We love them beyond measure. That’s a given. And no one handed us a “how to” guide or technical manual when they were born. Fortunately, my daughter Molly left me post-it notes which served as my validation ‘clues’ that I was on the right track with my parenting. Like you, I tapped into that unconditional love and did the best I could to raise my children to be confident, well-adjusted, and self-reliant so they can one day go forth to live with passion and meaning. (Happy to report that they are doing just that.)
There are many factors that will contribute to our desired outcome for our children. And some of them, we won’t be able to control. What we can do, however, is build a strong foundation of support and a parent-child relationship that fosters and encourages them to be brave but kind, thoughtful but forceful, and boldly step out into the world to share their love and talent with others.
Avoid the Debbie Downer Syndrome
Played by Rachel Dratch in the early 2000s, “Debbie Downer” is someone who always adds her negative commentary to the conversation. When your kids come to you with an idea, don’t make your first response something that will dampen the mood. Yes, it may be impractical and seem impossible, but let your child explore the possibilities and come to that conclusion. The outcome doesn’t really matter—bust or the next big thing—what’s important is the encouragement of creative thinking and problem solving.
Save the EMT Rescues for Life Threatening Situations
Let your child fail. (I know I have a pit in my stomach writing it.) Resist the urge to rush in and save them from circumstances that are uncomfortable but not life-threatening. Homework forgotten? No jumping in the car to deliver it, unless you want to encourage dependency over responsibility. Peer difficulties? Talk, discuss strategies and role-plays over stepping in to solve the problem. (Of course, it goes without saying you do what you need to do when you deem the situation dangerous.)
Become a Technology Free Zone
When your child needs to talk, be present and undistracted. Stop working, cleaning, talking, texting, cooking…whatever, and give your full attention. I admit it’s easier said than done and am guilty of being distracted and even annoyed at being interrupted. But the subliminal message is “you don’t matter as much as my compelling need to tweet right now.” For the times you can’t stop at that particular moment, set up a “meeting time” so you can listen intently, and just make sure you keep that meeting!
Think Executive Assistant, not CEO
As your children get older consider transitioning from being the CEO of their every move to becoming that irreplaceable executive assistant. Give them more leeway to make their own decisions and initiate their own actions to achieve their goals. Your role is to assist when assistance is asked for, even if you have the experience and expertise to get them their desired results. Even though my Asperger son needs more guidance and support than my daughter, this principle still applies. If I want him to become more independent and self-reliant, I have to allow him the opportunities to be more independent and self-reliant.
Be a Soft Place to Land
If you’ve laid a foundation and have become a strong support system, your children will be ready to make their own ways out into the world. They will still be nervous, uncertain and scared, but they’ll be fortified knowing that you have their backs and they’ll have a soft place to land when the journey gets rough.
**I originally wrote this article for Dandelion Moms. It appeared in May 2013. I have updated it for this current posting.