By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
There are parent secrets you can only learn on the job.
Parenting is one of the most common tasks on earth. You would think there would be better preparation. Unlike most vocations and avocations parenting has no training required and little provided before you start the job.
There are a few parenting classes, I highly recommend them. I know however that most people do not get into a parenting class until after they are actively participating as parents and discover it is harder than it looks.
Seems like parenting is something like swimming, hard to learn in the classroom and most people are learning this skill by the old fashion method of sink or swim. Below are some secrets that the survivors of the real world parenting boot camps have shared with me.
There are no minor leagues for parents.
Taking a class in being a parent is nice. Being raised in a family with lots of children and helping care for your siblings or relatives is helpful. So is having had some experiences as a babysitter. None of that prepares you for the challenges of being a parent, especially if you have to do this while working out relationships and having to work a job to support yourself.
Becoming a parent is the equivalent of going from tossing the ball around in first grade to being drafted into a major league. Some time in school athletics and the minors would have helped. Being “drafted” as a parent gives you nine months tops to prepare. Most of your learning will be on the job and you will get hurt a lot. Still, if you try really hard there may be a few times you do something right.
You will make mistakes.
There are no perfect parents except in the movies. There you do not see what happens when the camera stops rolling. In real life, the role does not end until you are dead and gone. Along the way you just do the best you can.
Studies have suggested if you get more than half of things right your kid will think you did a good job. At least till they become a teenager and decide to try and improve on your efforts.
Do not try to be your kid’s friend.
Having a good relationship with your kids is nice. Remember though that parents need to be parents and kids need to be kids. This precludes you having the kind of relationship your child has with their friends. If you try too hard to their best friend you stop being their parent.
You have to wait for them to learn things.
Pushing too hard can make a child fall down. The old school way was to constantly push kids to do more and be more. Some of that worked. What you need to be careful of is trying to push your child to do things that developmentally they are not ready for. A three-year-old should not be carrying heavy objects and they are not ready for some mental tasks. Expecting a child to act older than they really are is a bad formula. Spend some time learning what a “typical” child should be able to do at what age. Then cut your child some slack. If they are on average doing things they should, they can take longer to learn some things than others. We all have different skills. If they seem to be falling behind get them professionally evaluated.
Let them be kids.
Drive a car too fast for too long and it will fall apart. I see a lot of clients who were pushed beyond their limits to be perfect as children and then once out of the house they fell apart.
That “playing around” is not a bad thing. Play is a sort of rehearsal for life. Well-adjusted children learn to play so they can enjoy what they do later in life. In your haste to prepare your child for adult life do not take away the joy of living.
Encouraging is not nagging.
Encouragement is pointing out the successes not yelling at them to do more and do better. Saying you believe in them need not convey the message that you will only love them if they win big.
Be slow to point out their mistakes.
If all you ever get is criticism you may think you are incapable and give up. There is such a thing as “learned helplessness” where after a while when nothing you do is adequate, you stop trying. Do not teach your child that no matter how hard they try it will never be possible for them to measure up.
Be fast to recognize your mistakes.
As a parent, you will make mistakes. Accept that. Learn from that. Doing the thing that is not working over and over will not change the child. It will wear you and them out. Learn from your child and from others. Practice your parenting skills and you will get better. The truth is that the youngest children will have very different parents than their older siblings.
They will change.
Children change whether you want them to or not. Just about the time you figure them out, they will have changed. But then often the child thinks this same thing about the parent. The person you were ten years ago is not who you are now or who you will be ten years from now. Neither is your child.
Your answers will not work for them.
You had to find your way in life, hopefully, you are there now. If not keep working on you. Your child will need to do the same. You may be good at music and they have no interest what so ever. Or they may have your interest but like a form of music, you can’t stand. That is the way it works.
Occasionally we see a person that is in the family business or who is a third or fourth generation professional in the same field. That is rare. What is more common is parents who push their child into their footsteps and the path does not fit that child. Let them explore and find their own way.
Once they start to think they will come up with new stuff.
A common parent mistake is to try to tell your children to think for themselves and then be horrified at the things they think. Your children are living in a different world than you did. They will grow up with technology you will struggle to keep up with.
This attraction to and willingness to accept new ideas is not limited to technology. Accept that the next generation will experiment with new ideas. Some will work and some will not. Old is good but so is new. There needs to be a balance. Rejecting your hobby or your ideas does not have to equal a rejection of you. Do not think that because your child thinks about new things that invalidates you.
The stuff will not make them love you.
A whole lot of adults fell into the trap of thinking that working hard to give their kids the things they never had as children will make their child happier and healthier. That does not work.
Ten, twenty, thirty years from now most kids will not remember the exact thing you bought them. They will remember the time you spent or did not spend with them. Remember to give love and time as much or more than you give things.
Popular does not last, hard work does.
There is a time in school when being popular and with the in-crowd matters. The life lesson we mostly learn is that who is in and why can change in an instant.
That popular person in the senior class in high school maybe not so popular three months later when you start college. The in musical group or politician may be out tomorrow. Popularity is a lot about others. Those who stay at the top over the long haul work really hard at what they do. They have talent but talent is hugely about how many hours you practice what you do. Talents grow with use.
Feelings will change.
Feelings can and should change. This is a real life. Some days are better than others. Do not think that the way you feel now will be the way you will feel some other time. We used to think of childhood as the happy time, free of responsibilities, and then as an adult, you had to struggle. Nowadays that is upside down. Many kids struggle with anxiety, depression or loneliness. Then when we get to be older life is happier. Not because you have everything, may elderly have much less than before, but you just start to appreciate what you have and don’t care so much what others think.
There will be life after children.
From the first day you have a child in your life, or even the day you know you will have one, your life changes. You think a lot about your child all that time. Then one day that child leaves you and you have to think about what will happen next. Some couples go through a crisis then. They spent more than half their life doing things for their children and now they can’t figure out what to do together or with the rest of their life. As important as your children are you need to still have a life that you will want when the kids are gone.
Some of you will try to substitute being grandparents for being parents. Being active in your grandchildren’s life is good, but remember you can’t take over the role of being your grandchild’s parent. You need to let your children parent their children and then the whole cycle starts over.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.