Parent the Child You Have, Not the Child You Wish You Had
As soon as you knew you were having children, you probably began to dream about who they were going to be, how they might be like you, and hoped they would be successful in life. You may have wanted your child to be into football or academics, but then reality set in. You found that your son didn't really like sports, and your daughter didn't have much interest in school. The truth is, one day many of us wake up and realize that our children are just different than what we expected.
It can almost feel like a grieving process when you learn that your child is not who you thought he was going to be. You might have to give up certain dreams you had for him and miss that person you imagined he was going to become. But it's important for you to understand that it takes a long time to find out who your child really is. Once you embrace that, a different kind of love develops. The preconceived notions of who you thought your child should be fall away and you are able to see him clearly for the person he is.
My husband James and I always reminded the parents we worked with to, "Parent the child you have, not the child you wish you had." This is a lesson we all need to learn as we raise our kids. Accepting your child is the basis for developing, communicating, and reinforcing expectations for appropriate behavior. And it's how you'll learn to respond to him in the way that's most meaningful and effective.
No matter how challenging your child's behaviors are-and how frustrated you are with her-you need to be able to respond in a way that's effective. Think about how that might change the way you communicate. If you're missing how your child takes in information, it might make you feel as if the two of you are speaking different languages. In your head, you're becoming more and more frustrated, thinking, "I'm saying all the right things, but she's just not getting it!" This has a compounding effect, because that lack of connection means she's also not changing her behavior.
As a parent, it's crucial to figure out what "language" your child understands and then use it. If not, you're missing out on connecting with her, and she'll misunderstand what you're trying to tell her. The sad truth is that if you can't find a meaningful way to communicate, you likely won't have a strong relationship with your child. It's our responsibility as parents to communicate as well as possible, and to set clear expectations and clear consequences for our kids? behavior.
If so, they will probably fail miserably at picking up and organizing their room. You may have to arrange the room with easy-to-remember places for their things with a limited amount of toys and games that just create clutter for your child. Your teen may be incredibly independent, pretty stubborn, and persuasive at talking you out of giving consequences. Understand that about her, but don't fall for it. Instead, give a brief description of what you expect, what the behavior was that was problematic and what the consequences are-and then hold firm. You do that because that's just what she needs. The bottom line is that kids are all different and you need to be able to tailor your responses to who they are.
A by-product of accepting your kids is the fact that they then become better at accepting themselves. How many of us have heard stories of people whose parents never accepted their choice in not going into a certain field, in dropping out of a sport, in choosing a boyfriend or girlfriend, in coloring their hair? On the other hand, how many of us know stories of great acceptance of children's likes and dislikes, quirks, limitations, and choices? These stories generally focus on the connection between acceptance, feeling loved, and ultimately becoming a responsible person. This is what we want for our kids, and it all starts with acceptance.
by Janet Lehman, M.S.W.