When I first started out parenting I approached it in the way so many of us do which is from a place of all-knowing. What I say goes. You listen just because. I know what’s right and you must follow. Now maybe not everybody starts out that way but I do think it’s easy to fall into the trap of dictating to your kids just to get through the day… even if it’s in a loving way.
The more kids I have though and the deeper I get into my own personal growth journey the more I realize what a side-by-side process this is.
Because not only are each of my children wildly different and require different things from me but I am changing a lot of what I thought was correct.
When you’re in places of growth two things must be present: change and failure.
So as the people who our children are looking to to teach them how do we raise them if we are also raising ourselves? I’m trying to practice some new methods within my parenting and I thought I would share.
Give them access to resources too
For me, reading books and listening to podcasts is an invaluable resource for tackling my personal growth from angles that don’t occur naturally to me.
So why wouldn’t I enable my children as well?
Especially considering I don’t have all the answers for them. I’ve never raised a preteen girl before. I’ve never raised a child with ADD before. I’ve never met a more strong-willed stubborn human than the toddler I am raising. So while yes they go to school and receive education as we all do it’s not always tailored to their specific needs.
So as their mom I cannot only seek out information for myself on how to parent them in a more individualized way but I can also look for resources that are age-appropriate for them to consume.
Share your growth and your failures
My daughter and I share a journal where we say things to each other without explanation or provoking. Recently I handled something in a way I wasn’t happy about wrote to her about how I would have handled it differently if given a second chance but that I also was scared about messing up again.
Of course, her soft young heart saw me only for my good because that’s what children are best at. But it was important to me that she hear me fail. It was important to me that she saw me as a human who is going to make mistakes despite being the person she looks to for knowledge.
Identify with them
I had a really horrible moment once while I was criticizing one of my kids for acting out his emotions in extreme anger. As I was explaining to him what a wrong decision this was I had a moment of clarity where I realize he likely modeled this behavior after me. I too am quick to anger and I was seeing this in one of my kids. Which is likely why I reacted so viscerally to the experience.
So, mid-lecture I stopped, apologized and told him I understood. We can be understanding without condoning behavior. We can acknowledge that the source of our children’s flaws are most likely tied directly to us. And we can tell them that after decades we still haven’t figured it out. But that we’re working on it and that they can to. And better yet, that we can work on it together.
Acknowledge that learning and growing is for everyone
Still to this day I look at my parents and assume they will have all the answers for the things I don’t know.
I think it’s a pretty natural order of things to think your parents know it all. It’s important though that we tell our kids that there is no absolute right answer and that no matter how old you are you need to be learning and growing.
It is only when we think there is no more room for improvement that we truly fail that something.
So when homework is hard for them or little school dramas break their heart, I try to tell them that I too can have my heart broken. I too get tear-invoking frustration when I hit a wall. I’m also often stuck, not knowing what to do and taking a blind leap of faith in the direction that feels best.
Apologize when necessary
The last couple of years I’ve really had to stare down the barrel of my issues. Of which, like all of us, there are many. I am in the early stages of trying to make big changes.
Which makess this season a breeding ground for mistakes and self-doubt. Which also means that I will likely do as many things wrong as I do right, right now.
So instead of ignoring the elephant in the room when I lose my temper or I get depressed or feel frustrated, I’ve learned to become a frequent apologizer.
The long-term goal being that I eventually stop these incidents before they happen with the short-term solution being to say sorry when I fall short. I think the single best thing I can do for my kids is apologize when I’ve treated them unfairly. The kindest thing I can do is acknowledge that they aren’t responsible for my comfort or happiness. I am responsible for theirs. And while I’m not going to be perfect and sometimes they are in fact in trouble, they never deserve an adult-size serving my emotional baggage on their kid-sized plates. And any time I do that to them is grounds for an apology and a conversation about the wrongness of that act.
None of us are perfect people and the hardest thing a person can do is try to raise other good humans. But as far as I can tell the best way to raise kids is to make sure you’re always raising yourself right alongside them. The moments where I feel best or not the days where I crush it as a mom, but the days where I can level with my kids and let them see me for the human that I am. The imperfect, flawed, only partially-grown human that I am. And I hope that one day it leads them to be kinder and gentler with themselves when they’re going through their own periods of growth.