Pro Parenting Moves
This month, listening to all the talk about the World Cup games, I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between a pro soccer player and someone who just plays soccer.A professional, by definition, gets paid, but let’s set that definition aside for the moment.Pros have focus. They spend time improving their skills through practice, being coached, and getting mentoring. They also have certain things they do differently than players. Let’s call them pro moves. These are the skills that set them apart from someone who plays in their local community league. It might be a particular style or strength of kick. It might be a honed sense for knowing where the open shot is. It might be a kick that almost always tricks the goalie.It occurred to me that some parents have these kinds of pro moves. These parents are the ones who tend to look less harried, less frustrated, more relaxed and happy. I started wondering what could be considered a pro parenting move and why more of us should practice them.[tweet "Everybody wins when we get better at this game we call parenting."] Here are five that I came up with:
I live with a child who talks. A lot. She’s entertaining and astute, but when she’s been talking for an hour, it becomes easy to tune her out for a while. “Uh huh,” and, “Really?” become my filler for actually listening to her.But I’ve discovered that when I do that, I miss important stuff. She tells me about her day, and in that patter I can discover what she’s learning, what other people are telling her, what she’s worried about, and what she’s needing to process. If I listen and ask good questions, I learn a lot about who she is becoming and what she thinks about the world. Those are things I really don’t want to miss.I also learn a lot by noticing what she’s not saying. I was in the hospital twice recently, and although she wasn’t talking much about me being gone or being sick, I noticed that she was asking me to read this one particular book over and over. It is about a cat who alerts its owner to a gas leak outside their house, which has been making the humans sick. Bean kept wanting me to go back to the page where the people were looking sick, slumped and lethargic in their living room. Finally, I asked, “Are you worried about getting sick? Are you worried about me and Dada being sick?” We were able to have a more intimate conversation about her anxiety from me being sick as a result.
Living with a small child can sometimes feel like everything is personal. Like living with a mini tyrant. They tell what to do, what not to do, and how to do it. They call you names, climb on you, hit you.Don’t take it personally. It isn’t about you. Little people are still learning about how to interact with other people, how to manage their emotions, and how to communicate with social niceties. Because they feel safe with you, they experiment more. They push boundaries to find out what will happen.Practice forgiving them for being rude, pushy, temperamental, or otherwise trying. It is exhausting, yes, but recognizing they are doing the best with the skills they have available to them (or reminding how to do better with those skills) is going to feel way better for both of you than if you yell or punish or hold a grudge.
This one helps when patience and forgiveness are wearing thin. It is hard to stay angry when you are having a tickle fight. It is hard to stay frustrated when you turn the situation into a game. I admit, this parenting move is a very hard one for me. It is not my natural instinct. But it works. It works so well and so often than I keep trying and it is getting easier.Engage laughter by being silly. Dance around. Put those PJs they refuse to put on their body on your head. Make funny faces. Say the most improbable things. Tickle.Laughter relieves tension and it makes us feel closer. It is an essential part of a strong and healthy relationship.
It is so tempting to be the authority on all things, when your child believes you know everything. But I don’t know everything, and I’m doing her a disservice by letting her believe I do. I’d rather teach her to be a master researcher and learn how to analyze what she finds than assume I have the answers. I’d like her to feel confident forming her own opinions.Bean has started saying, “Let’s ask Siri!” when Mom or Dad don’t know the answer to her questions, which is a lot of fun. Mostly we’ve been researching what different baby animals are called and what sounds they make, but it won’t be long before we are tackling more complex questions!Honesty is also important when you think about how closely our children watch us. They know when we bend our stated ethics. We say “Apologize when you hurt someone,” and then we get in a fight with their father and don’t say, “I’m sorry.” We say, “Don’t take things that aren’t yours,” and then take their toy. We say, “Don’t yell,” and then we yell.When you realize you’ve done something you regret, talk to your kids about it. We’re human. So are they. It is hard to admit mistakes, but it is so valuable to your kids to see you failing sometimes, when you are willing to make it right again. Practice saying, “I was wrong, and this is what I’m going to do about it.”
Ask For Help
Imagine the CEO of a large company. Is she doing everything herself? Not even close. She has people running departments and reporting their activities to her. She has people scheduling her meetings, even answering her phone. She has outside counsel reviewing contracts and handling legal disputes. She has cleaners who keep the building clean and security personnel to keep it safe.And yet, as CEO of our families, we often feel like we need to do it all ourselves.Back when I was a manager in the corporate world, I was rated every year on how well I delegated work. I was considered a better manager when I delegated things well - appropriately and with clear expectations - then when I did everything myself.Whether you call it delegating or asking for help, do it. Get your kids involved with chores around the house. Ask your partner to step up if the distribution of home-keeping jobs feels unfair. Ask for time off from parenting once in a while, so you can spend time doing things that help you recharge.Getting the support you need to do your job well is the ultimate pro move.Your turn: What would you add to this list of pro parenting moves?