(This post was published on Inspired Parenting and Huffington Post.)
It is never too late to be a better parent. The best gift you can give your children is to do your inner work, to release the patterns that haven’t worked up until now and take a different direction—a direction more productive and more conducive to creating harmony with the whole family.
You can always course-correct from what has happened in the past by creating a healthier dynamic that contributes to the happiness of your whole family. Remember that your children learn by example. If you want to see a change in them, you must be that change, and you can start today.
As a single mother of two, I have been through many ups and downs with my children. It has been challenging, sometimes chaotic, frustrating and nerve-wracking to say the least.
I have tried many things to improve our communication, read many books about parenting, and implemented tools that I learned throughout my career as a life coach. All these—only to realize that, despite all my efforts, things were not getting better.
What more could I do, I wondered, to have the peace and harmony I was seeking so desperately? Every night, I would find myself completely drained and angry at my kids, anxiously waiting for them to go to sleep so I could have some silence and alone time. I was not enjoying the ride. I kept asking myself, what was I doing that was blocking the harmony?
Finally, I figured it out. I was trying too hard! I was acting like a control freak. And the more I tried to make things go my way, the more my kids would do things their way!
What I came to realize was that I had to let go of control and instead make my children a part of my team. I had been separating them from me by putting myself in a position where I was dictating orders “from on high” rather than creating healthy boundaries along with them.
Here is a good trick—remember hearing as a child, “My house, my rules”? How about reframing that into: “Our house, our rules”? This doesn’t mean you give up your authority as a parent. Rather, it means that when the house rules are created and agreed by everyone, there is no excuse not to follow through. Your kids can clearly see what they ought to be doing because everyone participated in the creation of the rules.
Here is a five-point approach that will support you in implementing these new tools in your home right away.
1) Create a mission statement.
Get a whiteboard and several colored markers and then gather the whole family in a place that is comfortable and has good energy. Ask your children one by one what is important for them. What makes them want to come home?
Write down all their thoughts and desires on a piece of paper first. Read them aloud together, and you’re likely to find that everyone wants some of the same things. By doing this, you are creating your relevant family values.
Now, here’s the fun part! Put the collective list up on the whiteboard. Let your children do it by going up to the board, or perhaps pass the board around and have each child participate by writing something. You will be experiencing true teamwork!
Finally, put the board up in a place that is readily visible. That way you can refer to it whenever someone may need a reminder.
2) Respond versus reacting.
We all have the power to choose how to respond to a situation. As parents, we can easily get irritated and impatient while juggling with so many things at the same time. But when we are reactive, we immediately create distance between our children and us.
By “reacting,” I am referring to yelling orders, lecturing, using corporal punishment. Such behavior contributes to a dysfunctional family dynamic. Children don’t respond well — they tend to exhibit unhealthy responses like shutting down or becoming angry. These children grow up to be wounded adults with a lot of emotional issues.
Responding, on the other hand, means taking 100 percent responsibility for yourself and choosing to rise above the problem. You choose to have a dialogue with your children; you listen and respect their feelings without judging them. You set a tone of respect in service to re-connecting with them.
We model good behavior when we respond kindly but firmly. In that way, we set healthy boundaries and follow through. Trust me! Your children will respect you more.
3) Create agreements.
When we have too many expectations, we usually set ourselves up for failure. Children don’t know what we want unless we are clear with them. By this, however, I don’t mean merely telling them what to do “just because you say so and you’re the parent!”
How many times do you find yourself repeatedly reminding your kids about something that is expected of them until you lose your cool? At that point, even if they do it, it’s usually because they are afraid of the punishment.
A more effective way to motivate your children to follow the rules is by creating agreements. For example, try something like this: Write down on a piece of paper what you require of them daily. Ask them to write down activities they strongly enjoy doing. Now sit down with your children and create a schedule that works for you both. For instance, say you require your kids to do their homework, make their beds, and set the table. Perhaps for them it is important to play video games, communicate with friends on social media or play sports outside. Meet with your children and go over both lists, creating agreements together in which they get to do all their favorite things as long as they comply with your requests. Make this tangible for all involved by creating a schedule to which you can all refer.
4) Listen. Really listen.
The most loving thing we can do for our children is to listen as they express their feelings. When you listen, you naturally become more aware of what is happening in their world. As parents, we tend to give a lot of advice; but too much unsolicited advice can push children away.
If you listen without trying to fix anything but rather just trying to understand the situation, you will see that your child will likely be more receptive to your feedback and more open to sharing things with you.
Also, checking with them to see if it’s OK for you to share how you perceive the situation sets a tone of trust and respect. They will feel acknowledged rather than criticized. Sometimes all children want is to be heard as they vent their emotions.
Put yourself in their shoes for a minute. Remember how many times when you were a kid and felt reluctant to share your upsets with your parents for fear of being judged or shamed? You now have a golden opportunity to do the opposite and create a closer connection with your children by being a good listener.
5) Make regular deposits in their emotional bank account.
Making deposits means doing one thing with them that they enjoy, on a regular basis — daily, if possible. Find the time to do it and make it a priority on your schedule. Let them know you look forward to it!
And, this is important — do what you say you will do! Don’t make promises you won’t be able to keep.
Deposits could be as simple as watching a TV show that you all like, taking your children for ice cream, going for a bike ride, baking cookies together. It’s about consistency and accountability. The more you show up for them in this manner, the more they will feel important in your life and want to spend time with you.
Remember it is not about quantity; it’s about quality and consistency. Follow through with your plans with them. A broken promise creates disappointment and mistrust, so avoid making promises you know you can’t keep.
Your children want to feel important in your life. Be excited to spend this time with them! One day, sooner than you think, they will grow up and leave home. Why not choose to create a great relationship with them now, while you still can?