#1 I must be in control of my children
Being ‘in control’ of anything takes energy and constant vigilance; it can be exhausting! Your children are human beings with their own personalities, likes and dislikes. It is impossible to be 100% in control of them. You do however, have a responsibility to keep them safe from harm as much as you can and nurture their development. So, instead of trying to control everything from internet access, TV watching, diet and the friends they have, how about prioritising areas of childhood development that really matter to you? Such as:
How much sleep they get
Getting a balanced diet at home
Being aware of key values such as kindness and respect
How to keep themselves safe
#2 I must know all the answers
This is a tough one as it feeds our sense of being ‘not enough’ as a parent when we don’t know the answer to a homework question, or how to advise them with friendship issues for example. Worst still, if it falls out of your comfort zone of topics that are ok to discuss like puberty-related matters, it can make you feel awkward.
Firstly, it is absolutely fine to not know everything; you are not a walking encyclopaedia or agony aunt/uncle! It is fine to say to your child that you are not sure of the answer to their issue. The MOST important thing to do is to hold a safe space for your child to express their concerns. You can promise to look in to the issue after you have spoken, but let them guide your actions.
#3 I am the adult so my children should listen to me
Many of us may have had parents who believed this. In the digital age, young people have more distractions than children of twenty years ago and it is certainly more challenging to get their attention! Young people have become adept at multitasking but there are times when you need or want a quality conversation.
So, it is all about boundary setting. Make it clear when there is a ‘no digital devices’ rule applied (meal times, straight after school for example, walking alongside a road) and stick to it. You can use this time to discuss things that matter. You can distinguish between a ‘need to know’ interaction i.e., regarding safety (there’s a car coming!) or an exploratory chat (how are things? What’s going on? How can I help?)
Children also need to feel listened to, so allow for this space in your relationship and create opportunities to talk and listen.
#4 My children are an extension of me
No they are not!
They are human beings in their own right with their own personalities, talents, hang up and joys. Your job as a parent is to help nurture their individuality and provide support for them to achieve their goals. Of course in that nurturing environment you will transmit the values you hold dear to you as a family and they will be immersed in the routines you have set up as parents. These will all have a lasting impact on your children as they find their way in life; they may build on what you have provided for them or choose to reject it; it is their decision to make.
Take pride in their successes and pat yourself on the back as a ‘job done well’ when your children show themselves as individuals with a strong sense of who they are. Celebrate their ‘epic fails’ to show that it is ok to slip up. It is the human condition; focus on what is learnt from this fail and how the lessons can be applied moving forward (like losing an athletics competition- focus on what happened, does the training regime need to change/be adapted?)
#5 I should automatically command respect from my children as their parent
This is a somewhat Victorian concept. If as a parent you regularly and consistently let your children down by not keeping them safe, not providing food and shelter and neglecting their emotional development, you will quickly be seen as someone who cannot be relied upon and therefore not respected. This does not take away from the familial bond that exists, but respect is reciprocal and will disappear in the face of a lack of respect for your child.
So, the answer is, don’t take that respectful relationship for granted. Show kindness and love consistently and regularly to your children as well as telling them when they have disappointed you in their actions. Set healthy boundaries around your expectations of them and make them clear.
Respect is a two way process and is helped through the actions in #3.