Parental Influence, not Control

A friend once said something so simple that it struck me to the core.  I had been complaining about the behavior of one of my kids and lamenting about how there must be something I had done wrong.  My intuitive and honest friend looked at me and said, “You know, I think we give ourselves too much credit for our kids’ achievements, and too much blame for their failures.”  And yes, oh my goodness, yes.  Nail hit directly on the head, yes.

Why is it that as parents we often think that we can mold our children in our own image, or perhaps even better than ourselves?  They are not us.  Surely, they have traits that resemble our own strengths and weaknesses, but really, they are just little people.  Lives all their own, thoughts all their own, actions all their own.

What has taken me these 9 years of child-rearing to understand is that parenting is mostly about influence, and very little about control over your children’s lives.  Boy was I surprised that my little “mini me” (as so many people call my oldest daughter) wasn’t even a bit skilled or interested in ice skating.  At her age, I absolutely adored it, excelled in it, and begged for more of it.  As I watched her tepidly and timidly tip-toeing on ice over the course of several months of lessons, I realized I was trying to force a square peg into a round hole.  And so she quit.  But this was the good kind of quitting – the kind of quitting that results from trying and failing, trying and failing again, trying and failing again, and just realizing, “Mom, I just don’t really like it.”

Parents often argue about whether or not to let your kids quit and I know there are the champion parents out there that say “my kid’s not a quitter,” but I think there is a reasonable way to look at parenting where quitting and failing aren’t bad things, they’re maybe even healthy experiences.  You see, I didn’t berate her or belittle her for not being a good ice skater.  I did push her to see if she would try a little harder, take a little more risk, but ultimately, it just wasn’t her thing.  But there are many “things” that are just more of a fit for her.  And if you never let your kids fail or quit, they may not find the good things that really make them feel like a square peg in a square hole.

All we can do as parents is try to positively influence our children’s lives – not control them.   We can encourage them to try new things, strive to achieve goals and improve themselves, to stay positive, and to know when your heart just isn’t in something to bow out gracefully with a lesson learned.  With these little people so close to our heart strings, it’s easy to get over-involved in their lives and their decisions.  But raising young children is as much about following their lead as it is about getting them to follow yours.

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