Consider the pendulum… or the seesaw.
From its fixed position of equilibrium, a pendulum’s bob travels from far left to far right over the course of time. The seesaw? As the saying goes, “What goes up…must come down.”
We parents can be similarly reactive to stimuli when we first begin the journey of raising our children… particularly when the stimulus is our own upbringing.
Actually, shifting trends have long governed parenting styles. In the 30s, the authoritarian model (read: “My way or the highway”) was the norm. A generation later, television’s Ozzie and Harriet were prototypes for a super traditional take on family life. In the ‘70s, social and cultural upheaval relaxed parenting standards and upended gender roles.
That pretty much brings us current.
Many millennial parents ― who produce 80 percent of the four million annual U.S. births ― were helicoptered beyond reckoning. You were trophy-saturated, uber-scheduled, self-focused and over-managed. No wonder many of you are doing exactly the opposite of what your parents did when it comes to raising your little ones.
But don’t reflexively take the default position by becoming overly permissive or, if you loved being helicoptered, repeat what was done to you. Instead, be intentional and mindful when making decisions about how to raise your children. That’s parenting at its best.
An intentional parent is an empowered parent. It’s the state I aim for with every parent I coach, every friend I advise and every family member who comes to me for support.
Here are four keys to becoming an empowered parent:
· Know your values
· Build your tribe
· Tolerate your imperfections
· Be digitally smart – and safe
Know your values.
Intentional parents anchor their decisions in their core values.
Identifying your values is simply pinpointing what matters to you from a moral or ethical perspective. These are the guiding principles you believe will help your child become successful, emotionally healthy and contributing members of society.
Once you know what you’re trying to teach your children, you can look at your choices and decisions as basically backfill.
· Want your kid to be resilient? Then make sure you don’t unintentionally smooth every path for them.
· Want them to learn to be responsible? Teach them, through consequences, the impact of their choices. (More on protecting them from online consequences below.)
Build your tribe.
Intentional parents know how important most decisions are, and we want to make sure we are making the right choices for our kids.
A (generally) foolproof way to ensure that is to build a circle of people you trust with whom you can suss out tough decisions. I’m not just talking about professionals, although pediatricians, parenting coaches and doulas can offer great advice. Nor am I referring exclusively to crowd-sourced info via the Internet, which can also be valuable.
I’m talking about including other moms and dads – of all ages – in your tribe.
People whose values you respect.
Relatives whose parenting practices resonate.
Friends with whom you can vet your decisions and talk things through.
Folks with whom you can be vulnerable and insecure without embarrassment or shame.
This tribe will also help you develop confidence in yourself and your understanding of your kids and their individual needs.
Tolerate your imperfections.
Then there are those decisions that don’t work out quite as you had planned.
Every parent makes mistakes. Every parent has failures. If you haven’t yet done so, prepare to join the club before too long.
Successful parents learn to tolerate and accept their imperfections. You’re human, too. I’ll bet you encourage your first-stepping toddlers to pop back up and try again after a fall. Do yourself the same favor. Rather than wallow in worry or regret when a decision doesn’t pan out as you’d hoped, let your hard-won knowledge mobilize and empower you.
Consider your missteps a teaching moment and model for your kids how to recover and retool after a mistake. You’ll be helping yourself – and modeling resiliency and self-love – at the same time.
Be digitally smart – and safe.
In caveman days, parenting mistakes had dire consequences. If parents didn’t teach their children to stay close to an adult, chances are they became lunch for a saber tooth tiger.
As the first generation of digital-native parents, millennials are in uncharted territory when it comes to the impact of technology on parenting and children. In this age, every moment of your kids’ lives could be public record. This gives you an extra parental responsibility to be digitally smart and safe.
While you may have already researched this topic online ad nauseum, permit this digital immigrant and parenting coach to share her perspective – and a few cautionary tips.
· Protect your young children online by being intentional and mindful of the information and photos you post. When they’re old enough (perhaps before, but surely as soon as they get their first device), leverage online parental controls when available – and make sure your kids understand the future consequences of information posted online. That’s not something you want them to learn via “natural consequences.”
· I’m often struck by the highly curated nature of family-related posts and photos on social media. Even the toddler meltdown is curated for ultimate entertainment value! Remember that as parents, we all have beautiful moments…and moments of failure and even catastrophe. Enjoy what you see and read, but be sure to contextualize it so you are less apt to judge yourself by the curated standards you see on sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest.
· If you’re feeling vulnerable about your parenting or you feel depressed after viewing your friends and/or other family’s sites – give yourself a tech timeout. It is counterproductive to compare your kids’ development with what it seems their peers are doing. This is especially true if your child has special needs or follows a non-linear developmental path.
· I totally get the desire to read all the blogs, listen to multiple parenting podcasts and crowd-source parenting advice. Research to your hearts content – but question the veracity of what you view online. There are multiple perspectives on how to parent – online and off. The ones that matters most are yours. You alone know the difference between your child’s cry of frustration and her cry of true distress.
In my parent coaching practice, it often comes down to me reflecting back to a concerned Mom and/or Dad the values I’ve heard them share behind a pending decision. I always tell the parents I coach –Parent in the way that reflects your values. You – and your children – will be glad you did.