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In well-written family stories, parenting is a shared task. I understand that many are single parents. These are people I’ve seen over and over who are in my view, heroes. They have taken on the monumental task of raising kids on their own, and many have been extremely effective. I’ll talk about you, single parents, in the next blog post.
But I want to talk at this point about the two parent families, and how they need to operate. First and foremost, both parents need to understand that each is critical to the success of the parenting enterprise. In many cases, dads in particular have opted out leaving the lion’s share of the parenting to moms. This is a mistake. Kids need to see involved dads. Kids get many things from dads that are important to their development.
Two elements of parenting (whether in two parent or single households) that are essential is the need for challenge and the need for nurture. These two elements are essential, and it is also important that the kids see both of these elements coming from both parents. Let’s look at both of these elements.
Nurture or support means that first, parents are present and involved in the lives of their children. Parents respect their children and pay attention to their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs. Challenge means the parents push their kids toward the edge of their capabilities.
As you might suspect, these two elements can get out of balance. One thing we see in today’s society is what is called helicopter parents, parents who hover over their kids and attempt to protect them from all of life’s ills. These over-nurtured kids tend to grow up without the needed skills to face all the difficulties that life will hurl at them. As I said once to an over-nurturing parent, “If by the time your child gets to age 18, and the only skill she has is how to speed dial you, you’ve failed.” But alas, I’m afraid this is happening all too often today. And these kids often have very poor self-esteem simply because they know they really haven’t done anything worthwhile on their own. A parent was always at their elbow assisting to make sure everything turned out right.
Challenge has to do with expecting your child to meet and negotiate challenges. Some of the most responsible children who grow into responsible adults are those who, for one reason or another, were deprived of a great deal of hands on parenting. Possibly they had a single mom, or their parents were too busy to attend to them much. As a result, they were thrown on their own resources, and had to learn early on how to do many things. As they grew up, they realized that if they didn’t figure it out and do it, it wouldn’t happen.
So kids who are over-nurtured tend to have poorer self-esteems than their challenged peers, and have not developed the skill sets necessary to negotiate the challenges of life. People who have only seen challenge with very little nurture are very self-sufficient, but often there is a core sense inside of them of unlovability. “If I had been a better person growing up, I would have received the nurture and love I now so much desire.”
So, keep in mind, both parents need to provide both nurture and challenge. The classic mistake has been for moms to be nurturers and dads to be challengers. Don’t let this imbalance happen.
We could talk endlessly about the ins and outs of parenting. There are numerous books that can help here. But let me say this, I think for all of us, it would be helpful to be very intentional about the traits we are actively attempting to build into our children, and how we then go about developing these. Take a look at this list:
• Humility vs. pride.
• Delayed need gratification vs. immediate gratification.
• Gratitude vs. entitlement.
• Value of hard word vs. laziness.
• Respect for the other person vs. only monitoring one’s own needs.
• Generosity vs. hoarding.
• Protecting the interests of the vulnerable vs. catering to elites.
• Truthfulness vs. inaccuracy and dishonesty.
• Fair play vs. seeking one’s own advantage.
• Holiness vs. happiness.
• Courage vs. cowardice.
• Do your duty vs. do your own thing.
This is not an exhaustive list. You will undoubtedly want to add to this. But take each one of the desired traits you have listed and describe the strategy to use to instill this trait in your child. You can actually make a three column table: in column 1, put the desired trait, column 2 the undesired trait, and column 3 the strategy(s) you can think of to achieve that particular trait.
As an example, take delayed need gratification. That would go in column 1. Immediate gratification would go in column 2. And now for the strategy. If you know that you tend to give in when your child starts whining about wanting something such as candy before dinner, you will probably need a strategy that attacks the thought process that the child’s unhappiness is ALWAYS a bad thing. Unhappiness, especially when a child is denied something that is patently not good for them, is not a bad thing. He or she will get over it, and you will have set proper boundaries.
What can be helpful at this point is rounding up several parents who have kids roughly your kids’ ages. Tell them you’re attempting to figure out best practices in parenting and you’d appreciate their input. Most, if not all, parents struggle from time to time about proper parenting techniques, and often people around you will jump at the chance to discuss these issues.