My son was curled up in the corner of his bedroom at 6:55 a.m. He still hadn’t eaten breakfast, his shoes were who knows where, and we were leaving in 10 minutes. His brother told me they’d gotten into a fight. I said, “Before school is not the time for pouting. Come out now and eat.” He said, “I’m not pouting about the fight. It’s because I’m weird.” I softened and responded, “Son, I’m weird too. What makes you weird?” He said, “It’s my lips.” His lips were chapped because of his face mask and he was embarrassed. Ugh. The role of parents is never easy and in the span of 45 seconds, mine had changed multiple times.
I’m sure you can relate. It’s hard to switch hats over and over again, but it comes with the job. In fact, the hat switching is a pretty big deal. If we don’t play the right role at the right time, we can end up hurting our kids. Here are the 4 big roles and when our kids need them most.
Stephen Mackey, a motivational speaker and character development coach, broke down the role of parents into these big four in a recent talk he gave on axis.org. Axis is an organization that helps guide parents of tweens and teens through the current culture.
Even moms who feel less naturally maternal have caregiving instincts. Parents of children with special needs play this role to a much higher degree, but the caregiver nurtures and protects.
The role of a caregiver sounds different at different phases in a child’s life. When you have a 2-year-old, your caregiver voice sounds like, “Ouch! That boo-boo looks like it hurts. I’ll kiss it and get you a Band-Aid.” When you have a 15-year-old, it’s more like, “Ouch. I’m sorry no one asked you to the dance. I know that hurts. You want to talk about it?”
The role of parents as cops feels pretty familiar to most. It’s teaching and enforcing right and wrong, boundaries, and discipline. This helps our kids know how far they can go to one side or the other without losing the path altogether.
When you’re playing the cop with younger kids, you say, “You can’t take the fish out of the tank to play,” or “Those scissors aren’t for cutting hair.” With older kids, it’s more like, “You lied and told me your paper was done. Now you have to turn it in late, so you lose your weekend privileges.”
The coach’s main concern is preparation and encouragement. A soccer coach can’t get in the game and play midfield; he has to help the player learn the skills of the game and then instruct from the sidelines.
We coach when we potty train, when we show our kids how to shoot a basket, and when we help them develop study skills. And the best thing parents can do in the role of the coach is to love our kids the same whether they win or lose, pass or fail, fly or fall. It’s a great opportunity to love unconditionally and pour words of encouragement into our children.
The best thing parents can do in the role of the coach is to love our kids the same whether they win or lose, pass or fail, fly or fall.
Being the consultant is all about invitation and wisdom, and it requires both. You know this if you have a teenager. We can’t pass on wisdom unless our kids invite us to share it. A good consultant earns trust and then offers advice and direction.
A mom is a consultant when her daughter comes to her to say some kids are passing around a cheat sheet. Mom, in her wisdom, teaches her daughter to recognize the voice within her that will help her know right from wrong.
Playing the Right Role at the Right Time
At different times, we struggle to let go of one role of parents and take on the appropriate one. But we have to, in order for our kids to grow into the fullness of who they are meant to be. Stephen Mackey uses the example of Marlin, the dad from Finding Nemo. Marlin doesn’t want to let go of the role of caregiver or cop to allow Nemo a chance to swim freely.
Nemo told Marlin he was ready to swim farther away, but Marlin wouldn’t listen. So a great piece of advice, if you’re playing a role and getting pushback from your child, is to listen. Ask your child, “Are you not getting what you need from me right now?” and see what he or she says.
Which role comes most naturally to you and which do you have a difficult time with?