I’ve often heard it said that “parents have to pick their battles.” It’s true. No use battling about eating jello when your child has already eaten their broccoli (Oops…Parenting Surprises & Lesson’s Learned). However, the biggest battle a parent faces does not involve their children. The biggest battle a parent faces involves only themselves…and it is fought on three fronts.
- The first front in this battle involves the memories we have of our own childhood. We remember the emotional hurts we experienced in our childhood and teen years. We project our own teen angst and misbehaviors onto our children and work to save them from the pains we remember. We also remember our own teen behavior…or should I say misbehavior, those risky or disobedient or down-right stupid behaviors we engaged in. Once again, we project them onto our teens and fear they will engage in the same behaviors and experience the same painful consequences we did…or worse!
- The second front in the battle against ourselves as parents involves second guessing decisions we made when our teens were children. We look back and fear we didn’t do enough of something…or too much of something else…or the wrong thing completely. In reality, we likely did the best we could with the information and knowledge we had at the time. And, our children were (and are) resilient enough to overcome a few of our mistakes. In fact, connecting and loving our children will cover a multitude of mistakes (see part three of this experiment in An Amazing Parenting Insight Learned in Three Parts).
- The third front in the battle of parenting is the “great what if.” We begin asking ourselves, “What if my child keeps going down this path?” “What if they don’t do all their homework?” “What if they don’t make the basketball team…or don’t make the school play…or miss the school dance…or…?” The list goes on. Unfortunately, we too often answer the “what if” with the most catastrophic scenarios imaginable.
Each of these battles push us toward fear-based parenting. They push us to set stricter rules so our children won’t “make the same mistakes we did.” Fear-based parenting can even lead to a parent invading their teen’s treasured privacy because “I know what I did as a kid. I know all the tricks. They’re hiding something in that room (or on that phone).” Eventually, fear-based parenting turns dictatorial. Fear-based parents focus on performance and achievement.
Guess what results from fear-based parenting. You got it. Our children become defensive and even rebellious. Teens end up engaging in the very behaviors we tried to prevent through our fear-based frenzy of control, rigid rules, and invasion of privacy. What’s the answer? How can you avoid this? Begin by winning the battle against yourself as a parent—your fear of repeating your past, your fear of making a mistake, and your fear of the “what if.” Move from a fear-based parenting style to a parenting style guided by love and recognition of your children’s developmental needs. Also, remember that your children grew up in a different environment than you did. They had different parents than you. They have different information than you. They might make different choices than you. And when they make mistakes, you’ll deal with those mistakes together. You will take the opportunity provided by mistakes and misbehaviors to love them in spite of their mistakes and to help them learn from those mistakes. Rather than let fears (the fears of “what was done” in the past and the fear of “what if” this happens in the future) determine your parenting response, let love and knowledge determine your parenting response. Let your knowledge of your teen as a unique individual, with unique developmental needs, and a recipient of your unique love guide your parenting decisions.