This week, I heard a viral recording of a hilarious high school answering machine. The options for the parents to choose in the recording were ridiculous. Some of the options included were, “To make excuses as to why your child did not do his homework, press 2” and “To request another teacher for the third time this year, press 8.” The teachers of the school unanimously voted for this message because they were just fed up with the parents’ demands. While the answering machine recording is funny, it is also convicting. Once you have a child, it is tempting to lose your mind and become one of the many overprotective parents.
If you feel like that is you, just know you are not alone. The face of parenting has changed in America over the past couple of generations. Our culture has become extremely child-focused, and some parents find themselves losing proper perspective on their children and what parenting should look like. The following guidelines can help you maintain your objectivity and take a balanced approach to raising your kids without losing your mind.
1. This is not your second childhood.
Have you ever watched one of those reality shows with the pageant moms or the sports dads who are way too invested in giving their child a competitive edge? Do you ever think, “Who’s competing here: the parent or the child?” Occasionally, we try to capture via our children the glory or success we feel we missed out on in our own childhoods. But that’s a recipe for disaster because the success becomes the goal, rather than the development and maturation of the child.
If you’re tempted to get too wound up about your child’s successes or failures, ask yourself honestly: “Am I motivated by how this makes me feel, how it reflects on me as a parent or is it about what is best for my child?” If you can gain a little emotional distance, you’ll parent with greater wisdom.
2. Don’t get things inside out.
I once saw a school slogan that read “Preparing the Child for the Path, not the Path for the Child.” It helped me to realize that my job as a parent is to teach my child how to deal with a world that is not always fair, is not always nice, and is not always right. Too many parents today spend more energy trying to rearrange the world to suit their child than in training their child on how to deal with the adversity presented and overcome it.
The next time you’re tempted to complain to the school about the rule that your child was caught breaking, or call the bully’s mom to tell on him, realize that there will always be rules we don’t agree with and must follow, and there will always be bullies in the world. You’ll never be able to eradicate them for your child, so the wiser course is to teach him how to handle them with integrity and maturity.
3. Don’t love them to death.
Sometimes our excessive focus on our children—which we would surely call love—feels like pressure to them. Be glad when they succeed and concerned when they struggle, but your personal happiness shouldn’t rise and fall based on what’s going on with your child. That’s too much pressure for anyone, especially a kid. Some children will even push back from this type of expectation by rebelling and going in the opposite direction. Love them and care for them, but don’t make them the center of the universe.
4. Recognize the value of the disasters.
If you realize that your job is to prepare your child for life—which is full of joys and disappointments—you’ll handle those big crashes in a more productive way. If she didn’t get a part in the school play, help her learn how to get back up and try again at the next audition—because she’ll likely have to recover from a similar let-down in real life. If he doesn’t make the team, it may be the very thing that motivates him to work harder in the off-season to improve his skills for next year. A child who never has to navigate some heartbreak is a child who’ll go into the world unprepared. It’s your job to know that, and parent accordingly.
For the school’s answering machine recording, listen here.
Tell us! When is it hardest for you to back off from your child’s life?