This is a question I ask myself all the time. Yep – as recently as last night. (Well, not about you and your kids, but about me and mine). And I know I’m not alone.
If we’re brave enough to shed our superhero capes and admit it, we all question our decisions surrounding parenting – whether it’s the big, blatant ones, or the hundreds of teeny, tiny ones throughout the day – which is going to be the thing that they will be talking to their therapist about years from now?!
Sometimes I just stand there dumbfounded. (That is, if I’m not losing my cool or desperately trying to channel the patient and unaffected demeanor of Caillou’s mom or Wilma Flintstone).
Just last week, I walked into the bathroom and the entire floor was covered with wood chips. SERIOUSLY?!
My kids aren’t babies. It is more than clear to them that you should clean up your ridiculous mess, if for some bizarre reason, you decide it’s a good idea to empty your shoes and pockets on the wood floor.
I should probably mention this is shortly after I found gum wrappers, a bouncy ball and a sticky lollipop in the dryer.
Or maybe it’s more than the lack of accountability that gets under your skin.
Maybe it’s the call from the Principal that your wanting-so-badly-to-fit-in child is goofing off for attention (yep, had that one too). Or, maybe it’s when you find your super-sensitive child crying in his closet that his feelings are too big and scary and he doesn’t want to feel anymore (not a stranger to this one either).
All of these moments, from the frustrating-entitled-screen-time-induced-irritability to those big, looming moments when we feel helpless and just don’t know what to do next, can make us start to question how-in-the-world we ever got in this position to actually create and raise good, responsible human beings??!?
And from those moments, inevitably follows the relentless questioning – what did we do that was wrong, or not do that was right, and what could we have done better?
Will they turn into kind, self-motivated and accountable adults? Will they fall for peer pressure, lose their way and will they get back on track? Will they think that being on The Bachelor is actually a viable career path?
Here’s some good news for you. Our “screw ups” don’t actually have to screw them up – in fact, these moments (if handled correctly) can solidify a more trusting, honest and connected relationship.
Whatever your concerns, here are 5 things I know to be true to keep from screwing up your kids:
You WILL screw up
This one probably doesn’t make you feel good right off the bat, but it’s true for all of us.
We are human, without a guidebook or a crystal ball, and we are learning about each child and their unique needs and challenges as we go.
Sometimes even our purest intentions will not lead to the ideal outcomes. As long as you are doing your best, that’s the best you can do. Give yourself some grace.
Just OWN IT
“Do what I say, not as I do” sure sounds great and powerful (and an easy-out), but it simply doesn’t work.
The biggest influence your kids have is how you act and react, what you choose to do or not to do and how you treat people.
When you mess up (which we have now clarified that you will), OWN it. Admit it. Talk about it. It’s good for your kids to know that life is filled with learning and mistakes and it all comes down to how we handle them. We can model that.
It’s so important to realize that what works for one child, will not necessarily work for another. And similarly, what worked for us as kids, will not necessarily work for them.
You have to tune-in and tweak your parenting style to fit the child – your approach, boundaries, consequences, rewards, communication and expectations all need to be looked at with fresh eyes for each child.
CHEAT and ASK
I know there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to do #3, and it’s probably very annoying to you that I even wrote it. I get it. So, #4 is the remedy to that. I always tell my parent clients to “Cheat and Ask” to truly understand what each child needs.
The most simple (and often overlooked) questions can give you invaluable insight! “How can I help you?” “What do you need from me to help you feel better?” “Do you prefer time alone or with me when you’re upset?” “How do you think we can handle this better next time?” We don’t have to know all the answers on our own. Ask the source.
Anticipate the Squiggly Line
Just as we are going to screw up, so will they. There is no straight line or perfect path for growing up. It’s a squiggly line.
Don’t expect them to get it all right. Don’t make them feel ashamed for messing up, acting out or making the occasional bad choice.
By no means am I saying “smile pretty and enable bad behavior” – but instead use these challenges as teaching moments. Be the parent and give the appropriate consequences, but know that it is most likely normal growing pains. If we get caught up in every single bad choice they make we will never make it through the day!
Being a parent is the hardest job you will ever love.
We mess up and we make up. We embrace and we cringe. We are baffled and have moments of surprising clarity.
But, most importantly we love big. And when we love big and show up for our kids – forgive, ask, own, learn and teach – our screw-ups will be part of their perfectly imperfect path, rather than things that screw them up.
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