For parents, 10 things to give up for the new year
If you’re making New Year’s resolutions this year, remember – less is more. The key to becoming a better parent in the new year is not to add on any expectations of yourself that you can’t be successful meeting. Who wants to feel worse about themselves? That does no one any good.
There are some parents who need to spend more time with their kids and actually do a lot more at home so their kids can have a childhood and not have to run the family. But my guess is that most parents reading this column would do better to subtract from what they are presently doing, let go of many of their assumed obligations, and let their children fight or play more on their own with less parental involvement or supervision.
So I’m going to list a few things I bet you could stop doing.
1. Coming up with the answers. In many difficult situations, not only do you not have to have the answers, you shouldn’t. When you have all the answers, you pressure your children and undermine their ability to problem solve. You also create a dependency on you as the fixer or decider. Instead, ask questions like, “What can you think to do about it?” or “This doesn’t work for me. What can we decide that will work for both of us.” Or simply leave it alone for a bit.
2. Taking responsibility for your child’s feelings. When you try to cheer up or deny children’s feelings, you rob them of experiencing difficult feelings in a supportive atmosphere. The parent who feels responsible has to make sure negative emotions don’t happen or go away quickly. Otherwise the parent thinks she is not doing her job — exhausting.
3. Teaching 24/7. Teach less, be more. Simply be with your child — listen, watch, observe, do less so you are calmer. A calm parent presents a positive mirror for children to see themselves in. Try at least 51 percent of the time to be in a state that reflects their competence and wonder.
4. Thinking you are the only one. Get babysitters, go out with your spouse or friends, have plenty of adult time so you will be a happier parent. Children learn from many, and no one person can fulfill all their needs — ever.
5. Jumping in. When your child falls, wait to see how he is before scooping in with the assumption that he is hurt. Hold back when your kids are fighting to give them the chance to work it out their way. After unacceptable behavior, stop what needs to be stopped, but wait until you are calm to talk about what went wrong or needs to be done. In the meantime, breathe and think.
6. Controlling things. Let go, choose your battles, lighten up, allow a bit of naughtiness, and trust your children’s developmental process. The greatest lesson in life is to understand that we cannot control another person, all we can control is ourselves.
7. Nagging. You don’t like it, your kids don’t like it, so why not stop doing it. It requires trusting more. See how many situations where you usually nag you could instead ask yourself, “So what? Can I let this one go?” What harm will be done in the long run? Homework, eating, bathing — so many areas will improve with less nagging. Remember, whenever you nag, you are taking responsibility. Your child does not have to take responsibility if you take it for him.
8. Expecting your children’s appreciation. It’s not your children’s job to thank you for all you do. They haven’t had another family they can compare you to — certainly not the one you came from. They should actually take you for granted. That means don’t give and do more than you are willing to do without feeling resentful. Everything you do for your children is your choice. You don’t have to do anything.
9. Doing so much laundry and house cleaning. Your children are not going to remember you for how clean and organized you are. Cut down on your daily to-do lists and replace those minutes with just being with your kids or putting your feet up.
10. Having to be the perfect parent. Let it be okay to be good enough. If you set expectations too high for yourself you will keep coming up short. In order to feel better about yourself, you need to adjust your expectations to be appropriate for you and your circumstances, stop comparing yourself to others, and accept yourself. It is only through acceptance that you will feel motivated to move ahead.
Letting go of what we think we have to do and letting our children find their way through some tough times and simply being their safety net is the hardest thing for many parents to do. But that is how children learn best. Their favorite memories of childhood will be times when you are laughing or crying together, sharing experiences, and having fun — not when you are teaching lessons.
Parent Wise Columnist Bonnie Harris, M.S.Ed, is the director of Connective Parenting and founder of The Parent Guidance Center, now The River Center, in Peterborough, where she teaches parent education classes. She is the author of “When Your Kids Push Your Buttons” and “Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live With.” Email firstname.lastname@example.org.