Somewhere in the melee that often accompanies the holidays, I hope you will find a few minutes to consider how you can develop your parenting skills to have a more fulfilling family experience in 2017.
My Top 4 New Year’s Parenting Resolutions have the potential to make you more intentional, confident, tolerant and grateful parents.
Ensure You and Your Co-Parent (Married, Cohabiting or Divorced) Agree on Core Parenting Values
There is no job more significant and challenging than becoming a parent. And yet…what is a bumpy ride in the best of circumstances will feel like a rollercoaster off the rails if co-parents don’t agree to the core values by which they’ll parent and make decisions.
Here are some examples:
· As parents, we will be kind, honest, respectful and supportive of one another and our children – and we will teach our children to do the same.
· We will not undermine our parenting values in front of the children. If there is a conflict, we’ll go behind closed doors and discuss the situation.
· No hitting. By anyone, of anyone.
· As parents, we have the final say; family rules must be respected.
· Our home will be a safe place, where diversity of opinion and personal needs are valued and honored.
If you’ve been parenting for a while, you may believe you’ve established and agreed on your core values, albeit tacitly. I promise that making the process explicit will enervate your collective resolve to parent more effectively and collaboratively.
Obviously you and your partner won’t agree on everything. Some discord is to be expected; after all, you’re unique individuals. But you do need buy-in on the values that matter most. On less-critical topics related to preference or temperament, you can work out how to accommodate the other’s needs. For example, a stay at home parent might be able to tolerate a lot of noise during the day, but is happy to ensure that home is more serene after the workday for a breadwinner who prefers a quieter household.
Naturally, the parenting conversation will continue as your kids age. But don’t wait too long to think through potential problems. I’m a huge proponent of proactively anticipating how you’ll navigate certain issues.
It’s not necessary to determine in Year 1 what you’ll do (in the unlikely event, of course!) that your son or daughter will come home drunk at 15. But when kids hit age 12 or so, that is the time to anticipate, discuss and agree on how you will react if and when it occurs.
Oh – and make sure you communicate your values and red rules to all your frontline caregivers, including family and paid help. They don’t need to agree with your values, but they do need to abide by them.
Spend Less Time Negotiating Rules and Engaging in Verbal Tugs-of-War with Your Kids
If I see one more mom crouched in front of a 5 year-old trying to understand his or her “feelings” in the middle of a tantrum, I’m going to lose it! When we indulge an out-of-his-mind child in a conversation about feelings, we think we’re meeting his needs, but we’re not. What that child needs isn’t, “Use your words.” He needs support and containment.
Likewise with trying to get your kid to agree that your decision is final. Remember Mateo, the precocious child in the Linda, Linda, Listen video? It’s clear who runs the show in that household – and it’s not Linda.
Bottom line, parenting decisions do not require explanation, convincing, clear rationales, justification or proof of fairness.
“No” is a complete sentence. “Because I said so” is, too.
I’m not advocating being tyrannical. Certainly there are multiple age-appropriate opportunities for conversation about the family rules. And when my kids need an explanation of why, for example, they couldn’t have a cell phone at age 8, I explained why. What I didn’t do was try to convince them my position was right.
Tolerate Mistakes – Yours, Your Co-Parent’s and Your Kids’
One of the most important lessons you’ll teach your child is to accept their imperfections – and to own up to their missteps when they make them.
All of us make mistakes. Sad to say, it generally takes time – and more than a single infraction – to learn how to moderate and modulate our behavior. That’s where kids need our modeling.
A typical “Dana” mistake is overscheduling. I usually pull it off, but sometimes it comes at a cost. What’s important is owning it – and making sure they see me make better decisions about what I put on my plate.
A frank admission from a parent who errs goes an extremely long way toward helping a tween feel understood. It can be as simple as, “I blew it; that was the wrong call. I’m so sorry. I’ll be more thoughtful next time.” The more we can model how to own and learn from our mistakes, the more our kids will have the opportunity to do so themselves.
As our kids enter their teens, the stakes get even higher. At that point, our job is to help our kids think through – and avoid -- what could be catastrophic consequences of their inevitable gaffes. If your teen is the rare one who will never pick up a drink, post an unfortunate picture, or have sex, mazel tov. But since most teens will experiment in those areas, I made sure my kids understood several things:
· If you’re going to drink – don’t drink and drive
· The internet does not have a reliable delete button
· If you’re going to have sex – use condoms or take birth control
· Speaking of sex – don’t do it at a party where someone can videotape you
Tolerating the mistakes of our partner or co-parent? Not so easy, I know. It’s much easier to tolerate one’s own shortcomings – or that of a beloved first-born – than your wife’s or husband’s. What helps is remembering that we love them…and therefore they deserve the benefit of the doubt, too.
Enjoy the Ride
Parenting is the most important job we’ll ever have. Personally, I think there’s nothing better. And I know there’s nothing more challenging.
The ride begins the moment we find out we’re pregnant, start the adoption process or hire the surrogate. That’s often when the fantasy about how our child’s life will unfold begins.
It’s a trap. Truth is, we cannot map out our kids’ lives. There isn’t any advance warning – like the Waze app for drivers – that prepares us for upcoming jam-ups and detours. But the ride can be enjoying and even thrilling all the same.
Some bumps are easy; others…devastating. Imagine a 2nd grader who’s not reading. A 5th grader who is being harshly bullied. A 17-year-old diagnosed with bone cancer.
It’s hard when your child doesn’t following the same trajectory as their peers. Incredibly so. The way to be a fully present and intentional parent is to do all you can to understand the new normal. Live it fully. Accept that it will be a roller coaster. You may not know when the next twist may come, but you know there’s going to be one.
There is no straight line in parenting…and no right way either. When that reality is acknowledged it takes the pressure off. Perfection is an illusion and the Instagram and Facebook stories we are inundated with are a lie. We all have those magical moments when everyone in the house is happy and if our lives could be a reel of those isolated moments strung together (oh yeah, that is Facebook!), we would all think life is grand. But real like is messy and in truth it makes it more fun…and helps to build more resilient kids that can tolerate the inevitable bumps in the road.
I believe that if you do the things that make you a more thoughtful and intentional parent, you’ll feel more confident and enjoy the ride.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!