Have you ever thought about what the role of a parent is? It may sound theoretical, but it’s extremely important since how you answer it affects everything you do with your child!
My response to this question is: the role of parents is to mentor and guide their children through childhood and give them the tools to become healthy, self-directed adults. To be healthy and self-directed includes being able to manage and motivate themselves, who know what they want and can take the necessary steps to achieve it, who have integrity between what they say and what they do, and who takes responsibility for their emotions and actions.
This is a lofty ideal and one that most of us would agree with, but the day to day reality most of us are living is that we’re caught up in managing the behavior of our children. We want them to think and respond and behave in the ways that we have decided are appropriate, and we take actions in order to get those results.
If we continue with a ‘dog training’ mentality, we’re going to run into a problem. What happens if we are successful in continually molding our child’s response to every given situation without taking into account what they want?
There are three common responses from children who are raised with a high level of behavioral management:
1) They internally submit to our will and become passive, waiting for the cues of others to determine what course of action they should take.
2) They externally submit to our will but feel inwardly rebellious and look for ways to express that.
3) They externally rebel against our will and clearly act in ways contrary to what we have taught them.
So here’s the irony. The more successful we are at making our children act a certain way, the less likely we are to be successful in helping them become adults who are emotionally autonomous. Being controlled creates qualities and responses in a person that don’t lead to being self-directed.
Is it bad to want your children to behave well, to treat each other kindly, to speak to you respectfully, and to pick up their toys?
No, absolutely not. It’s not the goal that’s the problem but the way you go about achieving it!
But if we’re not aiming for control, what’s left? To just let our kids do whatever they want?
We replace control with influence. Our power as parents lies in our connection with them and being a model of the qualities we want them to have. As we work on ourselves, we can interact with our children from a place of integrity and actively teach them to practice these same principles of self-management that we are modeling.
It’s a challenge to shift from controlling your children to controlling yourself! But this is where the real work of parenting takes place.