Photo by Sono Tamaki
Last month we explored putting yourself first for a healthy marriage. This time, we’re going to explore where you are in relation to your kids.
The greatest thing you can do for your kids is learn to focus on yourself.
Let me repeat – the greatest thing you can do for your kids is learn to focus on yourself. Now before you throw stones, hear me out.
Who would you say is in charge in most families? Is it the parents, or the kids? In America, the answer is the latter. Take a look around at the cars as you drive down the road. The stickers plastered on the back window and bumpers tell the tale of child focus as the latest status symbol in America.
Our culture broadcasts our Trophy Kids similar to the same way we broadcast our affluence by wearing labels with someone else’s name all over our clothes.
Think of the time spent running kids to and from one event to the next. Days are filled with events geared solely for the kids. Family life in America has moved from “Children should be seen and not heard” to “No adult conversation possible.” And the kids know it, too.
Who’s in charge? Who gets their way? What is the organizing force in typical American family life – the life of the adults . . . or the kids?
So it is absolutely possible that there can be too much focus on the kids. And it’s this over-focus that is harmful to them, to the family – and to you. The kids that function best in life – in relationships, in education, in careers – are the kids that were most free of child focus during their growing up years.
Child focus is often negative – it’s the scapegoated kid who can do nothing right. Sometimes it comes across as positive – it’s the golden child who can do no wrong. The results of either kind of child focus are a lifetime of struggle. The kid left to find his or her own way (and by that, I don’t mean absent of affection or neglected) is the one best prepared to deal directly with life.
You’ve been here with me. I was walking down the aisle of Target with my 3 and a half-year-old, and something caught her eye. I don’t remember what it was, but it must have been pink and princessey. She made sure I saw it as well, and then the negotiations commenced (it’s amazing that a 3-year-old is such a good negotiator).
So here I am, battling it out in the courtroom of the Target aisle. And it’s starting to intensify.
“Honey, put that back, we’re not going to buy that toy.”
“But I need this daddy!”
“No honey, you don’t.”
And we’re off. You know where this is heading. The tears soon follow (from her, not me, though there are times I wish I could), and the tantrum pressure cooker is warming up. I’m feeling trapped.
Add to this the pressure building inside myself – I’m a licensed family therapist, and my skills are now on display for all of Target to see.
What the kids need at a moment like this is a parent who can keep his cool. A parent able to calm himself down allows a child to explore his or her full range of emotions without spiraling out of control.
Many of the blow-ups between a parent and child is the result of parents who lose their cool. When a parent reacts at the level of a child, it’s bound to go bad.
Photo by Dominic Sayers
What do you do to be the parent in the relationship?
1. Focus more on yourself. This is not at the cost of your children, it’s for your children. When you are at your best, you are able to give the best of yourself to others.
2. In tense situations, do what you need to calm down without taking it out on the kids. Start by taking several deep breaths. Get a drink of water. Walk a short distance from your child, or to another room and calm down.
Not every situation needs to be addressed immediately. In fact, one of the great tools for misbehavior is the delayed consequence. This gives you time to calm down and think things through. You might even talk to a few friends about an appropriate consequence for the given situation. Meanwhile, your child can think about what’s to come while the weight of the bad choice increases. This works especially well with older kids and teenagers.
3. Let the child handle more of their own problems. When a child comes to you needing help with their homework, what do you do? Do you do it for them? Part of growing up is dealing with struggle – learning to accomplish any task takes effort and work. Homework is supposed to be difficult. The more a parent clears the path for their child, the more that child is unprepared for the real world. It’s important to be alongside them through their struggle, but as a support, not a snowplow.
4. Let natural consequences teach the lessons. Give up the goal of being liked by your kids – parenting is not a popularity contest. It’s not for wimps – it’s a sacred charge to be in charge. Let the consequences do the screaming. They didn’t do their homework, so let the low score teach the lesson. Meanwhile, you are an understanding and empathetic ear for them to talk to. You get to support them, but not necessarily their choice.
What does this look like in your journey as a parent?
Corey is a husband, father, writer, speaker, and family therapist. He believes you can get more out of marriage. That’s what his blog, Simple Marriage is all about. Corey has been married to his wife Pam for 15 years and they have 2 kids. He has a Ph.D. in Family Therapy, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Professional Marriage Coach.