All over the internet, people are offering us “hacks” – bio hacks, food hacks, life hacks… They’re touted as clever ways to solve the problems that slow us down and inconvenience us. Some are genuinely useful. But the fact that “hacking” is now part of our everyday lingo, no longer solely the domain of tech-geniuses up to no good, probably tells us something about ourselves…
What has me particularly concerned is the idea of parenting hacks.
There’s no such thing as a parenting hack. When it comes to children, whatever the challenge is, there’s no one trick that will work for all children in all contexts. But, more importantly, relationships cannot be hacked.
My relationship with my boys is the core of my parenting. Building mutual trust, respect and attachment requires intention, time and work. Like a house constructed brick by brick, if short cuts are taken as it’s built, the strength of the structure is compromised. And, also like a house, my relationship with my boys requires ongoing maintenance. I have to continually put effort into our relationship to keep it in good shape.
This is the work of parenting. Parenting hacks typically encourage us to bypass the work of relating to our children in order to make life easier for ourselves. And, when we take short cuts, we also bypass our children’s needs – needs such as to be respected, to feel securely attached to us, to learn life skills and for emotional regulation & security. Most parenting hacks aren’t clever at all.
Examples of Harmful Parenting Hacks
Don’t get me wrong, I love practical tips to make mornings run more smoothly (make lunches the night before) and stop ice-blocks dripping everywhere as toddlers eat them (put the stick through an upside down coffee cup lid). But these are not parenting itself. The hacks I’m referring to are generally about controlling or manipulating our children so that things go our way. The motivation isn’t too dissimilar to those of an online hacker. Here are a couple of examples of the kinds of hacks I mean –
Hack example 1: Carrot and sticks strategies, such as “If you don’t do your homework, there’s no desert for you tonight”.
A child who loves their bowl of ice-cream after dinner will do their homework in order to get their desert and the parent can tick “homework” off their evening to-dos. However, the child learns that homework is a path to approval and ice-cream. They also learn how to manipulate others through bribery. The opportunity here is lost. The opportunity for the child to value their learning and feel the satisfaction of completion, for example. The child would also most likely have done a better job of their homework without desert beckoning them to hurry up and finish it.
Hack example 2: Lying, such as telling our children that a medical procedure wont hurt when we know it will.
I can understand a parent doing this to keep their child calm so that the visit to the doctor’s office doesn’t turn into a dramatic ordeal. But this lie saves no feelings and no pain. Being lied to feels horrible, no matter our age. We feel disrespected, that the liar doesn’t care about our feelings and, most of all, that they can’t be trusted. Also, this hack is going to backfire in the long-run because the child will be even more terrified next time they have to go to the doctor’s since they can’t rely on their parent’s explanation of what’s going to happen. The truth would’ve given the parent an opportunity to teach the child how to manage their fears and get through challenges. Most importantly, it would’ve preserved the child’s trust in and connection to their parent.
Parenting that works, is parenting that works for my children, not a collection of strategies that make life easier for me. Whether we’re talking about parenting or something else, life is in the WORK and I’m willing to roll my sleeves up.
PARENTING HACKS: IN A NUT SHELL
When I think of a “hacker” I first think of a person undermining another online. Do I want to undermine my children?
Synonyms for “hack” given by dictionary.com include “mangle” “haggle” and “cut”. It’s sounding pretty ruthless now, isn’t it?
I get that we parents all take short cuts in desperate times and I couldn’t say that I never try to hack a situation. But my main goal isn’t to remove as much friction as possible by utilising as many hacks as I can. The friction has a job to do – to grow me and my children.
For me, it comes back to my willingness to really show up for my boys and the job of parenting them. I will not hack their childhoods.
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