By Dolores Smyth, Crosswalk.com
When you become a parent, you receive no shortage of advice on how to raise your kid. Family and friends offer (often unsolicited) advice, and even perfect strangers take the liberty of weighing in on your parenting choices. Of course, as every parent knows, the people with the most parenting advice are the people who are not parents themselves! Jokes aside, one powerful piece of advice that often goes unspoken is this: you will make mistakes as a parent, and your biggest mistake is choosing not to learn from them.
Here are five parenting missteps you can overcome today to be a more effective parent tomorrow.
1. You haven’t realized that what your kids want most is quality time with you.
Perhaps you’re the parent who buys their kids the coolest toys or who enrolls their kids in every fun camp and activity out there. Sure, your kids may be enjoying themselves now, but an overemphasis on gifts and extracurricular activities leaves out something important: they don’t come with enough quality time with you.
The Psalmist prayed that the Lord teach him to number his days so that he may learn to live wisely (Psalm 90:12). We, as parents, would do well to utter the same prayer. When you accept the fleeting nature of life, you’re prompted to rework your priorities. Undoubtedly, a parent’s number one priority is their children.
You can start prioritizing quality time with your children by looking at the difference between the things you give your kids versus the time you give your kids. For example, that swing set in your yard may have all the bells and whistles a child could want. Yet, what your kids will remember most years from now is how much time you spent pushing them on those swings.
Likewise, your little one may love his Lego sets, but his fondest memories will be of you leafing through those multistep booklets trying to fit one tiny brick onto another to make that perfect Lego creation. You get the picture. The pile of toys will be forgotten, but your efforts at bonding with your children are timeless.
2. You act more like your children’s friend than their parent.
Few parenting styles are more obvious than the one in which the parent acts more like his child’s buddy than his child’s guardian. These parents give in easily to their child’s unreasonable demands, don’t care what their kids are up to, or, worse, they join in. The bottom line is that your child has a lifetime to make friends, but only one shot at having you as their parent.
Choose to be your child’s role model and guide. At first, your boundary-setting may not be popular with your kids—especially if they’re used to doing as they please. Keep at it, though, and you will see that, over time, boundaries will teach your children a bounty of valuable lessons. Boundaries teach kids respect for what is theirs and what isn’t. Boundaries also teach children independence, as they master doing things on their own. Importantly, boundaries teach children effective time-management and self-control, as they suffer the consequences of neglecting their and other people’s boundaries.
Scripture tells us that we are each to carry our own load (Galatians 6:5). Enforcing age-appropriate boundaries with your children helps them learn to do just that.
3. You let your strong-willed child trigger you.
As parents, we’re to train up our children in the way they should go so that, when they’re older, they won’t depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). However, this clear-cut command gets a little tricky if you’re dealing with a strong-willed kid at home. For those of us with strong-willed kids, the following pattern will sound familiar: our kid disobeys, we get mad and yell, and we repeat ourselves over and over until either our child obeys or we relent. This power struggle is a harmful way to communicate and ultimately teaches our kids that they can sometimes get what they want by triggering strong reactions in others.
A better way to address strong-willed kids without smothering their spirit is to implement immediate consequences for disobedience or disrespect.
For younger children, this can look like giving time-outs or taking away dessert as a way of nipping power plays in the bud. For older kids, deterring disrespect can mean canceling their plans or cutting off their allowance.
4. You overwhelm your kids by offering them too many options.
Allowing your children to make their own choices empowers them to trust their judgment and feel heard and seen. After all, our children are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3).
But what happens when you offer your child too many options to choose from—be it toys, TV shows, or activities? You get a child who’s worried about making the wrong choice and fears missing out on whatever option he didn’t choose.
Having too many options to choose from can be overwhelming for adults, let alone kids. We want our kids to be confident in making their best choices, whether those choices ultimately turn out to be what’s best. We don’t want kids who are so anxious about scanning an endless supply of alternatives that they’re too insecure to make much of a choice about anything.
If you see that your kid freezes up when presented with too many options, switch gears and limit the number of choices. Young children, in particular, may be happier choosing between two bedtimes stories, for example, than being presented with their entire library to pick from.
5. You think that giving your children chores makes you the “bad guy.”
You may have grown up in a home where you felt burdened by the number of chores your parents gave you to do. Perhaps your parents worked late, or you grew up in a single-parent house where pitching in was necessary. Whatever the reason, you may have found yourself waiting on your own children hand and foot to ensure that they don’t see you as the “bad guy” when it comes to household chores.
Truth be told, you’re not doing your kids any favors in raising them with this false sense of entitlement. Consider whose job it will be to cook and clean for your kids when they move out. Will it still be your job? Will it be the job of a roommate or a spouse you hope had parents who taught them how to do these things? Or perhaps you expect your children to instantly learn how to do these things when they leave home.
None of these options are very fair to your kids or to the people who inherit their lack of self-reliance once they start sharing space with them. Instead, your children benefit most from discipline, including being disciplined when it comes to caring for themselves and cleaning up their own messes (Proverbs 29:17). This good work ethic that should start in the home will mold your child into an independent, capable adult who will be poised to be a contributing member of society one day. As parents, it’s our job to raise our children to be the best version of themselves possible. Despite our best efforts, we will inevitably make parenting mistakes. However, when you’re willing to admit what doesn’t work with your child, you allow yourself the opportunity to learn how to do better so that you can parent better. And that is a win-win for both you and your kid.
Dolores Smyth is a nationally published faith and parenting writer. She draws inspiration for her writing from everyday life. Connect with her over Twitter @byDoloresSmyth.