Parenting

Great parenting tools: Parent the child you've got

Are you raising your kids by a set of preconceived ideas, or the ones that are right for them?

Photo courtesy of Tracy Chappell.

I think 99 percent of us are guilty of it: The kid comparison. On the surface, we’re full of confidence, telling ourselves and everyone else that every child is different and our job is just to let her be her. She’ll walk when she walks. She’ll read when she’s ready. (And yes, she will eventually ride a two-wheeler.)
 
But inside, many of us have that voice. You know the one I’m talking about. While your face is smiling, the voice is whispering urgently, “Did she really say that her son is reading Harry Potter novels and can make his own egg sandwich?” The voice casts doubt on ourselves and our abilities and, worst of all, sometimes on our kids.
 
So I’m here to say shut up! Not to you, my friends, but to that voice. Just shut it down. It’s the same voice that siphoned away your confidence in high school, telling you you weren’t smart enough, hot enough, short/tall/thin/busty/strong/good enough. And you know what? You were. And you still are. You’re exactly enough. If you let that voice dictate one more minute of your life, you’re doing yourself and your children a great disservice.
 
I’ve been reading a little parenting wisdom from child psychologist Dr. Ross Greene (and I’m sure I’ll be throwing more nuggets your way), who provided me with this sentence that I repeat to myself when I need to: Good parenting is being responsive to the child you’ve got.
 
That’s not your sister’s child, or your neighbour’s child or your child’s classmate. Those other kids may do things you wish yours did (or not do things you wish yours wouldn’t), but they’re not your children to raise. Likewise, those parents are not in your house, raising your child, living your life. They will never, ever know what it’s like to be you, so don’t let them get away with it, should they pretend to.
 
Being responsive to the child you’ve got often means throwing away your preconceived notions of the kind of parent you thought you’d be. It absolutely means tossing out the belief that you’re fully responsible for the person your child becomes. It means doing things you swore you’d never do, and standing strong in the face of criticism. It means realizing that some expert advice will just never work for your child. Being responsive to the child you’ve got means starting from scratch and learning to understand her as an individual with her own unique temperament and her own unique needs — and then doing everything you can to meet those needs, rather than expecting her to change to meet your expectations. It means accepting and appreciating her gifts (visibly, verbally, wholeheartedly), even if they aren’t what you’d expected or hoped they’d be. Remember that we don’t get to choose these things.
 
It’s easier said than done. I know this well. In this “great parenting tools” series, I try to be very factual and informative as I cover many simple, yet often overlooked, parenting ideas, but I have to add here that I’ve come to believe we were paired up with our kids for a reason. No matter your struggles, remind yourself that you are exactly the right parent for this child, and that this child is exactly the right son or daughter for you. Then figure out why — by opening your eyes, ears and heart. What does she truly need from you? What are you here to learn from each other?
 
Try devoting your energies to this exploration, rather than focusing on all the things you or your child are not. After all, you know how sad and lonely it feels to believe you don’t measure up. Letting your child know that you see her and accept her and love her exactly as she is, even when it’s hard, lets her know that she’ll always be enough. And that makes you the best parent in the world. 

Have a great parenting tool to share? Share your thoughts in the comments!

More great parenting tools:
Make ’em laugh
Parent like a professional
The family meeting
The egg timer