I was putting my son to bed last night and talking to him about the day. We were reflecting about something he had done that wasn't great and thinking of ways he could do it better next time. Half way through the conversation he rolled over and said to me 'Mommy, what did I do that was good today?'
I realized I had slipped into criticizing; focusing on the negative and dwelling on the things my son hadn't done well. Sadly, I was so focused on correcting the bad things that I had missed the good. I was parenting him for the future and he just needed me to meet him in the present moment.
Kids live in the moment - unlike adults, they don't dwell on the past or focus on what is happening in two weeks time - they live for now. Our job is to meet them there. So we changed our conversation to talk about all the good things my son had done that day. It lightened the mood and we relived the many fun moments we had had together.
Parenting is a tricky balance between seeing our kids for who they already are and at the same time parenting them for the future. We want to teach our kids to be kind, caring, model citizens, resilient, self confident, emotionally stable, and intelligent - but when we are so focused on teaching these things it is easy to forget to see our kids for who they already are. If we spend time with our kids and meet them in the moment, we are able to see who they are, learn all their different quirks and characteristics and parent from there.
"Take some time to tell your child you like them today, and list the reasons why. Then watch in wonder as they blossom before your eyes. Words of recognition and appreciation to a child are like sunshine and rain to a flower." L.R.Knost
The key here is to be present with our kids, rather than trying to 'fix' them all the time. They are not broken; we don't need to fix them. We need to 'be' with our kids to know what they can and can't do, to know how to guide and mentor them in the best way we can and to really love and appreciate them for who they are.
How do we find the balance? Here are 7 ways to be present, while still parenting for the future.
1. Slow down the pace
We are living life at a tremendous speed. Society deems us to live at this hurried, crazy pace and we are reaching the maximum capacity of the 'hurry up' culture. We are ferrying our kids from one after school activity to another, we are filling in every moment of the day with something and we are constantly in a rush to get somewhere. We are telling our kids to 'hurry up and eat your breakfast', 'hurry up and get your shoes on', 'hurry up and grow up'. If we slow down the pace of our lives enough to take in the wonder and awe of our children, we can see who they really are and nurture it. It is in this down time that we are building the strong, connected family relationships and living for the moment. It is also in this time that we can have fun with our kids and build positive memories.
2. Perfection is an illusion
A lot of the time we are parenting our kids to be the 'model citizen'. We are pushing and polishing them to be perfect and forget that perfection is actually an illusion. We are all human and have our faults and differences - so do our kids. Disciplining can quickly change to criticism and we become critical of every little thing our child does 'wrong'. It is actually OK for our kids to make mistakes and learn from them. It is OK if they only do what we want from them for 80 per cent of the time and aren't perfect 100 per cent. We need to be clear on the traits and values we want to instill in our children from the very start and pour our focus only on them. If we try to guide and teach our children to do and be everything, it won't work.
3. Parent for the future, but meet kids in the now
Kids, by their very nature, live in the moment. Unlike adults, they don't plan every integral time period of what will happen in two weeks time and they don't dwell on what happened a week ago. They live for now and we need to meet them there. We need to connect with them and have fun with them now. A great way to do this is through micro moments of connection. A high five at the door on the way out in the morning, a wink across the table, a spontaneous dance off in the kitchen or a note in their lunch box means much more to our kids than setting up an hour every second weekend to do 'special time'. They want to live for now so join them in it.
4. Say YES more often
Provide plenty of opportunities to have fun with your kids. How often does your child say 'Can we go to the park and get an ice-cream?'. No. 'Can we go on a bike ride?'. Not right now. 'Can we go to the beach?'. Not today. Why not? Because we have filled our lives with so many other plans and arrangements, we run out of time to do the fun things with our kids. Being spontaneous and saying yes allows us to have fun with our kids and live the positives in life. Childhood is so short. My daughter turns 11 in a few weeks and she already wants to be with her friends more than she wants to be with us. She is creeping into teenager hood and thankfully we have snuck in many more fun, 'yes' times that we should have in our time together.
5. 'Be' with your kids, don't 'fix'
Our kids don't need fixing because they are not broken. They are born with their own personalities and traits. If you have more than one child, you know just how different each personality and character can be and while we have a set ideal in our mind of what our kids 'should be like' each one is not necessarily going to meet that standard. Rather than fixing or changing our kids, they need us to be with them and to be there for them as a guide or mentor. They need us to know who they are and build our relationship around that, rather than always trying to turn them into what we want them to be.
6. Disconnect and reconnect
We live our lives connected to technology - we have our iPhones, kids have their iPads, WiFi is everywhere and we are connected to what is going on in our online world. You just have to go to the local park or swimming pool to see this. At a park last week, every Mom was holding her iPhone 10 inches from her face looking at Facebook or Instagram while her child played on the swing, climbed the monkey bars or slid down the slide. There were even a couple of kids that had bought their iPads to the park and were playing side by side on them. We are so connected to technology, and in this case, at the expense of connecting with our kids. Put the phones down at the park and push your kids on the swing. At the end of the day when they are reliving the fun things you did together, do you think it will be watching you on your iPhone at the park? Probably not. This is where the connection with our kids happens - when we interact, when we get involved in their fun times. Not when we sit back and connect with our technology.
7. Don't discipline all the time
Parenting now is a very serious business. When we were growing up, often free-range parenting was how we were raised. We came home when the street lights went on and we learnt a lot of things the hard way. Along the way we became resilient and independent. It seems parenting has taken a full turn in many circles and the term 'helicopter parenting' is rife. We hang too close to our kids and we are constantly disciplining them. 'Don't do that'. 'Don't say that'. 'Don't touch that'. I followed a mother around the supermarket with her toddler in tow the other day and she must have said 'no' and 'don't' 80 times or more. It is reminder to let our kids have some freedom and do some of the learning on their own. They don't need to be controlled by us at every turn. Guide and protect, but don't spend all your day disciplining because where is the fun in that!
I am glad my son called me out on focusing on the bad things last night, rather than looking at the good. Our kids are awesome and we don't need to constantly tell them how to do things the best way but learn to appreciate them for who they already are. My son's lesson to me: Parent for the future, but please live with me in the moment.
Anna Partridge is a parent educator, school teacher and mother to 3 children. She helps parents raise confident and resilient kids through the positive parenting philosophy. Anna writes articles for her blog, www.annapartridge.com and is a regular contributor for The Huffington Post. Learn more about Anna and how she helps families find the balance here.