Claiming parental lead – part 2

 Last month I wrote about how to supercharge the feeling of love and security your child feels when you respond to his requests, by giving more than he asks for and thereby claiming the lead role in the relationship.  I was asked for more examples of how to claim your lead with your child, and was actually thinking about this tonight in conjuction with my upcoming trip to Israel (less than two weeks away now!).

Right now I’m planning my itinerary for my time there visiting dd16.  We’re both very much looking forward to spending time together, and I’d like to keep the focus on being with each other, not the activity, which is one reason I’m not sharing with her more than the basics of the plan (ie, 1 night Haifa, 3 nights Jerusalem, 2 nights Betar, 2 nights Tzfat/Safed, 1 night Haifa).  The second reason has to do with claiming my lead as a parent: she doesn’t expect me to be planning anything (she already told me she doesn’t care what we do, she’s just happy to spend time together), so surprising her with my plans once I get there is a way of giving more than is sought. 

There’s another aspect of my planning that touches on this topic.  Dd has been there for several months and I haven’t been there for over ten years, so naturally she’ll be more comfortable with some aspects of getting around than I am – she’s used to the buses, has money in the proper currency, etc.   That’s fine and natural, but as a parent, if you can be the one to orient your child rather than vice versa, that’s a good way to claim your lead.  In order to be the active leader in a situation that I could easily default to letting her take care of things, it means doing detailed research from a distance so I know about places and times of activities, bus routes, money changing, etc, in order to be comfortable as the one doing the guiding. 

There’s something really powerful about a child feeling safe and secure with a parent, knowing that the parent can and will take care of whatever comes up, that allows them to relax when they are with you.  Nowadays many kids and parents have switched roles, and the kids are too often in leadership roles (eg, kids in divorced homes who become emotional caretaker of the parent) – but this takes away from a child the security of being able to lean on and depend on their parent.  I can’t always be this for my children, but I try to recognize opportunities that present themselves so I can fill this role as much as possible. 

There’s virtually no end to the possibilities of ways to claim your lead, and it really depends on how your child expresses his wants and needs.  I’m sharing just a couple of personal examples, but it’s just to get your mind going in the right direction.  Look at what your child wants and seek to be the one giving to him in the situation; it can be emotionally giving (like my trip planning, a warmer than anticipated emotional response) or physically giving (a hug, gift, drink of water, help getting dressed). 

Ds4 came to me crying since something that was thrown hit him in the hand, and with a little bit of empathy quickly stopped crying and then asked me to read him a book.  I told him, “I’d love to read you a book!  Actually, I’d love to read you TWO books!!  Run and get two really good books right this minute so we can read together!”  The same idea applies if your child asks you to take her shopping or do some other errand that is important to them; you can mentally groan to yourself and tell her that you’re not really in the mood but you know she needs to go, so you’ll do it.  Or you can recognize that it’s something you’re going to do anyway, and express to her your willingness and desire to spend time with her, or tell her how glad you are that she asked you. 

What if you don’t want to give your child what he’s asking for, either because you: a) don’t have time/energy at that moment; or b) don’t think that it would be beneficial to give it to him?  If it’s a question of your energy, you don’t have to be everything to everyone at every moment!  Let’s be realistic, parents have limited energy!  If you can’t give something that you know is important to your child that moment, tell him that you’re not able to, and tell him when you will be available.  “I really want to do this with/for you, but right now I’m not able to.  I’d love to spend some time with you a little later, after I rest/wash these dishes/put the baby in bed.”  Obviously, the older a child will have an easier time waiting, but even little kids can learn to respect your limits.

If it’s a question of a child requesting something that you don’t feel is beneficial for them, then this isn’t a reason to give it to them!  There are plenty of ways to give to them that will be comfortable for you both, and it’s not responsible to give something they shouldn’t get even if you give to them with a full heart.  Remember that you can and should initiate giving as much as possible, that you don’t have to wait for a child to make a request.  But if there is a request made, try to respond with enthusiasm or in some other manner give more than they’re expecting; this can be a way to make a big deposit with a child, while simultaneously giving your child the unspoken message that you are there for them and they can depend on you. 


7 thoughts on “Claiming parental lead – part 2

  1. While I like this idea and have tried to do it over the years, I’ve hit snags. They get used to whatever I give and then want more. If I sing two songs at night, they expect it, and even ask for three. Same with books at storytime, toppings added to a bowl of yogurt, etc. So how do you manage to stay ahead of the curve?

    1. You can’t stay ahead of the curve by continually upping the ante; you do it by keeping it unexpected!

      A few months ago, I jokingly told my family that if I wrote a parenting book, I’d call it “Deprive Your Kids to the Top”. lol Once kids expect something, the answer isn’t to keep giving them more, but to help them be appreciative of what they have, and to look for other areas that you can periodically give them something special. For example, I make three meals daily, and this isn’t something my kids appreciate as me ‘giving’ to them or showing love since it’s expected. However, when I take my kids shopping, I sometimes get them a treat. But not most of the time so while they may hope for it, they aren’t expecting it. And when they do get it, they’re very appreciative.

      As the saying goes, “Don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” – it’s hard for anyone to appreciate what they have when its taken for granted. Which is one reason my two kids who left home are more appreciative of dh and I as parents than the kids who are still at home – because they see that it’s unusual for teens their ages to have the relationships with their parents that they have. I’m obviously not going to deprive my younger kids of a relationship with me to make them appreciate me more (!), but as far as material things go, I do take a keyed down approach so that they aren’t constantly expecting more and more. And in terms of special things regarding our relationships, I do things that are outside of what they expect, or do what they expect with more than expected willingness/enthusiasm – and then it’s a big deposit in the relationship.

      I want my kids to feel totally loved by me, but I also know that I if they get used to certain things, there’s a point where they become *less* appreciative of what they get, not more. (Classic example is when every year kids expect bigger and better birthday or Chanukah gifts.) So as far as the stories, yogurt toppings, songs at night – you can matter of factly say, “That’s it for tonight! I love you bunches!” And look for other areas to surprise them.

  2. While i think there is a lot of truth in what you have written about taking the lead and giving before you are asked, where do you draw the line? What if your child is asking for things that he/she could simply do him/herself? Is it setting the child up with a sense of entitlement when so many things (for example, getting the child a sweatshirt or blanket when it is in the next room) are done for them? Where is the line between giving more than asked for but also teaching the child to be a self advocate and independent?
    (thank you in advance for your response!)

    1. Chaya,

      Something that helps me to answer your question, in the moment at least, is to think about the person asking as an adult, as my husband, sister, or father, rather than the child in front of me. By getting my sister her sweater (which she hasn’t gotten herself for what I must assume to be honorable reasons), I am showing her that I love her, trust her, value her, and want to do good for her. I don’t think she is learning from my fetching it that she will always be coddled… because if my foot hurt when she asked, I probably wouldn’t get it for her. Same with my kids. Sometimes I can’t… and then sometimes they have a tantrum… but I carefully think about why I ‘can’t’ and try to sort out the ‘don’t want tos’ from legitimate ‘can’ts’ so as to maximize the little loving acts I do for them and fill that ‘love account’ up. If I would do something for an adult, I will do it for my child, even if they are able. There will be plenty of years in their lives, later on when they are older I hope, where there won’t be anyone there to put their socks on… they can learn that lesson then, I think.

      And on another note… how many pairs of socks did I put on and take off of my mom’s feet as she suffered from ALS? My kids saw me doing that, and they also see me putting their socks on… and one day, when I am old, or frail or sick, I think they will put my socks on too, out of love.


    2. Hi, Chaya, welcome!

      A child will naturally become independent when he’s overflowing inside; it’s not something you can force or make happen. So a better question might be, why is your child asking for things he can do himself (assuming it’s constant)? If it’s once in a while, doing for him what he can do himself is a way to build the relationship and show love (just like with adults, as Shira said).

      And if he’s asking for lots more because he feels needier than usual, it’s not the time to teach him to be independent, but to shower him with lots of love and fill up the emptiness he’s feeling inside. When you pay attention to your child’s cues, you can trust that you’ll find the right balance for how much to give and not worry about smothering him, diminishing his desire for autonomy, etc.

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