Parents: Did you know you can actually feel peaceful about your kids no matter how they’re acting?
Even if they throw your balanced breakfast on the floor.
Even if they cry in the grocery store.
Even if they cut class, fail their math test, or get arrested for selling weed.
You can even discipline them without guilt or frustration!
I know – it sounds crazy, but stay with me.
It’s natural to think that your kids cause your feelings with their behavior (or misbehavior as the case may be).
But if you’ve been hanging out with me for longer than, oh, 20 minutes, you know that other people don’t actually cause our feelings. Yes, even if they are our children.
So if our children don’t cause our parenting distress, what does?
The truth is that most of your parenting distress comes from believing you should be able to control your children’s actions (spoiler alert: you can’t).
When you believe you can control your children, you think their behavior means something about you as a person.
When they misbehave (not “if”), you interpret that as a personal failure.
When your infant cries without your permission (how rude), or your toddler makes a mess, or your teenager has sex before you think they should, or your adult child is unemployed…you feel terrible because you believe these circumstances mean you’re failing in some way.
And this belief fuels a pretty awful cycle every time your kid behaves in a way you’d rather they not: You get mad at your kid. Then you get mad at yourself. Then you feel shame, or frustration, or hopelessness.
What’s more, if you really pay attention to your thoughts and feelings around your children’s behavior, you will see that those thoughts and feelings mirror your own self-critical thoughts about every other aspect of your life.
If you constantly worry about what other people think of you, you’re going to worry that your friends will judge you because your kid screamed through a dinner party. You’ll have thoughts that lead to feelings of shame and frustration, like It’s my fault my friends are uncomfortable and I’m a bad parent for letting my kid scream like this.
But let’s imagine a different scenario, one where your kid’s behavior doesn’t mean anything about you. Where you take responsibility for the thoughts you have about your kids, set clear expectations and consequences out of love for your children, and follow through on enforcing those consequences without drama.
If that sounds like a dream that’s out of your reach, stay with me, because these principles will change your parenting life:
Setting expectations and consequences, and practicing unattachment to the outcome.
When you’re parenting your children, it’s helpful to decide ahead of time what expectations you have for your child. Maybe you have an expectation that your 6-year-old will dress herself in the morning, or that your teenager will spend two hours working on his homework every weekday. Whatever the expectation, it’s important to make sure it’s reasonable and changes as your child grows and develops. It isn’t helpful to anyone if your expectations resist reality. It’s also critical to communicate the expectations in a way the child can understand.
Then, you can decide what consequences you will issue if they don’t meet those expectations – say, the loss of a privilege, the gaining of a reward, whatever you decide.
Finally – and most importantly – prepare yourself to stick to the consequence without any emotional drama. As you can imagine, this is only possible when you manage your mind and let go of the idea that you should be able to control your child!
Just like when we set boundaries with adults, expectations and consequences aren’t about controlling your child; they’re about consciously choosing the behavior you expect from your child, based on your own values.
You set expectations and consequences out of love for yourself and for your child.
Once you’ve communicated your expectations and consequences, it’s critical to practice unattachment to the outcome.
You can’t control if your children do what you want them to do, and it’s your responsibility to manage your mind if they don’t, and stick to your consequences all the while.
Being unattached to the outcome may seem impossible at first, but think of it this way: children don’t control your thoughts or feelings any more than adults do.
Nobody controls your thoughts and feelings but you.
Your feelings about parenting aren’t actually controlled by how your children behave. You can love your children and feel at peace with your parenting whether or not your children meet your expectations.
When you learn to stop taking your children’s behavior personally or believing you can control them, you will realize that children are just in their own little thought/feeling/action cycles – and that they have less control over these cycles than you do. Think about how often you expect your child to have a managed mind and actions when you yourself do not – especially if you’re spinning out about them at the same time!
When you parent with a managed mind, you can set expectations and consequences for your kids without feeling guilty or frustrated or ashamed. And you may even see the ways in which they are different from you and grow to appreciate those differences.
Even better, when you cut out the drama that comes from believing you can control your kids or that you require a certain outcome in order to feel like a good parent, you are also more able to have compassion for them and enjoy the time you spend together. More love for them, more love for yourself. I’ll take that deal any day of the week.