works well with older kids and teenagers. Remember, you’re not raising a puppy and you don’t have to catch them in the act in order for an appropriate consequence to teach a valuable life lesson.
3. Let the child handle more of their own problems. When a child comes to you needing help with their homework, what do you do? Do you do it for them? One of the main things growing up entails is struggle, and the struggle to grow up continues across our lifespan. Homework is supposed to be difficult. Learning to accomplish any task takes effort and work. The more a parent clears the path for the child, the more unprepared for the real world the child becomes. It’s important to be alongside them through their struggle, but as a support, not a snowplow.
4. Let natural consequences teach the lessons. Give up the goal of being liked by your kids – parenting is not a popularity contest – it’s not for wimps – it’s a sacred charge to be in charge. Let the consequences do the screaming. They didn’t do their homework, let the low score teach the lesson. Meanwhile, you are an understanding and empathetic ear for them to talk to. You get to support them, not necessarily their choice.
Your turn: What helps you keep cool with your kids?
Corey Allan is a therapist who also blogs at Simple Marriage. You’ll also find there a wealth of resources aimed at helping your married, and parenting, life be great.