What are your parenting goals?
Hopefully number one is to love your kids. For me, number two is to help them be happy and successful. While this is a totally worthy and noble goal, sometimes it changes into something else, something not so great.
Rather than asking, “How can I love them and help them grow?” my question turns into, “How can I fix these people? What can I do to improve them?”
Now, if I’m a programmer, writing code or controlling a robot, this is great. A tweak here, a few lines of code there, and I can make magic. The problem with kids, at least with mine, is that they are human people. They are ultimately responsible for their own growth and development.
What can I do?
I can’t actually change them. I can’t actually control them. And it hurts our relationship when I try. Parents are mentors, not programmers.
This hits me harder the older they get. My high schooler recently informed me that she wanted to quit piano lessons. I’ve been around the block more than once and I know that at some point nearly every kid wants to be done with piano lessons. I also know that nearly every adult I know who quit piano before reaching a point of proficiency has regrets.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “I wish my parents had made me keep taking lessons.” So, when she told me she wanted to quit, I said, “No.” I thought I knew better and maybe I did. The problem I discovered over the following year was, you can coerce someone into going through the motions but you can’t force them to develop a talent. You can’t force growth.
And I should have known this already.
Could I have helped her feel a desire to continue and progress? Possibly. But I was unsuccessful.
Way back when I was potty training my kids, I learned that just because I was ready for them to use the throne, didn’t mean that they had any interest or ability. And the results of forcing them early were disastrous. Mostly to our relationship.
When you try to control another person, you always damage the relationship.
Most of us know that we can’t control or change our friends or spouses. I don’t know why that doesn’t always translate to how we see our kids. I made these people so I can make them better is maybe the mindset. And it has to stop.
If we think about our kids as individual people with thoughts, goals and dreams of their own, how does that change the way we interact with them?
Rather than forcing them to take piano lessons, maybe we say, “Alright. If piano isn’t your passion, what is? How can we find something productive to occupy your time and help you grow?”
Seeking to fix or control someone is not the same as helping them grow.
It’s good to motivate your kids to grow. It’s right to set high expectations for them. One of your biggest jobs is to teach them. I’m not suggesting that we no longer require them to help out around the house or stay on top of their school work. I am suggesting that we work with them, rather than attaching puppet strings or rewiring them by force.
We could spend more time asking questions than giving commands. Rather than telling them to put their shoes away over and over again, we could have a conversation about goals for the house and ask them what routines they could put into place to help out.
Instead of micromanaging their homework, we could help them develop good habits and compliment them on their successes. Ask them how they feel when they ace a test or finish their science fair project ahead of schedule.
This is all easy to talk about but really hard to do.
For me, the key is paying attention to how our interactions feel. If there is tension between me and my kids, I ask myself, “Am I nitpicking and looking for problems to fix?”
No one wants to be seen as faulty code in need of repair. We’re way more complex than that. And what we all really need is love. So, in this month of love and Valentine’s, err on the side of being too loving and do your best to leave the nitpicking and debugging behind.
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