By Laurie M. Silver, LCSW
One of the most delicate balances to achieve in parenting is the dance between guidance and over directing. Every parent meets this intersection again and again over a child’s early life through adolescence and into young adulthood. When do we offer input? When do we make suggestions? When do we step back and allow our children to decide their path even if it is not what we might have envisioned for them?
Because no two days are ever alike when one is a child or a parent and both parent and child are in a parallel process of emotional and physical development, the answers to these questions are not easy or straightforward.
Let’s start instead at the end, so to speak, and identify traits and qualities we all wish to see in our children.
1) We want our children to have a sense of self
2) We want our children to learn how to make good decisions and how to manage the consequences of decisions that do not turn out as well.
3) We want our children to be authentic human beings.
4) We want our children to have a solid value system.
5) We want our children to find meaning in their lives.
6) We want our children to be confident.
7) We want our children to learn to communicate easily and clearly and understand how to manage conflict effectively.
8 ) We want our children to have productive, independent lives with fulfilling relationships
9) We want our children to be resilient when faced with life’s realities.
10) We want our children to know how to give and receive love.
Clearly our expectations are great and our time to “raise” our children is short relative to their life spans. So how do we most effectively guide our children without directing their path, love them without undermining their independence, and offer constructive feedback without inflicting criticism? Further, how do we let our children teach and influence us as parents so we too evolve and grow in our “job description” as mom or dad.
I collaborate with parents in creating their unique “mission statement” that clarifies and guides their approach to parenting. Working with many parents over the years, I can share that the “job descriptions” are as varied as human beings but the fundamentals do embrace similarities regardless of personal outlook, value system, family background, socio-economic status or culture.
As we work on finding the balance between guiding vs. over directing our children, we must first agree that no one is a perfect parent. We have good intentions. We try. We read, study, learn, try again. We must have compassion for ourselves as parents. We must be willing to apologize, to correct, to redirect and to evolve and grow in the role. When we are willing to take these steps, we model for our children accountability, self-forgiveness, growth, and change, and for children, what we do in our own lives, how we behave and how we live will always be the greatest influence.
Now a few principles for sustaining the balance between guiding and over-directing:
1) Children are inherently wise and if we meet them where they are, and allow them to understand their wisdom, they can use it to forge a path that suits their strengths and interests.
2) Children teach us how to understand them if we will observe and actively listen to them and they deserve to direct their paths just as we did when we were growing up.
3) We best guide when we listen first and offer consistent, positive feedback and reassurance.
4) We need to help children identify what they are feeling and what they need in relationship to those feelings so they can express themselves when they agree and disagree with us and others in their lives.
5) We must get our own childhoods out of the way when we are parenting. In other words, we must parent with as much neutrality as possible so that our children are not required to heal the disappointments or regrets we carry into adulthood.
6) Children can only learn to make good decisions if they are allowed to make other decisions that do not turn out so well and learn from the resulting consequences.
7) If we are reasonable and consistent in our expectations and our messages, our children will be reasonable with themselves and loving to themselves.
8 ) If we allow our children to become who they are and not require them to become “our version” of them, they will have the initiative to be creative and curious and discover their authentic vision of themselves.
9) If we parent our children through a direct lens and not through the lens of other children or other people’s expectations, we gift them with the capacity to accept and understand who they are.
10) Our children can teach us who they are and who they are meant to become if we will accept what they are teaching us with love, gratitude and appreciation for their uniqueness.
Parenting is a challenging and humbling job. Parenting is also one of the most rewarding and magnificent jobs in the world. Go forth and parent with confidence!
Want to learn more about “Teaching Your Children to Find Their Path?” Laurie Silver will be hosting a seminar at The Motherhood Center Thursday, Sept. 22 from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. Please register if you would like to attend.
Laurie Morgan Silver has practiced psychotherapy for 16 years following a lengthy career in broadcast journalism and marketing. She works extensively with individuals, couples and families on a range of topics, all focused on improving quality of life and success in relationships. Laurie launched her mind wellness company, A Day at the Mind Spa, to make mind wellness topics approachable and non-stigmatized. As a psychotherapist and certified life coach, Silver collaborates with clients by understanding their lives and their goals. She practices in Houston, TX and Santa Fe, NM and will soon be launching her blog, Mind Massage. She is the mother of a 28 year old wonderful daughter named Rachel.