When my boys were two and five, I felt ninety-seven years old. I was short on sleep and always overwhelmed. For a few years, my wife, Gwen, and I sat on different couches in the evening and mostly snapped at each other when we did speak. I wondered if there was a better way.
I read books, watched countless videos, and attended workshops, seminars, and trainings. I expected to find tools or a set of rules that would save us. I expected someone to tell me how best to parent. Instead, I discovered how to tune into my own parenting instincts and, equally importantly, to give my kids a little space, to accept help, to relax a little bit, and to forgive myself when I mess up. This has made all the difference. More specifically, I learned to . . .
1. Stop Talking: This one comes from Adele Faber’s classic, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. When your kid is upset or comes to you for comfort, follow this simple template: a) listen; b) nod your head, occasionally saying “Mmm”; and c) repeat back what you’ve heard. For example, “[listening and nodding] Mmm . . . [more listening] He took credit for your idea? [more listening] That sounds frustrating.” Try this and you’ll see. It’s magic. Previously taciturn tykes and teenagers will turn into chatterboxes.
2. Give My Kids Some Space: Simplicity Parenting author Kim John Payne offers, “Relax a little bit. Give [your kids] just a bit more space than you think you can.” This makes good sense to me. When my son comes home from school with tear streaks on his eyeglasses, I want to grill him, find out what the problem is, call his teacher, and work it out. But when I ask about the tears, he resists me. He wants to work it out on his own or let it run its course. He needs me to give him a bit more space than I am comfortable with, space to sit with it. Space to build his emotional muscles. Space to figure it out on his own. Forcing my way in only meets my needs and soothes my anxiety, not his.
3. Go Free-Range: Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids, is hell-bent on showing parents that the world is not as unsafe as we think. Her self-proclaimed cause: “Fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers . . . baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.”
I disagree with her about the nonorganic grape. But otherwise, I’m on board. Maybe kids are not as breakable as I thought. Could it be that my anxieties about my kids falling from a bicycle, eating cookie dough, and getting hurt on a trampoline are more dangerous than a scrape, occasional bellyache, or even twisted ankle? Maybe fearing nature is actually more harmful to health than an occasional bee sting? Maybe as I come to realize how strong my kids are, they will start to believe it, too.
4. Accept Help: This may well be the key to a healthy marriage and good parenting. If you can find in your budget an extra $30 a week, try hiring a biweekly housecleaner and a kid down the street to mow the lawn or shovel the walk, and spend the rest on a babysitter so you can get some dinner and have sex. You’ll be right back on your honeymoon in no time. Tight on cash? No problem. Just set this up with neighbors as a trade. Share the labor and save the money. You might even save extra cash, realizing that you no longer need your couples’ counseling.
5. CTFD: For this one, we have to thank Dad blogger David Vienna and his CTFD approach, which stands for “calm the f*ck down.” According to Vienna, when you are worried that you are not imparting enough wisdom to your children or that your son’s friend has already learned to read, “Just follow these simple steps:
1. Calm the f*ck down.
2. There is no second step.”
6. Forgive Myself: We don’t need to model getting everything right. That would be too neurotic. It’s okay to mess up. We just need to model taking responsibility, apologizing for our mistakes, and forgiving ourselves. After all, kids learn from what we tell them, sure. But even more, they learn from what we do. So if we can do this, if we can forgive ourselves, well, then, our kids will likely learn to forgive themselves. And that would truly be something worth passing along.
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