Becoming Your Child’s Royal Subject
Do you ever feel like your children are the ones in charge? Like you are their royal subject? In some ways, our children do hold a great deal of power. From the day our little prince or princess is born, they begin to shape our life. We sleep when she sleeps, eat when she eats, and change our schedule of activities based on her schedule. Our child’s royal reign does not end as she grows older. Even when she reaches her teen years, we find ourselves waiting up at night (with at least one eye open) for her to come through the front door safe and sound after an evening out with her friends…or, we arrange to eat dinner early so she can make it to the high school football game on time.
Yes, in many ways we become the royal subjects of our children. Really, it’s not such a bad thing. In fact, I believe it is good and right that we become subject to our children in some areas. Don’t get me wrong. Parents remain parents. Parents have to maintain a role of authority…but there are areas in which a parent becomes subject to their children; and, parent and child both benefit from this role. When we become the royal subjects of our children, we learn what it means to “not look out for our own personal interests but also for the interests of others.” We practice the art of “considering other people’s needs as more important than our own.” Consider this example. A mother generally learns the difference between her child’s cry of hunger and her child’s cry for a diaper change. When she hears her tired baby cry for a diaper change, she does not force her baby to sleep or eat. She does not decide that her baby’s need for a nap is more important than the baby’s “expressed” desire for a diaper change. No, a mother becomes her child’s royal subject. She submits to her child’s need and meets that need. Psychologists call this a contingent response: a response that is dependent on the child’s needs…a response that strives to meet the child’s expressed need. When parents become the royal subject of their child’s true needs, she will learn to trust others and develop a trust in her own ability to influence those around her to help meet her needs. In order for parents to practice giving their child a “contingent response,” they must become their child’s royal subject. This involves three things.
· First, as a royal subject, make yourself aware of your child’s needs. Learn about your child and her fears, worries, vulnerabilities, joys, anticipations, and dreams. Discover what interests her and what bothers her. Learn about her daily activities and her upcoming activities. Pay attention to what arouses her fear and anxiety. Notice her moods and what precipitates those moods. Learn how your words impact her and what words elicit the best response from her. Discover when and where she is most likely to talk to you about her daily life. Pay attention to how she responds to you and adjust your response accordingly. In other words, give up your desire to make your child what you want them to be and study the person they are. Think more highly about her interests and do not let your interests dictate hers.
· As your child tells you about her needs, accept them as legitimate. They may seem small and irrelevant to you, but they are significant and often overwhelming to your child. Give up your adult understanding long enough to listen to your child and understand her fear, joy, or anxiety about the situation. Empathize with her concerns and begin to ask questions to help you gain an understanding of her perspective of the situation. Give up your need to be heard and your desire for your child to have a pain-free existence. Instead, be vulnerable enough to accept her need, understand her perspective of that need, empathize with pain, and listen…listen…listen.
· After you have shown your child that you understand the situation from her perspective and you have empathized with her concerns, then you can move into mutual problem solving. Do not solve the problem for her. Give up your need to have the perfect answer and become your child’s hero. Instead, allow her to problem solve and discover a solution with your guidance. You might even begin by simply asking, “What do you think you’ll do about that?” Then, have a conversation about the situation that can help her understand the problem in a new light. Develop a solution together.
Children teach us many things. By learning to have a “contingent response” to our child’s needs, we learn to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard [our child] as more important than ourselves, not merely looking out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of [our child]” (Philippians 2:3-4). In this way, we become the royal subjects of our children so they can learn the best way to live and grow into mature adults.