In the last Simple Family post I proposed the idea that as parents, we are responsible to our children, not for them. I’d like to add to this idea.
As parents, our main responsibility TO our children is keeping our cool. When a parent over-reacts, displays knee-jerk reactions, or simply flies off the handle, this creates an unstable environment for all involved.
If however you remain calm in the face of anxious moments, you increase the likelihood of being guided by your deepest principles, rather than emotional reactivity, which is more tied to your deepest fears.
For example, your teenage daughter is two hours past her curfew and you being the concerned parent are waiting up for her. As the minutes pass, your care and concern more likely is experienced as worry and fear. As she appears through the door, how are you most likely going to greet her?
Many parents would erupt into a monologue covering how late she is, how much trouble she has caused and when she should expect to leave the house again – which will be many months away.
Now you may think you have every right to react this way. But is your monologue in line with your deepest principles? Are you really conveying your love and concern for her well-being?
What if you reacted this way as she entered the house?
“Honey, I’m so glad your home safely. I was pretty worried when you did not arrive home by your curfew. It’s been a long night, and now that you’re safely home, I’m going to bed. We will discuss the consequences of your choosing to arrive home late in the morning. Good night honey (kiss on the forehead).”
Which expresses your love and genuine care for her safety?
By living more from your deepest principles, you increase the chances that your children will choose to follow them as well.
You also create space for them.
Space to be in charge of things in their own life. To make their own choices, and to live with the consequences.
By granting your children more space, which happens by default as you have less emotional reactivity, they learn better how to handle themselves. Their choices and its natural consequences.
Now I can hear you already bringing up the age appropriateness of this idea. And while I can understand your argument, I also believe that the giving a child his/her own space begins when they are very young.
My 2 and 4 year old have learned the best lessons when my wife or I did not shelter them from the natural consequences of a choice. Granted, if it is a safety issue, shelter away.
My son learned very quickly how to cautiously climb some furniture, and which furniture not to climb, after he fell off the couch. Now he may have learned this same lesson by us explaining to him all the things that could happen were he to fall off the couch, but not near as well as actually doing it.
Living, and parenting, according to your deepest principles involves you handling yourself and your reactions more. But when you’re able to react less in the moment, you’re going to get your principles across far better than blowing up and having to pick up the pieces later.