This year has been challenging in many ways. With restrictions and shutdowns, our work, family and social lives have all been affected. Yet it has been encouraging to hear that some have found that the forced slow down had some benefit, at least in part – with not having to rush from one activity to the next they have been able to simply spend more time with family.
We live in a very different world from that of 10 and 20 years ago. With the globalization of technology our own worlds have opened up to so much more, while the world itself appears to have become smaller. It would seem that with such advances and the ongoing increases in our standard of living, our lives would be easier somehow. But the reality is that life continues to be pressured and complicated, and the increase in mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, continues to be of concern, particularly with our young people.
Recently, I watched an interview about one man’s experience growing up and how his parents had powerfully shaped and prepared him for life. He talked about how they nurtured and guided the family relationships, teaching them to express and discuss their ideas, and to respect each other even when they disagreed. And he now does the same thing with his own children. His story grabbed my attention as he presented as a man of character and integrity, and is involved in serving his local community. He spoke about parenting as being key to shaping the next generation, and emphasized a caution for parents to, “not giving your parenting away”.
It may sound strange, but we can give our parenting away. Our role as parents is to be predictable in helping our children feel safe, seen, soothed and secure. It is the secure relationship between parent and child that fosters the healthy maturation of that child into responsible adulthood. This requires our consistent availability and involvement with them. But if we don’t provide this, we abdicate our parenting responsibility and give it away to whatever alternatives our children seek out.
The usual alternatives are not great. Generally, there are two they will gravitate to, their peer group and the internet. Their peer group cannot nurture and guide them toward maturity. And the unrestricted use of the internet has its own minefield of problems. Our children need to discover so much about themselves and the world around them in order to find their place and purpose. If we leave it up to their peers or the many strangers they are listening to on the internet to influence them in this process, we should not be surprised at the rising rates of mental health issues.
So how do we equip our children to grow in confidence and discover their place and purpose? One significant thing we can do is help them learn to express themselves and to be able to respectfully listen to others, particularly when there is a difference of opinion. Here’s a sample of some ways forward to consider…
- Don’t give your parenting to anyone else – especially not to your children!! You are the parent. Their peers or friends are not, their teachers and sporting coaches are not… you are. Don’t give it away… ever. And remember… as the parent, don’t try to be their friend. That will come much later in life, past their teenage years.
- Be prepared to get away from your devices and TV, and engage in constructive conversation with your children about everything and anything.
- Don’t be surprised by any issue they bring up. Stay calm and open to hearing their views.
- You can critique without being critical. There is a big difference. Being critical is “finger wagging” or being “judgy”. Critiquing involves asking them questions as to why they say or think something.
- Display patience and grace without getting loud and angry. They will learn from your demeanour how to process and engage others in conversation.
- Listen. Listen to your child – to anyone for that matter – it shows that you care, that you love them. Don’t interrupt them – let them speak out their idea completely. Don’t rush to give your opinion. It may help to wait for them to ask you before speaking.
- Enforce boundaries. Children need, and appreciate boundaries both in the way that they live, and the way that they speak. Require respectful conversation, and model it to them.
- Avoid cocooning your children. We live in a risk averse society which doesn’t help them learn to deal with failure or disappointment. Without their experiencing the full range of emotions, you risk stifling their maturity.
Parenting is the most challenging but important job anyone will ever do. But it is the most rewarding, if we are willing to invest ourselves and pay the cost.
Mrs Yvonne Crawford / Counsellor