You are not responsible for your children.
Stay with me, here. I know this raises a few eyebrows! All that I’m about to share comes from my growth through reading and presenting (and practicing!) what I consider to be one of the most brilliant parenting books of all time–ScreamFree Parenting by Hal Runkel.
If you are responsible FOR your children, then you need to start right now in getting them to think, feel, and behave in the ‘right’ ways. When they make a mistake, struggle, hurt another–if you are responsible FOR them, then you need to somehow fix their mistake, stop their struggle, make them be gentle and kind.
Here’s the deal, we are growing a person, not fixing a problem.
When we are responsible for our kids we are trying to get them to think, feel, and behave a certain way usually so WE can feel better (like stopping those very public tantrums…). It may be a benefit to them, but it is more about our own anxiety (back to those public tantrums–our embarrassment and discomfort can over-ride quickly the recognition that big feelings are okay…and need to be cared for, not made to go away). This undermines relationships, and certainly doesn’t help grow a child who can be responsible for themselves. What does being responsible FOR your child look and sound like?
Responsible for looks like nagging, yelling, threatening, cajoling, avoiding, bribing…(like all the times I hung out over my teen daughter’s shoulders doing what I thought was my parental duty of making sure she was on task with her homework…)
We do it to feel like a good parent, less embarrassed, in control, relieved…(Whew, if she got her homework done on MY timeline, I felt good! I’ve got such a smart daughter. I’m a good parent…) It can sound like
- “Cut it out or I’m going o lose it!”
- “Ok, ok, you can have another cookie, just stop whining.”
- “If you’d only listened to me you wouldn’t be having this problem!”
It may be doing whatever it takes so they’ll get straight A’s and we can feel “I’ve done my job well; I have a smart child; I’m a good parent.” (Just like me with my daughter back in those early nagging-over-homework days…). Whew. Wouldn’t that make things easier? It may be doing whatever it takes to stop them from throwing a fit so you don’t feel embarrassed and instead feel in control. (Those public tantrums…oh, to avoid them!)
What do our kids ‘hear’ when we act responsible FOR them? That we do not have confidence in their abilities to manage (or learn to manage) themselves, and we cannot handle how they feel or behave–and this rocks their world. To have the most mature person unable to handle the least mature one’s thoughts, feelings, or actions is scary for children. Now they may more likely act up even more or withdraw and perhaps comply–often begrudgingly and resentfully (especially if they are teens!). When we sit in this place of responsible FOR more often than not, it can be at a cost to a healthy relationships.
We do, however, have tremendous responsibility as parents. As Hal Runkel of ScreamFree says, we are responsible TO our children. We are responsible to them for how we structure their environment–both physically and emotionally; for how we understand child development, ages and stages, their needs and how we answer those needs; and perhaps most importantly, we are responsible TO them for how WE think, feel, and behave.
When we act responsible TO our kids, we are focused first on ourselves (***pause***!), we are in charge of how we think, feel, and behave rather than putting all our attention on how our kids are doing the same; we take care of our own anxious feelings (there’s that ***pause*** again) so they are less likely to ‘lead the way’ in situations.
Now we have an opportunity to be in a position to positively influence our children to learn on their own and to motivate themselves to make healthier choices. To take responsibility for themselves. Now our children ‘hear’ our confidence in them, our respect for how they think and feel (just as my teen did as I paused, listened to how my nagging was influencing her–certainly not in the direction I intended–and then stepped back so she could step up). Now our kids can count on us to keep it together no matter what they do. This is where trust is built and respect nurtured–and this is how children can learn through the years to take responsibility for themselves.
You are responsible TO your child. To be the adult they need you to be, to understand and trust in who your child is becoming, to give them real opportunity to learn about themselves, what they like and don’t like, what they can and cannot do…to grow optimally. Step back today and consider first if the way you want to react is based on anxious feelings, on trying to get them to behave the ‘right’ way–or if you can instead ***pause***, calm your own anxiety, look at the person you are growing and intending to grow, and respond in such a way they can take a little more charge of their own selves and feel capable, respected, trusted.
This parenting deal? It is a huge, difficult, incredibly rewarding growth process for all involved. Welcome it and grow your awareness of just what keeps you going in the direction you want the most–self-directed, responsible, awesome future adults and caring relationships based on trust and respect. You can do it.
Let a pause lead the way. And let “ScreamFree Parenting” and my book, “Parenting Inspired; Finding Grace in the Chaos, Confidence in Yourself, and Gentle Joy along the Way” be resources you can count on.
Here’s to you!
©2015 Alice Hanscam
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