We parents want so much for our children. We want them to do their best, enjoy success, to be confident in who they are, to find fulfilling work. . . . The list could go on and on. And we often think that we know what is best for our child. Why wouldn’t we? We love them. We’ve known them for a very long time. We’ve watched them struggle. We’ve watched them succeed. We feel as though we have a pretty good idea of what makes them tick. Life would be so easy if our children would acknowledge our expertise and experience, and listen to all the wisdom we’ve accumulated throughout the years. We could then happily guide them through the tricky parts of life and help them avoid the pitfalls we see all around them.
Rare is the parent-child experience where this actually happens, though. It can be so supremely frustrating when we are filled with good advice and wisdom, and our children don’t sit at our feet to absorb it all, and then go out and follow it.
The title of this article makes it sound a bit as though I’m going to let you in on some tips for how to turn this around, how to create a child who hangs on your every last word. It that’s what you were coming here for, I’m afraid you are going to be disappointed. I don’t have the magic formula, and I’m not sure I would share it even if I did.
While this parenting gig has taught me a lot about how to raise children, it has taught me even more about myself. And the sad truth is, I am fallible. I hate to admit it, but there is it. And you know what? So are you. As much as we would like to say we have a functioning crystal ball which gives us good information about the future, we don’t. We can make educated guesses about how something will turn out, but there are no guarantees. This is true in regards to our children as well. We can think we are pretty darn sure about what would be good for them, and have it not be so. The converse is also true. We can be one hundred percent sure that something else will be bad, and discover somewhere along the way that it was the best thing that could have happened.
When we have a child who does not want our advice or counsel, we need to stop and think about why. Here are some questions to consider.
1. Could I be wrong? It happens. Perhaps what you want for your child isn’t really about the child at all; maybe it’s about you. Or maybe your child has changed, and you haven’t realized it. Our tastes and dreams and desires grow and change with us. Are you stuck in the past, not acknowledging the changed child in front of you?
2. Am I afraid to let my child fail? It can hurt to watch our children fail or be disappointed, I get that. But to experience hurt or failure or disappointment in a safe setting is so much better than experiencing it for the first time without a support system close by. A child needs to learn that bad experiences can happen, but parents are still loving and supportive and the world hasn’t ended.
3. What is really the issue? Often when children want to go one way, and the parent wants a child to go another, it is not about the child at all, but about how the parent thinks the world will perceive them as a result. A classic example is the child who doesn’t want to go to college, but the parent is afraid to be seen in a poor light as a result. Or is afraid that the child will not have a fantastic and important career as a result. Or any number of things that are really not about the child. Why do you want a certain path for your child? Is it about him or you?
These are not always easy questions to answer. But if you take the time to think about them, and perhaps discuss them with your child, there is a good chance that your relationship with your child will be strengthened. Understanding and consideration of another’s opinion will do that.
So actually in the end, I do have the answer to “how” all along. Get on your child’s team. Listen to what she wants and desires. Be a cheerleader for those things, as well as the rescue squad to pick up the pieces when needed. Leave your own ego at the door, and ask yourself why this is so important to you. And remember, loving your child, regardless of who he is or the decisions she makes is your first priority. If you start with these things, chances are you will turn out be a much better guide, and your guidance will be more welcomed by your child.