“You've gotta dance like there's nobody watching,
Love like you'll never be hurt,
Sing like there's nobody listening,
And live like it's heaven on earth.”
William W. Purkey
I totally agree with Mr. Purkey’s sage counsel. Yet from a parenting perspective, I think his ditty is missing an important line:
“Make parenting decisions like no one’s opinion matters.”
It doesn’t rhyme…I’ll give you that. But it describes an imperative virtually every parent must face when it comes to making pivotal decisions regarding their kids – especially when they don’t align with what one’s family or society deems is the “right” way to go.
Just ask former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson, who lit up the sports blogosphere and social media universe when he pulled his son from the roster of the Nebraska Cornhuskers after Jr. was cited on “suspicion of marijuana possession” in his college dorm.
Keyshawn Johnson, Sr. was vocal, even vociferous, in his avowal that he pulled his son from the program because he was not demonstrating the drive and dedication he committed to when accepting the offer to attend the University of Nebraska. As recounted to the Omaha World-Herald, Mr. Johnson told his son, “If you mature and you’re ready to resume your football career and academic goals, then Nebraska will be ready to embrace you.”
In the meantime, Jr. is back at home and headed to community college for at least one semester and, I daresay, a dearth of parties and extra-curricular activities.
As he should be.
I, for one, sent Mr. Johnson kudos via Twitter (@parentwclarity) for having the courage to pull his son from college until he is ready to maximize the opportunity. What I admire as much as his decision was his lack of concern with what anyone thought: He simply did what was best for his son.
That’s not always as easy as it sounds.
It’s easy to fall prey to the pressure of seeming family perfection on Instagram and Facebook. Some parents are fearful that taking a teen off the same track as their peers will negatively affect their future. Parents can also be unsteadied when a decision isn’t in line with a trusted friend or mentor.
I even surprised myself when I second-guessed my decision to not allow my graduating senior to attend an unchaperoned high school graduation party.
Yet, when it’s your kid’s physical, emotional or mental well-being that’s at stake, parents have to take the road they deem best.
That’s even tougher for parents of seemingly ‘normal’ kids who suffer from behavioral or mental health issues. As one mom puts it, “Some teens and young adults deal with behavioral problems that are invisible; conditions like anxiety, depression, ADHD, drug and alcohol use. They can hide it for a while, but often these kids need outside support or treatment. Many times, they simply can’t keep up with their peers. As a parent, I need to get my daughter the help she needs regardless of whether she graduates with her class.”
That’s intentional parenting – which I believe is the best approach for parents and kids. As I’ve opined again and again on my blog, to clients and to audiences at talks I’ve given, it’s vital that you trust your instincts, and let your values and the outcome you want guide your decision-making.
If you need help sticking to your guns, there are ways to get support:
Build a tribe.
Many parents, moms in particular, gather siblings and friends who can be honest about their parenting struggles.
I heard about a mom who started a support group at her church where parents who were struggling with kids with behavioral problems could get help. And this was more than 25 years ago, when a kid with mental health or behavioral issues was often deemed the parents’ fault, not to mention a great source of shame.
Even though mental health is somewhat less stigmatizing today, some parents don’t feel safe confiding in friends or family. But there are still ways to get support. Meetups for parents of children with disabilities and emotional problems exist virtually everywhere (or can be started easily enough). Al-Anon, which has been around for years, offers help and hope for parents who are concerned with their kids’ alcohol or drug use.
Know thy kid.
Forgive me for ever-so-gently mangling the ancient Greek aphorism (Know thyself), but this is my parenting bottom line. No one knows your kid like you do. Trust yourself. If things don’t feel right speak up. I know the eye rolling can be tedious. I appreciate that teens in particular can interpret our concerns as intrusive, but too bad. Feel free to respond to ‘everything is fine’, with ‘well, they don’t look fine to me’.
One mom said that she finally came to understand that her kids have their own journeys. Family life didn’t turn out as she had hoped and dreamed, but once a parent, her only job was to make the tough calls as needed and support them on their trek.
She and her husband also believe that what their daughters accomplish isn’t nearly as important to them than that they become mature, functioning and good-hearted people. That helped enormously.
Trust and back up your co-parent.
Kids know when their parents are out of sync about a decision – and they will exploit that to their advantage.
Nip that in the bud. You’ll find any number of great tips for how to parent and make decisions as a team online.
Even if you are divorced, you and your co-parent will still need to make plenty of decisions – maybe even more! Remember that children are especially vulnerable during and immediately after divorce. If that’s where you are, you may benefit from one of my early blog posts on this topic.
There may be times when no one else on the planet besides your co-parent agrees with a decision you’ve made. Even if that’s the case, you can feel confident if you’ve made it based on your values and what you believe is best for your child. And by the way, we all make mistakes!
And if you’re parenting with mindfulness, chances are you’ll recognize when a course correction is needed. No shame in that.