What is the goal for your children? Independence or Dependence? With the end result in mind, you can tweak your parenting style accordingly.
Of course you want them to tie their own shoes and do their homework unassisted, but it doesn’t happen without a few long, tiring lessons in between. In the beginning, we do everything for our children. We change their clothes, we teach them words to use and when to use them. We tell their bodies when to sleep and how to do it on its own. We determine exactly what goes into their bodies overseeing food intake, medications and immunizations. We monitor their every move. And then, at some point, which is different with every parent, we tell them that they are on their own and pray, beg, cry, scream until they do it “right”, a.k.a. Our Way.
And then the strangest thing happens…they don’t always do it Our Way. So we are left questioning our parenting skills and feeling guilty and looking to the professionals for solid advice, which is never realistically solid, because here it comes…effective parenting is not one size fits all!!
Here’s the real issue: before our children were even born we had expectations for them. We dreamed what they’d look like, how they’d act, the occupations they might try, the ways we’d love them and teach them to explore the world. When they don’t meet our expectations, we start to question what we are doing wrong and try to regroup. We never want them to hurt or feel pain, but we know they have to learn from their mistakes. And when they do start to hurt, we start to scramble to make it better.
We promote dependence on us, the parents. We tell our children to follow our lead and do as we say, but to think on their feet and make good decisions for themselves. It can almost be as confusing as saying don’t talk to or trust strangers, but be respectful and listen to your teacher on the first day of school when you don’t know them at all. We are teaching our children to TRUST and in turn, must learn to TRUST ourselves and the skills we have taught them. This insight is what will teach them independence. Learning to trust in oneself and the decisions you make, but also the importance of asking for help when you need it.
In order to build trust and confidence, the base building block of independence, we must allow our children to make decisions and live with them. We should continue to offer advice and support, but ultimately let them decide. When your child wants to sit up and read at night instead of sleeping, they will then experience the natural consequence of being tired the next morning and not wanting to get up. If your child will not eat their dinner, they will experience the natural consequence of being hungry when the food is no longer available. When your older child does not do their homework, they will experience the discomfort of a poor grade or repeating a subject. It is not your role to ignore, but to encourage their positive choices and offer suggestions when they make the ones that don’t work for them. Our sense of control over our child’s behavior is our most common misperception. The control we have is to support and love in whatever form that fits. We can not control their behavior, but we can control how we respond to it.
If anyone tells you this part of parenting is easy, it’s because they no doubt, do not have children. The transition of letting go of perceived control may be the hardest part of effective parenting, yet the most beneficial for both you and your child. Just ask the professionals.