Recently I had been doing a lot of traveling for work and was craving some time at home with my husband and children. I am a Child and Family Therapist, a professional Parent Educator, and a mother of 17 year-old twins. My children are in Grade 12, have jobs, and recently acquired their driver’s licenses.
I am proud of my children as I believe they are becoming good citizens of this world — this has been one of my primary goals of parenting. I guess one could say that my professional background makes me well qualified for this parenting job, but I must admit that I have had my fair share of humbling moments when it comes to parenting.
Sometimes I have moments when I feel I rock it as a parent, and then other moments when I hang my head and know I could have handled something much better. Yes, there is certainly room for improvement.
As I came through the front door I was met with a daughter who had broken her foot for the second time in one year, and a son who had been living on the teenage pop-and-pizza diet since I had been gone. I did notice there were an unusual amount of kilometers on the car, and an unusual amount of pizza boxes in the recycling. Although worried for my daughter, and annoyed about all the pizza, I was grateful that she had not broken her back and he had put the pizza boxes in the recycling.
However my “professional” grace under pressure stance fell to the side as my stress level rose, and the jet lag kicked in. Yes I was home — and back into the chaos of being a parent! The adult time and intellectualizing of the conference began to fade while the parenting reality reared its head again.
As we reconnected over the next couple of days, each family member had their own meltdown as some point. But we were able to get back into the swing of things and step by step we worked through each bump as it arose. I was actually grateful to be home again, it was just not the idyllic welcome home I had imagined.
Parenting is a non-stop job. It is also the job we are most invested in, and the one we want to do our best at. It is the most challenging job we will ever experience. The welfare of our children is the thing that is closest to our hearts. So how do we do this job well and become a better parent?
Here are some tips that came to mind as I contemplated my 17 years of parenting.
1. Be attuned and build connections with your child.
Being “tuned in” to your child actually builds brain cells in the child, as well as securing the attachment between the child and the parent. Pay attention to your child and look for opportunities to connect, no matter what age or stage. Talk with your child, listen, laugh, and be interested in their world. Pay attention to their feelings, and help them feel understood by you.
As I listened to my daughter tell me the story of how she broke her foot, I was tuning into her world and offering her the opportunity to both laugh and cry. This reminded me of all the times I had been by her side during a crisis throughout the years, and how these moments had offered me the opportunity to grow closer to her as I paid attention to her thoughts, feelings and her world.
2. Have thick skin and a soft heart.
Do not take everything your child says personally. You will not be an effective parent if your own sense of purpose and well-being rests upon your child’s approval. You do not need to be your child’s friend — in fact, this leads to ineffective parenting. They will find their friends on their own, but they need you to be a parent. Know when to step in and create soft moments with your child, but know when to step back and be a firm parent as well.
You have to play both roles. This reminded me of how I had to take the time to connect with my son and have some fun with him before I addressed him on the excessive car use and pizza consumption. I valued his connection, but I did not need to seek his approval. I was not afraid to address him on things, I was just looking for the right moment.
3. Set the structure.
It is your job as the adult to set the structure, not the child’s job. Their job is to learn the structure — accordingly, you have to discipline your child. Yes, that’s right — discipline! Discipline is not a bad word, it is a necessary and constructive work. Discipline literally means” to learn”, and as parents it is our job to teach our children about the world they live in.
4. Remain flexible.
Children grow and change, so you also need to grow and change along with them. Take cues from the child and they will let you know what their needs are. We need to stay flexible and tuned in so we can adapt to the child’s evolving needs. What a 2 year-old needs is very different than what a 12 year-old needs. As my children have grown older this need for flexibility becomes even clearer. We need to evolve and change with the times.
5. Let go of perfectionism.
The fun is in the mess. Parenting is messy, and we are going to enjoy it a lot more if we let go of some sort of our perfectionistic ideals. It is the relationship, care and commitment that matter. Don’t confuse effective parenting with perfectionism. Be flexible, forgiving, and loving with yourself. If you model this to your child you will then create a template of exceptional experiences rather than perfectionistic disappointments.
Even though I may have had some heartwarming moments upon my return from my trip, I also had my own meltdowns. There were times I felt joy and times I felt sorry for myself as I did not want to deal with all of the chaos. The thing is: I do not have to be perfect! I just need to be real.
The best way to become a better parent is to be flexible, forgiving and loving with yourself first, and then your child.