Friends, family, and clients often ask me the same question – what is the best bit of parenting wisdom and advice I received and can pass on to them? That’s a tough question to answer, as it appears that every family is different, and every child has unique challenges and needs, and yet – there is one universal truth that works in every single instance. Here is the big secret – parenting is all about the RELATIONSHIP. That’s it! Are you surprised? Disappointed? Feel duped? Did you expect some formula to make your toddler’s meltdowns less epic or your teen’s tongue less sarcastic? Nope – you got RELATIONSHIP instead.
Let me try to explain what I mean. I believe that in EVERY interaction, EVERY situation (both positive and negative), you must strive to preserve and deepen the relationship with your child. Now, I don’t mean that you should maintain peace and happiness at all costs – if your tween’s outfit needs to be changed, she won’t be happy to hear this; if your teen is out past curfew and gets grounded, he will howl; if your preschooler hurts someone and has to have a consequence, she will be outraged – and yet in every one of these situations, you, the parent, can act in such a way that your relationship with our child is strengthened and deepened, not frayed.
In very basic terms, you must turn TOWARDS your child and demonstrate to them that regardless of their choices and behavior, they are cherished and valued by you. This might take many guises:
–greeting your child enthusiastically and warmly (without a phone in your hand) after every absence;
–knowing all their friends/teachers/imaginary friends/fictional characters by name;
–making a big deal out of daily happy events;
–making a very big deal out of slightly less daily happy events;
–creating rituals of connection and belonging;
–never making a child and his/her needs to feel like a burden to you;
–no name-calling and never putting down or insulting the child after a mistake or misstep;
–lots of hugs and physical touch if your child likes that;
–lots of little gifts and special presents (not necessarily purchased) if your child likes that;
–expressing gratitude for being a parent and for having them in your life;
–expressing awe at their accomplishments and achievements;
–allowing age-appropriate freedoms which demonstrate your trust in them and their abilities;
–separating your approval from their grades, athletic performance or other accomplishments.
Truly, the list goes on and on. Yes, some are easier said than done, especially when under duress of little sleep and lots of commitments – but (and I promise this), the RELATIONSHIP-based parenting will be the most rewarding part of your and your child’s life. If you want to hear more wisdom on this subject, I highly recommend “Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers” by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate.