It was a sweet week on my LinkedIn feed where our community was discussing two posts that got a lot of action. One was this hilarious text exchange with my 12-year-old, and the other was a nostalgic look back at one of the origins of the concept of white space, which happened when I became a mom of three young boys. In tribute to this parenting theme that’s touched a nerve, I give you a smorgasbord of my favorite parenting tips I’ve both taught and learned over the past 17 years. Enjoy these nuggets and share them with your frazzled parent friends and colleagues.
Child or Trophy?
Jockeying for your child’s future status begins before the birth. For me, it hit somewhere between the maternity pants and the heartburn. I even took fish oil to promote my baby’s brain development.
As parents we are obliged to examine the deeper implication of these social norms. How does the pursuit of special-ness and excellence command our days? How much is enough, and what is the price paid?
To begin to bring more mindfulness to your beliefs, ask yourself the following questions about your home and your child:
- Why does it feel so good to think that my child is exceptional?
- Are the number of activities in my child’s after-school day manageable?
- Is my child truly meant for an Ivy League future, or will this expectation lead to massive burnout or a major backlash as soon as the pressure is off?
- Where in my parenting style do I create the most pressure for my children?
No Outlaw Emotions
Are all emotions acceptable in your home? If a child (or any person for that matter) gets very angry, petulant, neurotic, or blue, we are tempted to help them turn off that feeling ASAP, to fix it (with nothing but the most loving motives of course!). But if we want to be connected to our kids, we can’t selectively shut the feelings down. Validate all emotions as if they were all equally welcome to you. Don’t try to un-frustrate them, un-anger them, or un-sad them. Experiment with nondirective phrases, like, “Wow, that must be tough” or “I know the feeling.”
Try these one-liners to bring more calm to stressful conversational moments.
For the kid who keeps asking you over and over:
“Sweetie, please take the ‘No.’”
For the kid who relies too heavily on you:
“I don’t want to do things for you that you can.”
For the emotional child:
“You can have all the feelings you want about this.” (Do this without giving up on a decision you have made or a limit you have set.)
For your own internal self-talk:
“Be curious and neutral.”
Do you want to get the average parent riled up? Talk about homework.
In our great-grandparents’ generation, at the start of the twentieth century, homework was outlawed in some areas because it was considered child labor. Studies have shown that homework gives little advantage, if any; however, these positive effects are usually only seen in high-school-age children. Be proactive and really pay attention to the amount and richness (or lack) of the homework given to your children. Fight for their white space, and if you would like some good ammo, give the school principal a copy of Alfie Kohn’s The Homework Myth.
Tarry Time (for Little Ones)
Magda Gerber is a child development genius who started a movement called Resources for Infant Educators (RIE). The name is not overly inspiring, but Gerber’s teachings are brilliant and help to create families with independent, curious, and vital children. Her concept of Tarry Time has been great for our family. Tarry Time is defined as the gap between when an adult initiates a question, suggestion, or request to a child and the child’s response. Many young people, and especially very young ones, take a painfully long time to seem like they have heard us, but if we allow them to arrive in their own time to a response, we benefit from not stamping out their engagement and authenticity. Hang back and let the Tarry Time go by. It may feel like the waiting will kill you—but it won’t.
“I Wonder . . .”
Sometimes we steal the excitement of discovery from our children by flaunting an adult level of knowledge. Next time they are figuring something out with you, abstain from trumping their ideas before they are even uttered. Just reply, “I wonder?” Or offer a subtle, ”Hmmm,” and let there be space for them to make the next move. With younger children these phrases work again and again. With the older and more savvy children, a little acting might be required. Just shrug, stare off, and seem stumped for a little while. Your brain deserves the break, and you will be tickled with what they come up with.
The One-Word Nag
Instead of saying, “Honey, I’ve asked you a lot of times to pick up your towel after a shower, and it can be frustrating to repeat myself, so I would really love if you could pick up your towel,” just say this in a neutral voice:
Right after a moment of tension or disappointment, it’s easy to come at your kid/tween/teen and tell them right then what you feel they did wrong or what you would like to be different. But waiting is wonderful. An hour, day or even week later—returning to discuss a tough moment off-time can allow everyone to speak more openly because tempers have cooled, and you can be the two things that every parent should aspire for in their demeanor: curious and neutral (this works great for your spouse, partner, or coworker as well).
Listen to this podcast: Home EP1: Exploring The Heartful Interaction Between Parents
Model Joy and Presence
When you enjoy life in front of your kids, you teach them how to relish life. So slow it all down. If there is something that calls out to be organized, crossed off a list, or completed, try ignoring it in favor of some leisure, and see how long you can hold out. Daydream about every way that, even under the extraordinary pressures of your life, you can notice the small beauty in each day.
Smile with a little humor at the pile of dishes and the bloated inbox, and just for a short time, walk away and do something fun.
Stare deeply at the beauty of your children, and for once, let them have all of you they want.
This article was also published on Juliet Funt's LinkedIn.