Where do we learn our parenting skills?
Most psychologists agree that we learn by seeing how our parents prepared us for adulthood. There are so many different styles, methods, ideas, and ways of dealing with your children on a day to day basis that most of us learn to fly by the seat of our pants and don’t delve into the newest parenting book on the NY Times Bestseller List.
I remember when the twins were babies that the “in” thing to do was to “Ferberize” them. This meant evaluating their need for food during the night based on their age and weight. If they were over a specific age and weight then it was time to let them “cry it out” so they could learn to sleep through the night.
Today, this sounds a bit barbaric to me. But, in a sleep deprived state, my brain thought that method of getting rest was just what the doctor ordered. In fact, my pediatrician ordered just that.
I sat outside my daughter’s room for 3 nights as she cried for her momma, while I was in tears outside the door. She was a particularly persistent child. My son learned in one night. She took three. It took me weeks before I could forget the crying and decide that no matter what any doctor said, I was the best judge of what my children needed.
I had a friend at the time who used a method of parenting she learned from a book. Her children appeared to be incredibly obedient in public. But, when we visited her home the chaos was as great as it was at other homes. The methods she used seemed a bit harsh to me.
Another friend had a teen who totaled 3 cars before he was 18. They replaced the car each time for him and told me it was never his fault. After three totaled new vehicles I would have thought that something might have clicked for them. ONE of those accidents must have been his fault!
So what is the best way to raise our children? Is it being permissive and open with them? Should we be very strict and expect more from them than society does? Are we their friends or their parents? And what exactly does being the parent really mean?
After years of raising four children, starting three businesses and watching my friends I’ve come the conclusion that I still don’t know.
But, while I don’t know the ultimate answer, I have uncovered four factors that helped me.
- Each child requires different kinds of attention. Until my oldest children were 12, all four were treated pretty much the same. But it was that year that I read The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman and learned that each of us interprets love in different ways. It made sense that my children had the same experience. When I looked at them through that lens I discovered that Nicholas loves to be hugged, Megan values the time she spends with me, Zachary thrives on having things done for him and Gabrielle wants quality time with mom.
Once I got it, they started feeling more loved and cared for, and became more independent. It was like a light suddenly opened up in our home and it was an incredible blessing.
- Building their strength made them better humans. When my babies were first born I used to laughingly say that I signed up for bottles, feedings, diapers, illnesses and sleepless nights. But, I didn’t want to deal with driving, dating, sex, drugs, or alcohol. Thankfully my kids didn’t listen and they continued to grow up.
Somehow I was going to have to make it through the teen years. So far, I’m through three of them. Although they’ve turned out fairly well, I’m still not looking forward to the fourth one and her teen years.
Each child has a different set of strengths and weaknesses, just like our friends, ex’s and ourselves. When we play up to the strengths, we create a stronger child. These children grow into stronger adults.
Psychologists call this strength-based parenting and point out that this type of parenting increases the resiliency children have as they grow older. They get through negative circumstances better, have less stress and become better people. The idea is to help them THRIVE.
- Making the rules clear, cleared the way of potential problems. I have five rules in my home. The children grew up knowing those five rules. The unfortunate part is that although they knew them, they weren’t always enforced. Of course, knowing the rules is important. If you don’t know what’s going to happen, then how do you know what you should do.
But the flipside of that same coin, is knowing the rules and enforcing them – those are two different issues. My kids knew the rules, but mom didn’t always enforce the consequences. They learned that if they waited long enough I’d probably relent or forget. It has been a challenge for me to learn how follow through!
- Working from the end backwards. Anytime I started a business I worked from the ultimate goal, backwards. If I wanted to open a new membership I started with whether there was a market, how to communicate with potential new members, the product I had to produce and how I should deliver it.
Why is it we don’t think about approaching our children or our other relationships with the same attitude? Somehow I thought that it would just all turn out in the end. It doesn’t! Children are a project and if we don’t spend time planning the project – how to address issues, grow their strengths, guide their morals and ethics – we have planned to fail.
The end result might not turn out too badly, or it could. Planning takes some of the risk out of the future. Flexibility is also necessary, since not all children will respond well to the consequences you use.
My middle son is a talented basketball player. But I’ve found that he blossoms under some coaches and not so much under others. Some coaches believe there is just one way of motivating players and they use it for the entire team. Nicholas is just like all other players and other people, he’s an individual and needs individual attention.