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Lessons for Everyday Parenting
The Connective Parenting Newsletter
Lesson: Taking Responsibility as a Parent so Your Kid Can Too
We have a problem in parenting today. Many parents do more for their kids than they should. Therefore kids are entitled, above the rules, inconsiderate of others, disrespectful, and rude. (Mind you, I am making a huge generalization.)
The pattern looks like this: Child has perfectly normal angry feelings and developmentally appropriate demands, likes and dislikes; parent doesn't know how to deal with the anger and resistance and does what ever seems necessary to avoid further anger and resistance; child learns that anger and resistance causes parent to back off or fix; child expresses more anger and resistance; parent either backs off or fixes; child grows dependent on parent to back off or fix; child grows incapable of handling own problems; parent gets furious over child never taking responsibility for self; child expresses disdain toward parent, whom he resents being dependent on to solve his problems.
Did anyone follow that?
And all that happens with our best intentions of being great parents. Often we parent in reaction to the way we were parented. Reaction parenting is about us, never about our children and their individual needs. We tend to parent the way we wish we had been parented. If we had uninvolved parents who paid little attention to us and our problems, we are likely to be over-involved and fix or rescue our children from their problems so they won't feel abandoned like we did. After all isn't that our job?
No, our job is to raise children who know how to solve their own problems. But we either try to fix our children's problems for them or we blame our problems on our children and build that resistance.
For example, I ask my daughter to clear the dishes from the table. She doesn't want to and says so. I yell at her for thinking only of herself and what she wants—and why doesn't she ever do anything I ask. She resists further and stomps off saying she hates me. I complain that I have a rude child. My motherlode goes into high gear because a good parent does not have a rude child, so instead of taking responsibility for my rudeness to her, I come down harder on her for her anger and resistance in an attempt to teach her not to be rude (all the while increasing my rudeness). What she hears is that I don't care about her, I only care about what she will do for me. She resists further. I go in one direction or the other: I either give up asking her to do anything around the house because I don't want to deal with her blow ups, or I punish her by taking away her phone, or something else equally ridiculous, further fueling her wrath and identity as a bad kid.
Can you see that both of those options do not in any way hold her accountable for her actions? And that I am making her responsible for my problem? I am the one who is upset about her not helping. It is my responsibility to own that problem by saying, "I would like your help clearing the dishes so I don't have to do it all." When she argues, instead of yelling at her for arguing, I can say, "Of course you don't want to. I'm sure I wouldn't either if I were you. (I accept that her resistance is normal, not a sign of rudeness or disrespect). As soon as the dishes are cleared, you can get to your homework/call your friend/go outside." That way, I acknowledge her in a way she can hear (calmly and neutrally), I motivate her instead of threaten her, (If you don't get that table cleared, there will be no TV.) and I expect that she will help.
When this expectation is set from the beginning, helping becomes regular. Resistance is expected and therefore does not provoke my anger. I trust my child to cope with her resistance and frustration, to find time in her agenda to be helpful—but only when I am considerate of her. I trust that I don't have to either forgo what I want and let her off the hook or punish her to teach her to help when she is asked. I trust that her desire to help is natural, and I also understand that her desire to do what she wants will trump what I want every time, because that's natural. She is an egocentric being. The world revolves around her. In order to help her revolve outward toward the needs of others, I have to model that with my respect of her needs and desires—even when she can't have them. I have to allow her to learn to cope with her frustrations.
So "man up" parents! Allow your kids to express their feelings without cowering and walking on eggshells and letting them off the hook because it's just easier (hard I know… I was there!), without stepping in to fix their problems because you can't stand them feeling pain, without threatening them because you don't trust they will learn without the carrot and stick method.
Next Lessons newsletter will be in September. Q&A will come in a couple weeks. Then I'm taking August off from the newsletter.
Bonnie Harris, Connective Parenting
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