Thirty-four years after becoming a mom for the first time, I still remember all the feelings I experienced at that moment. Along with the relief of a successful labor, and the happiness of finally having my baby in my arms, came an overwhelming realization of the responsibility of caring for a helpless human being. Those feelings, along with my parenting approach, have changed throughout the years as my daughters became adults.
Few things spark more commentary than someone who is pregnant or holding a baby. Parenthood practically turns a person into "public property," where family members, friends, and strangers alike feel entitled to share opinions about the best way to raise children – whether invited or not.
However, there is no one perfect way to parent a child. Many factors influence how we educate and nurture our children, such as personal beliefs and culture. One of the few commonalities among all parents, though, is how our roles change as our kids grow.
There is a quote from poet, author, and painter Kahlil Gibran that not only describes a parent's role but also implies a main parenting goal: to raise independent thinkers who can care for themselves. He wrote, "Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you."
Parents’ levels of protection, control, and intervention in their kids' lives should decrease as their children grow. A baby needs constant care and supervision. As years pass by, and the baby turns into an older child and eventually a teenager, parents must allow the child to assume age-appropriate responsibilities and to understand the consequences of not doing so.
The changes in a parent’s role in their child’s lives do not happen overnight – or at a preestablished timeline. It is an evolving process that takes time, consistency, and intentionality. Strategies to help promote a smooth transition include the following:
- Maintain open communication. Talk to your children, but listen to them too. Don’t make the common mistake of planning your answers before your child finishes saying something. Keep in mind that listening to them does not mean that you automatically consent to their requests. However, listening does mean that you stay committed to understanding their perspectives and respectfully seeking acceptable solutions.
- Provide clear and realistic expectations. Explain the reasons for your rules, along with the consequences of not following them, so your child understands the expectations. Remember to have age-appropriate expectations regarding rules and repercussions.
- Be the parent. Your children can have many friends, but only one set of parents. Parenting is not a sympathy contest and very often, you will have to step in and say "no."
- Model good behaviors. Children imitate the behaviors of the adults in their lives better than they follow instructions. Be sure you teach by example.
- Provide unconditional love. Throughout the years, alongside all the learning opportunities and success stories, your children will make mistakes and experience difficulties. Show empathy and acceptance without jumping to save your kid from a challenging situation.
A few years ago, I heard a therapist tell a mother who was dealing with guilty feelings, even though her children were already adults, to stop judging herself. The therapist reminded her that what she had done was out of love and without the intention of hurting them. She did the best she could.
Raising a child is perhaps the most important and most challenging "job" a person can do. Sometimes parenting feels like a guessing game, and we all wonder at times if we are doing it right. Remember to practice some self-empathy and, like your children, learn from your mistakes. Relax and enjoy the ride.