Absolutely no other relationship in our lives compares to the one we share with our children. As a Dad, I was totally unprepared for the love that I would have for my son, which is unlike any other type of love or relationship I have in my life. As soon as you become a parent, you have an automatic tug on your heartstrings and you know the definition of unconditional love. We feel, live and share all of the emotions our children experience; their excitement, their happiness, their hurt, their disappointment. Being a parent can be an emotional rollercoaster of many highs and the occasional low.
There is absolutely no doubt that parenting is the hardest job that any of us will ever do. Some days, being able to leave home and go to our paid job is a much easier and less challenging option. Parenting is a job that comes without training, a manual or any preparation for what is ahead for us. It is also a job which is constantly changing and, just when you feel that you may have mastered the parenting skills needed for a particular age group, children move into the next stage of their development and we are left facing a whole new set of experiences, issues and problems, which we didn’t see coming and which we were not prepared for!
Coupled with this, we live with the continual judgement of others about our parenting decisions, especially from our own parents who often remind of us of how they parented us.
So, what can we do to make parenting just that little bit easier for each of us? Here are a few tips you might find helpful:
- Accept your child for who they are
Our children may be very different to us in many ways; personality, ability, social skills and interests. Over the years, I have observed many parents with very strong ideas about the type of person their child will become, the subjects they must study, the results they must achieve, the activities they will participate in, and the job that they will do in the future. All of these beliefs come from a good place of love and concern for our children, but sometimes our definitions of success may not be aligned with those of our children. Knowing your child for who they truly are, and then accepting them for this, is the key to success for our children. They will be most successful in life when they follow a passion and do something which they truly love rather than something which we, as parents, think they should do to be successful.
- Set realistic goals for their achievement
Their levels of achievement may be very different to our own or their siblings. Having high expectations of all our children is vitally important. However, there is a big difference between high and realistic expectations. When setting expectations with our children, we need to ensure that we are setting them up for success by ensuring their goals are attainable.
- Don’t expect your child to be perfect
Part of growing up is about being able to make mistakes and then learning from those mistakes. If we always expect our children to be perfect and we overreact when they make a mistake then our children will be afraid to try new things for fear of making a mistake or getting something wrong. Likewise, when our children make mistakes they need to accept responsibility for their choices and decisions. As parents, we shouldn’t make excuses for our children when they don’t do the right thing or constantly attempt to solve their mistakes or problems for them. The greatest learning takes place when things go wrong for us or we make a poor choice and we have to reflect, evaluate and rethink what we have done. If we constantly rescue our children then they miss out on so much vital learning. Although we have the very best intentions of helping our children, we are actually disabling them if we always solve their problems for them.
- Be there for them
Often, the greatest gift we can give our children is our time and attention as we just need to be there for our children when they need us. Our children may need us at the most inconvenient times, as they don’t plan their crises around what works for us! The most important support we can often provide our children is just to listen and to let them vent. Often, they don’t require anything more from us than to listen and then to help them to work out a solution for their own problems. Our children need to know that they can vent with us and that we are there to listen. They don’t need us to take control of the situation or to fire off a heated email. Instead, they need us to react calmly to what they are sharing and to provide them with advice on how they can solve and deal with their own problems, whilst ensuring that we don’t try to fix their problems for them. Over the years, I have received many very emotive emails sent from parents in reaction to their children’s venting when all their children wanted was to be able to vent to them. We all need safe people in our lives who we can let off steam with, without the expectation that they will actually do anything about what we have shared. The best advice I can give you is not to send an email as soon as your child has told you something. It is often best to sleep on the situation and wait until the next day to see how your child is feeling. With time and a good sleep, many situations resolve themselves or don’t seem as serious as first thought.
- Avoid overreacting
Our children can have a very unique way of ‘pressing our buttons’. Try to avoid overreacting to the small irritations in life. Although it may be difficult, try to remove the emotion from situations and deal with the facts in front of you. My worst parenting moments have been when I have let my temper get the better of me. If you can, it is sometimes better to leave dealing with a situation until you are calm. If we react in anger this often dilutes our effectiveness and our children then focus on our anger or our reaction rather than what they have done. How many times have we heard, “ I don’t know what your problem is” or “ you always get so angry over the most stupid things” when your child has done something wrong? They have a great ability to blame you for the situation they have created.
- Make time for yourself
It is important that as parents we have a life of our own, independent of our children. Far too often, I see parents living their lives vicariously through their children. Let your children live their own lives and have time to yourself. We all live such incredibly busy lives that as parents we sometimes feel guilty when we have “me” time. We all need “me “time in our lives, and sometimes the best thing for our children is for them to see that we have a life of our own, independent of them, and they will hopefully realise that life doesn’t always revolve around them. Before we know it, our children have grown up and they don’t quite need us as much (even though they may still be living at home and being supported by us for many years!), so we need to maintain interests and friendships of our own so that we can cope as they transition to adulthood.
Don’t worry, there is no such thing as a perfect parent and we all have some days which are much better than others. There are very few guarantees in life, but I can assure you that every single one of us has to continue to work on our parenting skills and this will be a lifelong process. As parents, we have to also accept that we will make mistakes and we won’t always get it right with our children – and that is OK, as long as we learn from our mistakes. I also don’t think it matters how old your children are as you will always worry about them. My dad, at 80, still worries about me and tries to solve my problems for me, and he is still telling me what to do!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Hemphill is the Head of High School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.