Over the last 20+ years, I have coached thousands of parents trying to understand their children, hoping I would give them the magic words or secret strategies of “good parenting”. Parents in all states of crisis - of pre-adolescents struggling with the social obstacle course of emerging independence, of elementary aged children navigating appropriate separation, of toddlers haranguing through the terrible two’s, of chronologically young adults acting like all of the children above and even a few parents, struggling with the new role of grandparent! I’ve witnessed all of these families, including my friends, colleagues and family members struggling with finding the right balance between ideal and reality, all striving for the same thing – healthy and happy children and the peace of mind that they have done a “good job”. I’ve even found myself in the same tug of war as an aunt of 2 young nephews. Me, wanting desperately to soothe and coddle them, indulge and spoil them but knowing better. There is no instruction manual for how to raise a child!
No matter the situation, I always start with giving parents a baseline to retreat to when things get confusing or complicated – a universal truth they can use to center themselves, to remind them this job of raising children is a journey, not a destination. My goal is to give them hope that each day, each moment, each word can be a new start. Like grains of sand, it all adds up and shifts moment by moment – some days are successful, others not so much. A parent’s job is to raise healthy, responsible, contributing citizens capable of navigating the world. This is the goal. After I announce this, and after a moment or two of silence, I’m typically bombarded with questions such as “you mean it’s not my job to love them?” It’s in there- it takes a lot of love to do this job! No one could possibly do what it takes to raise a child without a lot of love in their heart! “What about getting into a good college?” yes, it’s in there – being prepared to navigate the world may include a good college, but it also may include a good enough college, a job they love, a trade they are passionate about or instead, may be a powerful cultural experience. “What about computer time and social media - does my job include managing that?” Absolutely! Being responsible definitely includes understanding the gifts and sink holes of the internet and the consequences of social media. Most parents start sighing at this point and mutter “I just want him to be happy”. Here is when I typically get their attention again- I respond with “that’s not your job, it’s his and it’s disrespectful and presumptuous for you to take that responsibility from him so let’s focus on what IS your job.” At the end of the day, I want every parent to sleep at night feeling confident they did the best they could and feel free in allowing their child to create the life he chooses. Whatever that may look like.
What exactly do I mean by healthy, responsible, contributing citizens capable of navigating the world? I know it seems like a tall order but is it? Isn’t this what we truly want for our children and for our world? Just imagine if every child grew up to be healthy, responsible, contributing AND capable of navigating the world? Just imagine. So let’s break it down.
Healthy – this includes health in all aspects - physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. Is your child exercising regularly? Eating healthy? Have a regular sleep schedule? As a family, what wellness habits do you practice? Does she have an appropriate vocabulary for her age to express a full range of emotions? Is he experiencing nature and the beauty and diversity of all living things? Does your family belong to a church, participate in religious activities or activities with others who share your spiritual beliefs? Does your child practice quiet reflection time to explore his own inner workings? Is she participating in school and extracurricular activities that challenge her mind? All of these examples stimulate health. Each is equally important.
Responsible – how does your child accept responsibility for her actions? Does she understand cause and effect and the difference between right and wrong? Do you allow him “full credit” for his behaviors, positive and negative? Is he comfortable losing? Is he a humble winner? Does he know how to make a sincere apology? Does she complete her chores, homework and other obligations appropriately within the context of her age and maturity? For a young adult, this may mean being on time for work without parental prompting. For a young child, does he pick up his toys on the first request? Does she understand the importance of being truthful and easily demonstrates honesty? Do your family values demonstrate integrity even in times of conflict? How does she accept “no” or when things don’t go her way? Do you have clear expectations about acceptable behavior? Are there clear paths for making amends? Are consequences appropriate, regular and consistent or are double standards common? Does your child accept consequences and show related insight?
Contributing – it’s all about relationships! Relationships are formed and nurtured when both parties contribute. Meaningful relationships are reciprocal. What does your child have to offer? Does he have age appropriate relationships and demonstrates pro-social skills? When I was a child, I loved to play “school” with my two younger cousins. Of course I always wanted to be the teacher; luckily, my mom taught me I had to take turns being both teacher and student. What a metaphor for my life about learning and teaching equally! Does he nurture and sustain meaningful relationships? Does she play well with others, fight fair and enjoy sharing? Do you have opportunities within your home life to give back, donate time or goods, and help those in need? I believe that we are all born with a unique gift for the world. Our life challenge is to discover and share it. Does your child know and share her gifts? Does he have a valuable contributing role within the family?
Citizenship – it’s not all about me! A citizen is member of a larger group – a family, social circle, team, community, country, the world. Does your child show loyalty? Does he enjoy the privileges and rights of the group? Does he accept the obligations of being a member? Is he a giver or a taker? What kind of friend is he? Is his social circle large and inclusive or small and exclusive? Within your family, do you teach the lessons of being a part of the larger good? What does being a citizen of the world mean within your family? Does your family have internal and external traditions that you practice and revere regularly? How does she demonstrate empathy, compassion and tolerance? Do you expose your children to diversity of people, experiences and ideas? How does your family accept differences?
Autonomy: we are constantly bombarded with examples of children (young and older) who are not capable of navigating the world in the simplest ways. Does your child know how to do his own laundry? Budget his first paycheck, manage his time, boil an egg, protect herself on social media, complete a book report, pack her soccer gear for practice, set an alarm clock (or the alarm on her smartphone), read a map, change a tire, write a thank you note, apply for a job, call 911, the list is endless. Being capable of navigating the world encompasses not only the day-to-day tasks of living but also appreciating the value of money, the pride from a hard day’s work, how to find an answer, identify resources and ask for help. Does your child regularly experience the confidence that comes from overcoming an obstacle or challenge? Remember the moments of pride and accomplishment he showed when he learned to walk, ride a bike or tie his shoes? Those little successes told him “I can do this”; “I can take care of myself”. Allowing your children the opportunity to struggle prepares them for life and builds confidence.
I encourage you to discuss these categories in depth with each of your children. Are there areas that could use some attention? Are there areas ripe for growth and improvement? Raise your awareness of how you parent – do you provide opportunity for these lessons to be learned through experience or just in words? I’ve seen so many mothers (not to pick on mothers) that teach their children how to do laundry but continue to do it for them and then are shocked when they come home from college and everything is pink! Find ways to teach your children by allowing them to do for themselves. Call out the double standards or hypocrisy within your own behavior. This blog is meant to stimulate your thinking and encourage you to re-think your parenting style. It is not meant to be an exhaustive or comprehensive overview of the complicated, difficult task of parenting in today’s world. By no means am I implying that parenting is easy. Don’t ever forget, even for a second, that YOU are the most influential teacher in your child’s life – how you live your life every day is the lesson. Be the man or woman that you want your child to become – are you a healthy, responsible, contributing citizen capable of navigating the world? Let’s all grow up together!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brandi Elliott has over twenty years experience working with adolescents, their families and the programs that serve them. She has had a wide variety of experiences from Case Manager, Executive Director and Director of Admissions and Business Development. Currently she is a consultant and coach to treatment facilities, wilderness therapy programs, substance abuse treatment centers, education placement consultants (Therapeutic Experts) with a range of different needs from risk management, marketing, admissions, parent education, accreditation, program development and leadership coaching. She is also a Certified Parent Coach, working privately with individuals and families in need with coaching, placement and Case Management. You can reach Brandi at firstname.lastname@example.org or (951) 315-8320.