The Parenting Advice That Changed My Life

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READING TIME: 4 min.

I grew up believing that the metric of good parenting was how children behaved. If I was doing my job as mom right, then you could tell. You’d see children who accepted “no” with a smile. You’d see children who listened the first time when told to do something. You’d see children who were always happy and thankful. 

This philosophy never served me well. It made me anxious and angry. I resented the ways in which my children were, well, children. It blurred the lines between what my kids needed and what I needed. It was stressful and heavy.

And then I met Kathryn. 

Kathryn served as the department chair for special education at the middle school where I began my teaching career. She was equal parts serious, thoughtful, and funny. It wasn’t necessarily her years of experience and education that drew me to her, it was the way she talked about her children. There was a quality that Kathryn demonstrated over and over and over: My children are human, and so am I. 

If Kathryn reads this, she might laugh at the headline for good reason. Kathryn never actually gave me advice. She never told me how to be a parent, just like she never told me how to be a teacher. Instead, she offered questions as ways to think about decisions. And there was one question that changed the trajectory of my parenting forever:

“What if the metric of your parenting is not how your kids respond to you, but how you respond to your kids?”

The shift may seem small, but the effects were dramatic. And the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated this perspective. If the litmus test of my parenting was my reaction to what my kids did, I no longer felt burdened by the unsuspecting reactions my children could demonstrate. I felt empowered by the sentiment that things I could control such as my reactions, my choices, and my words were used to measure my parenting. 

Don’t be fooled. This change in thinking didn’t make parenting easier. I don’t think parenting is easy, at least not usually. But it made parenting more fair, both to me and my family. I try to no longer burden my kids to do something for the sake of what people might think. I have tried to stop conditioning my kids to believe that their job is to always please me. I feel like I do my best to give my children permission to be human, which sets the stage for exploring feelings, thoughts, and the power of our choices. 

3 Ways to Shift Your Parenting Dynamic

Values

Just because you know what you don’t want to do, doesn’t mean you know what you do want to do. Spend some time considering the values you want to demonstrate consistently for your children. Brene Brown’s Parenting Manifesto served as a guide for me to think about how I could respond to my children’s humanity. 

Learning

Just because you become a parent doesn’t mean you know how to parent. We can approach parenting the same ways in which we approach a new job, by learning. Typically, the more information we have, the better decisions we can make. This is just as true for raising humans. Reading books, listening to podcasts, following social media accounts that produce content specific to parenting are all ways to continue learning how to be the best parents for our kids. When we know better, we can do better. 

Boundaries

Just because you think it’s a good idea doesn’t mean others will agree. Be prepared for those who parent differently to cast their judgements and criticisms, especially those closest to you. You don’t need others to agree with your parenting philosophy, but you can ask for them to respect your decisions as a parent. Consider what you need to communicate to the adults in your world that might be your loudest critics. 

To the momma who feels like she’s failing at her job because of her child’s emotional reactions or behavior meltdowns, I want to assure you that you are not a failure.

To the momma who lives with the pressure and anxiety that her children need to act like adults when around adults so that adults feel good, I want to offer you an alternative.

To the momma who believes that parenting is about controlling, let me remind you that parenting can include a whole lot more. 

Read More: Parenting a Highly Sensitive Child

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