The following is a guest post from Ash Stevens of One Damn Good Woman! Ash Stevens (“Asha”) is a writer who doubles as a pretend philosopher and a wannabe shaman. When she isn’t writing her soul out on her blog, she’s listening to the great minds (or great comedians) on YouTube, soaking up sunshine, or having yet another fascinating conversation with herself (she gives excellent advice, you know). Find her on Twitter or Facebook and make a new friend!
When I was nine, my parents started a nasty divorce (so nasty, I didn’t see my dad for another nine years). After my dad left, life just got even nastier. With no other family, no trusted friends, and not even friends of my own to find solace in — life felt like hell on Earth. At thirteen I couldn’t take it anymore, and so I ran away from home and ended up locking myself into “the system” of group homes and foster homes. Years later, a month shy of my twenty-first birthday, I became a mother.
Ten years later, I’m damn proud of the woman and mother that I’m becoming. But getting here? That’s been one hell of a quest! But that’s not because of my past. Really, it’s like that for all of us. Because being a parent means coming face to face with everything that you are — the good, the bad, and the ugly. And that’s one hell of a doozy because, like it or not, we too are reflections of our parents.
I’ve spent years studying myself, who I’ve been, and who I want to become (all those years of therapy really paid off!). During this quest, I’ve discovered there are secret but not-so-secret things that all children need. Things that even the big kids we call “adults” could use. So, if you’re on a quest to give yourself and your family the very best, fit these ideas into your parental journey…
Relate To Them
Nothing drives an adult crazier than being told what to do or what to think. Crazy enough, kids don’t either! Communication takes two people listening and discussing. Not a holier-than-thou dictator that issues commands while ignoring important details (like, say, a political debate). We all have our special parenting style, and we can keep that, but if we can squeeze in our own special way to relate and connect with our kids, then we’ll all get so much more from our time together.
So, the next time you’re running around like a caffeine-deprived Medusa with a bad case of PMS; shake off the stress snakes and get down on the ground so you can look your kid dead in the eyes — with the look of compassion. Show them you’re just as human as they are, and tell them about a time where you were in the same situation. Skip the “Why did you? You should have” for, “I remember when.” Turn your story into a glorious tale that reveals all the wrong turns, misunderstandings, and flubbed decisions. All the while, ask them what they think went wrong, what happened next, or what you could have done differently. Get the wheels in their head turning so they can see the big picture. And brace yourself, because you may find that the grand “big picture” you’ve lived your life by is really just a cheap and ugly fake.
Know Where They’re At
We need to help our kids to evolve and push past their comfort zone — but at the same time, we need to recognize how they are and where they’re at. An important aspect of this is age and development. According to LCSW Maurice Hedish, children hit new developmental stages every 5-7 years. At each stage, they’re capable of developing new interpersonal and social skills. But the catch is, they have to master the basic skills of lower stages (younger ages) before they can move on to higher ones. So, before we label kids as “angry” or “immature,” we should be asking what skills we can help them develop.
On top of development, we need to consider the way our children are. Some kids are loud while others are quiet. Others are hungry for praise and attention, while some are braving their own adventures. Sometimes they’ll want love, and other times they’ll want to be left alone. Sometimes there will be a solution right now, and other times we’ll all have to sleep on it. If we want to make the most of a moment, we need to see where our kids are and figure out what they need (Pro Tip: You can always ask).
Listen To Them Like WE Want Them To Listen
We’ve all heard that old saying, “Practice what you preach.” It’s looked at as an old adage, but really, it’s the magical trick to parenting. No one learns from words. They learn from experience. Listening isn’t something that can be juggled with texting, emailing, or writing mental to-do lists. Neither is listening something that happens without some basic ground rules. It takes respect through connection, and connection through respect. And, most importantly, it definitely doesn’t take boring!
Make listening fun by making it into a game where you both paraphrase what you’ve been told in Olde English or with a Scottish accent. When your favorite songs come on the radio, ask what story the song is trying to tell. Tackle reading and listening by infusing story time with discussion and activities (hello Bedtime Book Club!). Listening should never be mundane, because the better we listen, the more we have to learn and discover. Every moment is an opportunity for fun and connection. Don’t waste it!
See The Lesson
What do they have to learn from this experience? As parents, we want to comfort and protect our children, but our most important role is that of teacher. Our job is to turn them into fully functional human beings! If we’re gonna prep them for adulthood, we need to help them develop strength, intelligence, and competence. We’re, like, the ultimate tour guide in this thing our child calls “Life.” We also happen to be managing our own version of the wild “Life” adventure. So, instead of losing our cool to the stress and chaos of child management, let’s give these crazy moments the care they really, really deserve. For our kids and ourselves.
Hear Beyond Their Words
Getting the whole story from a child is like sifting for gold in a mud pit. It just… doesn’t… happen. But instead of asking 100 million questions, we can take a hint from the message beyond their words — their emotions. This is important because their feelings offer a powerful hint of what’s troubling them. More importantly, it’s the core problem their heart is crying to have addressed. If we acknowledge their feelings and what’s bothering them, we can get a look at the big picture (the real big picture). There will be times our kids will do things they know they really shouldn’t do, but there’s a reason why. And before they can right any wrongs, they need their heart in the right place. So hear the words spoken from their lips, and listen to the message coming from their heart.
Be A Master Parent
In order to teach our kids how to give their best, we need to trust that they already can give their best. That means cutting down on all the “You should haves” so they can draw their own conclusions. When kids are upset, we can take the cue and skip advice in favor of a story that parallels the issue. And when we are the ones upset, then we can make a simple point with a thoughtful question or a single statement (and they can chew on it while we gather our wits).
Harry Truman said, “I have found the best way to give advice to children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” This kind of seize-the-moment-sermons and in-the-distance-guidance is the core stance of the world’s greatest teachers, yogis, and philosophers. A wise teacher knows that the greatest teachings come not from advice, but from experience. And our kids need to be learning from experience, just as much as we do. So, let’s be masters and parent like a compassionate car-owning guru, or an all-seeing almost-abstinent monk. Let’s help our kids develop their best selves (and develop our own very best selves in the process).
To close, there are thousands of different books and approaches on parenting. And another bajillion blog posts to boot. But live your life by this quote, and you won’t have to read a single one of them…
“Your children will become what you are; so be what you want them to be.”