Do you remember that famous quote from the movie Forrest Gump?
“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get.”
I am going to go one step further—families are like chocolate chip cookies. There are a million different recipes that all taste good and “work.” You just have to find what works for your family.
Parenting is hard. It is the single most important job we could possibly have, yet there are no “How to” books available. No college offers a bachelor's degree in parenting. I have never seen a “Parenting for Dummies” book, have you?
One reason why there are no instruction manuals for raising kids is I believe, in large part, because there is no one “right” way to parent. There are so many different parenting styles, parenting philosophies, and discipline management techniques. There are probably just as many theories on how to be a good parent as there are people in this world. Each unique, just like our very own fingerprints. What works for one family may not work at all for another. Personalities, life experiences, individual dispositions, belief systems, strengths and weaknesses all come together differently to create a unique set of family dynamics.
All cookies, like families, have the same basic set of ingredients. Flour, eggs, butter, sugar, salt are in all cookie recipes. Just like all families have adults, children, belief systems, attitudes, and personalities.
What is different are the proportion of ingredients and the extra “add ins.” that make each recipe unique. It is the same for families. Some families have both parents some have single parents, and some have multiple generations of adults in a family-like a grandparent, aunt, or cousin There may be one or two or several kids in a family. Each family finds their own groove or “flavor” that make their situation work. Some chocolate chip cookie recipes have nuts. Likewise, some families do too.
(Okay I couldn’t resist that one.)
If you are anything like me, you think that to be a good parent, you have to be a strict disciplinarian. And more often than not, you feel guilty that you aren’t putting enough effort into being a good disciplinarian. You also know the feeling of being weary, exhausted, and wanting your children to simply behave the way they are “supposed to.”
But what if I told you that the key ingredient to being a better parent is something different? Something that you probably already instinctively do? Wouldn’t you feel relieved?
The key to being a good parent is to build a strong connection with each of your kids. Love them. Always. Have their back.
What does this look like in practice?
1. Show your child unconditional love
If they truly believe that there is no mistake that they could make that would make you stop loving them, they are a lot less likely to try to hide mistakes they have made.
2. Identify your child's unique emotional needs
Each of your children has their own personalities, sensitivities, and perspectives. Learn what makes your child “tick.” Learn their “love language” and make sure you provide what they need to feel loved.
3. Let them know that you believe he/she is good person with a pure heart
Making a bad choice does not make you a bad person; There are no bad choices or mistakes that they could make that would make you love them less or stop loving them altogether
4. Show your child respect.
Often times as parents, we think of the child needing to respect us. But equally important is that they feel respected by you.. Be okay with your child wanting to discuss and further question the “why”. I always tell my son that if done respectfully it is okay to ask me to explain why I make certain rules and expectations.
5. Don’t apply “Because I said so” to every situation.
Of course, there are some parental decisions and expectations that children cannot fully grasp, but you can always simplify your answer to match their developmental level. And of course there are times of danger, that them obeying immediately is a matter of safety. If your child feels like they have are capable of thinking through situations and understanding the “whys” of certain parenting decisions, then they begin to learn how to make good decisions for themselves when you are not around.
6. It is okay to be imperfect
Don’t pretend to be perfect just because you are the adult in the authority position. There are times that we as parents make mistakes. It is okay to admit a mistake to your child and apologize. This teaches them that It is okay to screw up and make a bad decision as long as you take responsibility for your actions. Your kids are much more likely to learn from their mistakes and deal with real life consequences for when they mess up if they have a safety net of love, respect, and acceptance to fall back on.
7. Have your child's back. . . always
I always tell my son, there is nothing we can’t tackle together. If they are honest with me about what happened then I can help them deal with the consequences and they won’t have to do it alone. I always tell my kids that if they own up to their mistakes and take responsibility for their actions, they will be in less “trouble.” However lying about a situation will just add more negative consequences.
I believe that when you build this foundation of love and respect with your child, then when you do have certain expectations from them they are more likely to comply without complaint. Fostering a team mentality-like we are in this together-encourages a natural desire to make good choices and follow your lead as a parent.
I have seen this in action with my now almost 13-year-old son. When he was little, many friends and family thought we should have “disciplined” him more. That we allowed him to be too rambunctious and question our decisions, and in turn, he would only become defiant and disrespectful as he got older.
I stuck with my gut feeling of the way we were parenting our children. I am glad I did.
My son is by no means a perfect child. He makes mistakes. But, I have built a system of trust and respect between us that makes him feel comfortable telling me the truth even when he feels ashamed of himself. When we assign a punishment or consequence for inappropriate behavior and choices, he accepts them without question. When I ask him to contribute to household duties or help take care of his younger siblings, he abides without question. He knows that as his parents we are raising him to be a good person with strong ethics and morals. That what we ask of him is no less than what we expect from ourselves as parents.
In our house, we have a quote that hangs on our kitchen wall. It says, “To maintain a joyful family requires much from both the parents and the children. Each member of the family has to become, in a special way, the servant of the others.”
We love and serve each other. Each parent and child in a family is called to do the same things: make sacrifices, and continue growing into a better version of ourselves.
That is the way the cookie crumbles in our household!
What makes your parenting style work?