Parenting for the long haul: When you think of your parenting role, what immediately comes to mind? More than likely, your thoughts turn to surviving the day (and/or getting the jelly bean out of your son’s nose). Due to the hectic pace of our lives and our parenting, thoughts of where you hope your child will be 20 years from now are probably less frequent. While it may seem like we don’t have time to think that far ahead, what are the consequences to our parenting if we don’t? These ideas stem from the work that we do in play therapy, teen therapy, and family therapy at The Center For Growth in Philadelphia, PA, Ocean City, NJ, Mechanicsville, VA, and Santa Fe NM.
Parenting with the end in mind -
To borrow a phrase from Stephen Covey, “Begin with the end in mind.” By remembering what the end goal is, we can be more intentional in how we handle day-to-day parenting challenges. Take a moment to reflect on the following questions (taken from Hal Runkel’s book Scream-Free Parenting):
- Imagine each of your children at age 25.
- What year is it? How old will you be?
- Are you children married? For how long? How would you rate their marriage?
- Do they have children? What kind of parents are they?
- Do they have college degrees? Do they have Masters degrees? How much money do they make? What do they do for a living?
- Do they work in a corporate environment or an entrepreneurial venture?
- What is the content of their character? What do their friends and spouses say about them? What about their bosses and co-workers?
- What is their decision making process like? How well do they take responsibility for their choices?
- Are they physically healthy? Do they take care of their bodies?
- What are their deepest values? In what ways do they contribute to society?
- How do they carry themselves around others? How do they spend alone time?
- What are their spiritual beliefs? How do those influence their world view?
- Now picture yourself at this stage of life. How old will you be when this child is 25?
- Are you married? How would you rate your marriage?
- How healthy are you physically? How well do you take care of yourself physically?
- Where do you live? Are you still working or have you retired?
- How do you spend your days? How have you grown and matured?
- How often do you see your grown children? What kind of relationship do you have? Is it close or distant?
- How much respect do you and your grown children have for each other?
- Are you still waiting for one to grow up? Do you still support them financially? Do they live under your roof? Do you live under theirs?
- How would you rate yourself as a grandparent?
- Are you grown children inspired by you?
- How do they talk about you to their spouse and to their friends?
Yes! These are heavy questions. Yet they are so fundamental to address. What better way to consider what kind of parent you want to be than to define what outcomes you are targeting?
In no other area of life are we more concerned with “getting it right” than with parenting. Think about it. Failure just isn’t an option, right? We worry about our kids. We worry about what other people think of our kids. We worry about what our kids are worrying about. We worry about what other people think of us as parents. We get more and more caught up in being perfect parents raising perfect children that we lose sight of the actual connection that fosters a solid parent-child bond.
This build-up of anxiety often translates into a much higher level of emotional reactivity than we intended, which diminishes our effectiveness as parents. When we get reactive, we essentially regress emotionally into a younger frame of mind. What does “reactive” parenting look like? Yelling is the most popular form of reactivity, although others include overcompensating, arguing or even giving in. We do these things to temporarily reduce our own anxiety in the face of our child’s challenging behaviors. The problem is they do not ultimately promote the kind of relationships we crave with our kids.
Parenting anxiety is fueled by the illusion that we can “control” our kids. When is the last time you successfully “controlled” a teenager? What about a two year-old? Not for long, I suspect. Trying to gain a sense of control is a common way we try to manage parenting anxiety. We are afraid to see them fail. We don’t want to see them hurt. We think if we do things FOR them, we’re doing them a favor. But the truth of the matter is, we don’t actually have the power to CONTROL anyone nor do our kids respond well to attempts to CONTROL them. Attempts to control only rob our kids of valuable opportunities to grow.
Shifting to Influential Parenting
The goal of parenting is actually not to “raise our kids” but to “raise adults.” Ultimately, that’s the end product of our years of parenting. What kind of ADULT are you attempting to produce? Most likely, your goal is to raise an adult who can take care of him/herself, make good decisions, be considerate of others, provide for him/herself and who takes responsibility for him/herself. If we keep in mind that we are literally “raising adults,” we then need to ask ourselves – “How can I help get them there?”
What if the goal wasn’t to “control” but to influence? Control (or the illusion thereof) is based on fear and compliance. While getting our kids to do what we want them to do is often a daily focus, is the goal actually to raise individuals who simply “do what they’re told?” Think back to the earlier exercise. When you were picturing your children at age 25, did you picture adults who just followed orders? Or did you envision them being mature, independent adults who are able to think for themselves and choose wisely?
We have to remember that the quality of the relationship is NOT the same as how we want someone to act. In any human interaction, the amount of influence is in direct proportion to the quality of the relationship. The stronger the relationship, the greater the influence. The more damaged the relationship, the weaker the influence.
An employer with strong relationships with her employees has far more freedom to give feedback and guidance than one who relies on fear and compliance mode. An athletic coach with strong relationships with his players elicits far better performance than one who belittles or threatens his team. So it goes with parenting. The parent with a strong relationship with his child increases his influence with that child as he grows up.
In any context, this principle proves true. That does not negate the impact of negative leadership. Certainly negative leadership/parenting can also have a major impact on someone’s behavior (child or adult). However, getting someone to comply with a directive is not the same thing as teaching someone how to manage him/herself. The younger a child is, the more guidance he needs since managing his own behavior is not yet possible. But as she grows older, she is more able to learn and practice self-control and improve decision-making skills. Similarly, the newer an employee is to an organization, the more guidance he will probably need.
The amount of influence is in direct proportion to the quality of the relationship.
Nurturing a strong relationship with your child obviously doesn’t always mean that you will agree. But a strong relationship creates a “safe space” in which disagreements can occur without permanently damaging the relationship. A relationship based on fear and demands on compliance is not one that fosters growth or security. Obviously, “command and demand” parenting is often quicker in moments of stress and overwhelm. All of us have been there. But the more we, as adults, are able to maintain our own composure, the more opportunity we have to model effective conflict-resolution skills and teach problem-solving skills.
One of the primary goals of parenting is to teach your child how to manage himself, how to make good decisions and solve problems independently. These are skills that are not as innate as they are learned. This means that A LOT of practice is required! When someone (child or adult) is feeling stressed, threatened or under pressure, it is much more difficult for her to learn a new skill. Therefore, the best time to try to teach your child these critical life skills is not when you’re yelling and stressed out. Rather, your child is more able to hear and absorb what you’re telling him if he feels secure (versus threatened or stressed). Oftentimes, life doesn’t work out like that. We’re rushing to go here or there, and situations with our kids pop up at the worst possible moments. These are PERFECT opportunities for you to practice keeping your cool so your child can too. Nowhere is this principle more true than in situations when a child has experienced some sort of trauma (whether it is an external trauma like a medical issue or accident or a relational trauma like divorce). Play therapy can often be a helpful starting point for parents to practice teaching their child new skills versus getting reactive.
How you interact with and talk to your child helps create a model for how she sees the world and how she believes “normal” relationships work. It also has a tremendous impact on her “attachment style” and how she will function in her own adult relationships.
How you manage your emotional ups and downs is your child’s model of how to manage his/her emotions. How you function in your marriage is your child’s model of how to function in his/hers. By becoming your best self, you become the best parent you can be.
For additional support in your parenting journey, you can Self schedule your inperson or virtual parenting therapy appointment in Philadelphia PA, Mechanicsville VA, Ocean City NJ and Santa Fe NM The Center For Growth is Proud To Have The Following InPerson Therapy Offices or call 215 922 5683x 100 to talk with a live therapist today:
- Ocean City Therapy Office
360 West Ave, Floor 1, Ocean City, NJ 08226
- Mechanicsville Therapy Office
9044 Mann Drive, Mechanicsville Virginia, 23116
- Alpharetta Office
11720 Amber Park Drive, Suite 160, Alpharetta GA 30006
- Society Hill Therapy Office
233 S. 6th Street, C-33, Philadelphia PA 19106
- Art Museum / Fairmount Therapy Office
2401 Pennsylvania Ave, Suite 1a2, Philadelphia PA 19130
- Santa Fe Therapy Office, 2204 B Brothers Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 87505
- Telemedicine Therapy: We have therapists who are licensed to work in Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Virginia New Mexico and Pennsylvania