I’m fortunate that almost all the comments people leave on my essays and social media posts are positive and kind. I don’t think I write anything particularly controversial but my ideas can be unconventional at times and, very occasionally, someone leaves a comment like “that won’t work!” as if I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.
To give an example, one such comment was left about an essay I wrote called Why We Don’t Need To Teach Values To Our Children. It was about encouraging our children to turn inwards to their innate sense of right-and-wrong when they’ve made a poor decision, rather than criticising them for their behaviour. I wrote –
“…we don’t have to judge, punish and lecture them when they stray from their natural state of Love. Because they already know, in the instant that they do the apparently unloving thing, that what they did wasn’t right”.
I could hear the commenter’s scoffs as I read their words. And I get it – if the measure of “working” is that, after one or two applications of my suggested approach to direct our child inward, they would always make the “right” decision, then, no, it wasn’t going to work.
So, what does it mean to say that our parenting is “working”?
CRITERIA FOR PARENTING THAT WORKS
When I was teaching primary school, we developed a set of criteria for each learning outcome by which to evaluate our students’ levels of success. Essentially, we broke each goal down into smaller components so that we could say very specifically why a child had or hadn’t met the outcome and to what degree. I decided to have a go at writing criteria for my parenting and this is what I came up with.
Parenting that works…
- BENEFITS MY CHILD IN THE LONG TERM, sometimes at the cost of short-term ease. If we simply want things to be easy (which, if we’re honest, usually means getting immediate compliance from our children so we can go about whatever it was we were doing), our tendency is to be over-controlling and to resort to strategies that don’t pass anything of value onto our children except, often, fear of our disapproval or punishment. But, if we repeatedly bypass the work of parenting in this way, we bypass the benefit for our children. Each parenting moment is loaded with opportunities for them to learn valuable skills that they can take with them into life. Examples of such skills are – how to manage emotions, how to have self-awareness, numerous practical skills and the ability to understand another’s perspective. The list is endless.
Consider the example I opened with – criticising and punishing our children for making apparently poor decisions teaches them nothing new. However, helping them to tune in to their intuitive knowing teaches them that they have an internal compass they can check in with at any moment to guide them towards the most loving action.
- NURTURES MY CHILD’S SELF-WORTH. I believe in everyone’s inherent worth but, unfortunately, most of us spend our lives questioning our worthiness. Apart from feeling low, when we feel unworthy, we hold ourselves back in our lives. Keenly familiar with this experience myself, I try to consistently reflect my children’s worth back to them, even in the challenging moments. Because, when our children see that we believe they are unquestionably worthy, they are more likely to believe it themselves.
Back to the example from the introduction – if we use the guise of “teaching them good values” to judge and lecture our children for making a poor decision, it takes them straight to a feeling of unworthiness. When we, instead, teach them something useful (in this case, to turn inwards to their essential loving selves), they feel worthy because we have taken the time to guide them and we are showing them that we believe in them.
- FOSTERS CONNECTION BETWEEN MYSELF & MY CHILD. The quality of our relationship with our children is where our power as parents lies. An authentic connection with our child provides them with things such as the safety to be themselves, the motivation to learn from our example and the willingness to allow us to coach them or to ask us for help. Every interaction with our child is an opportunity to shape our relationship with them and it’s up to us whether we use it to strengthen or weaken that valuable connection.
In our example – when we barrage our children with disapproval & punishment for poor decisions, we separate ourselves from them and, for that time at least, we are no longer the safe place that they need us to be. Their trust in us gets chipped away by our judgement. However, when they see us, instead, putting in the effort to teach them the skills of turning inwards, they feel accepted and that we are interested in them, rather than preoccupied with their behaviour.
BRIEF SUMMARY: GETTING HONEST WITH OURSELVES
I think we often conflate “parenting” with “discipline” when evaluating ourselves as parents. We think that, if we have our kids “under control”, we’re doing a decent job. But you may have noticed that none of these criteria are about how our children behave. They are all about the way we behave as their parents and, especially, our motivations. For me, the extent to which our parenting is working is the extent to which we are prioritising our children’s wellbeing over everything else, including getting our kids to do what we want them to. (Gulp)
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