Family•Parenting • 7 minutes to read
We clearly live in the age of shared information. When it comes to parenting, as with anything in life, an abundance of resources are at our fingertips for everything we want—and didn’t even know we want—to know. With this comes, literally, “1,001 Ways to be a Better Parent.”
I have noticed how my young friends and family members follow a multitude of “Mama Gurus” and “Parenting Experts” on Instagram and YouTube. They give advice and examples from before birth—birthing rooms and water births—to how to swaddle them right, feed them right (preferably organic), discipline or not discipline them right, educate them right, and get them through a pandemic right.
For all of the benefits it is to have resources and “shared knowledge” at our fingertips, it can be overwhelming trying to get it all, well, “right.” Or at least just to not screw up our kids too much. It is human nature to want certainty about things. But if I know one thing, it is that life is a journey; and one where we’re not given all the information up front. We learn as we go.
In the poem, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, there is a lot that rings true. Sometimes, it’s the simple things that ground us and help focus our attention on what is most important in life—things like: play fair; say sorry when you hurt someone; clean up your own mess; live a balanced life.
When I look back on parenting my three kids, who are now adults, I see a lot of things I “woulda, coulda, shoulda” done differently, but I also see many things that contributed to them becoming the really great (not perfect) humans they are today. So don’t throw the baby out with the bath water (helpful information), but also try not to drown in the bathwater (too much information).
As a lifelong learner, I’m always up for learning more ways to be a better parent. But I’ve also lived long enough to have narrowed my “1,001 ways” theories down to some good strong suggestions. So here are just a few for you.
Stop, Look, & Listen
STOP: Slow down and connect.
Relationship is and always will be the best thing we offer our children.
As a parent, we are often going through our own “stuff,” navigating finances, relatives, maybe even our own addiction or betrayal, and we can tune out, power up, or just miss the opportunity to really connect with our child right where they’re at.
I know some parents who have the opinion: “I am not your friend. I am your parent.” I believe we can be both; communicating to our children that we are more than “just their friend” and relationship with them is of primary importance. This can be communicated in many different ways, both verbally and by our actions.
We can connect with our children in a variety of ways. This includes creating WINS in our relationship. Finding common things we like to do together. Taking an interest in what our child is interested in. Mirroring delight in them and how they are designed. Having curiosity around how they view the world, even if it’s different from ours. Hugging, affirming, and experiencing emotion and vulnerability with our children.
Being a connected parent, is being a safe parent. This is modeled so clearly in Christ, who was safe to the most broken and vulnerable. Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9).
If you did not have a parent who was safe, healthy, or intentional in your relationship, you still have the opportunity to learn. You can change what you hand down to your children, but it may take some extra work, practice, and support to get there.
We often parent as our imperfect parents. Only through a different way of seeing ourselves, through the lens of a safe God, can we pass on this lens to our children.
There is something that each of us wants more than—even more than the air we breathe: Connection.Curt Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul
LOOK: Be curious.
Curiosity and compassion go a long way in parenting. Whether our children are peacemakers who follow all of the rules, or someone who pushes all of our buttons, or somewhere in between, our children are all carrying inner struggles and emotions and want to be seen and valued as an individual. Look for what is underneath the behavior: the good and bad.
I didn’t always get this one right. Sometimes, I thought my strong-willed child was just being “naughty,” disrespectful, and disobedient. I didn’t really know to stop and ask what was behind the behavior. I didn’t realize this behavior was coming from how he experienced life. I learned, when a child is acting out, they are trying to get a need met. This is the same for adults.
There are always many beliefs, experiences, and emotions underneath someone’s behavior. However, it is easy to get into a relationship with someone’s behavior and miss their heart. When I learned about how my child was wired and how he viewed the world, I began to really see him.
All parts of our children (and ourselves) are welcome, even if the behavior isn’t. Some parts are stuck in bad roles. (To learn more about this, listen to Podcast Episode #160—Watch it or rewatch it!)
Start with curiosity and compassion for yourself. You can’t give what you don’t have; so if you aren’t meeting yourself with curiosity and compassion, you will have a hard time meeting your child there. Childlike curiosity can remind us what it was like when we were a child, trying to figure out what the world means and where we fit in it.
When our child is behaving in a way we don’t understand, we can ask ourselves a question: I wonder what he/she is feeling, causing them to act this way? We all desire to be seen and find safety and connection—so this is a good place to start.
LISTEN: Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
It’s pretty easy to be quick to speak and slow to listen. We may need a reminder that sometimes our children just need to be heard, without us correcting or giving our opinion. Sometimes our own emotions get triggered; and fear or shame cause us to want to control rather than connect through truly listening. We may really want what is best for them, but our need to tell or teach them what is best gets in the way of listening first.
I was guilty of this today. My son wanted to process something but it made me uncomfortable, so I jumped to giving all of the reasons behind my own opinion, instead of letting him just share and come to conclusions on his own. I thought I knew better, so I didn’t really listen to what he had to say. Fortunately, I was able to express to him why our conversation made me uncomfortable or fearful and it was really just about me wanting him to have a good outcome to his decision. It helped us get to a place of really understanding each other.
Listen without trying to fix it. When I look back on my kids growing up, I see how, sometimes, I would try to put a bandaid on the outside and miss the wound on the inside that needed undivided attention.
Through the years, I’ve learned that just being available is key, so when my children are ready to talk, I am there to listen. I even remind myself to be slow to speak, by asking good questions. We can say something like, “It sounds like you had a really hard day. How did you feel? Did it make you sad, or more angry?” Or maybe they start to share something with you and you repeat back to them, “So, you were feeling really embarrassed when you didn’t know the answer?”
It’s okay to keep learning all the “Ways to be a Better Parent” but feel free to use some self-compassion and go back to the basics. Just being present and curious for a moment will help you remember to Stop, Look, and Listen your way to better parenting.
Robert Fulghum, (1990). All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. New York, NY: Villard Books. 6-7.
Jenna Riemersma, PD Podcast #160: The Different Parts Of Me with Jenna Riemersma.
James 1:19 NIV