Although many of us fondly remember our own parents being more hands-off, the culture has shifted dramatically. Our friends at YourTango have the one question you should ask yourself daily to help you strike the ideal balance.
The quality of your life is determined by the quality of the questions you ask. And the quality of your parenting follows the same rules. Every time you ask a question, your mind goes seeking for the answers and in so doing, shapes your reality.
Now, as parents, we are often plagued by questions that arise from our own sense of self-doubt and our fears for our children. We tend to ask things like:
- "Am I doing the right thing?"
- "Am I messing up my child?"
- "Why can't I get through to them?"
- "Where am I going wrong?"
- "Why don't they just listen?"
- "Are they safe?"
We worry about the details of our children's lives, but we seldom stop to focus on the bigger picture.
Our concerns tend to be around how they're behaving now, what marks they're getting in school, if they are healthy, if they have enough lunch, if they've tidied their rooms, if they're learning their manners, and if they are becoming socially acceptable enough.
As modern parents, we tend to be very involved in our children's lives. It wasn't always like this.
Hunter-gatherer societies leave children from the age of four pretty much unattended by adults. Up until their teen years, children are left to do what they like all day long with nobody fussing over them, worrying about them, or interfering with their fun. Children are allowed to play with dangerous objects — machetes and bows and arrows and fire.
Children are trusted and so become trustworthy; they are treated as capable and so engage in the world with confidence.
Even when I was growing up, from the first grade and onwards, we were walking to school on our own, going to the local pool with our friends in the afternoon, cruising the neighborhood on our bikes and coming home at sunset. We had both freedom and responsibility and we learned to manage ourselves and look out for each other.
Now I realize that this level of freedom is not possible in most places in the world today, but I believe that our parenting questions are also at fault.
In truth, we live in the safest time in the whole of human history. We need to start focusing on the bigger picture of what that kind of freedom would bring to our children, even if the circumstances don't change.
I see too many young adults in my practice who are absolutely ill-equipped to cope in the world. They have loving mothers and fathers who did everything for them and protected them and worried and fussed over them and made them into ineffective adults.
The questions we are asking tend to be around micro-managing their lives.
I believe the kind of questions we should be asking instead are things like:
- "How can I give my child more freedom?"
- "Are there things that I am doing for them that they could do for themselves?"
- "How can I allow my child to fulfill their destiny without my interference?"
- "Am I allowing my child to make meaningful choices?"
What this ultimately comes down to, and if I had to choose just one question for parents to ask themselves consistently, it would be this: "Is what I'm doing right now going to empower or disempower my child?"
This one question can change parenting, from disciplining to conversations around internal control; from telling your child to asking them; from controlling what they eat and when they sleep and who they see to engaging them with information and discussions on health and daily rhythms and what friendships actually mean; from forcing them to tidy their rooms to allowing them to experience the consequences of chaos.
Our job as parents is not to be so involved in our children's lives that they cannot live without us. Our job is to provide the basic structure for them to learn about the world and to find their own way in it.
It's actually a hands-off job; the simple task of providing a safe space for mistakes to be learned from and messes to be cleaned up.
The parental home is the place where children can experiment, learn, and explore, trying out different emotions, behaviors, attitudes, and character traits in a safe and loving space. If they do not have this freedom, they will try these things out once they've left home and the safety net is no longer in place.
So is what you are doing right now going to empower or disempower your kids to go out into the world as authentic, confident human beings?
Keep asking that question — it will make a difference to the quality of your parenting and the quality of your children's lives.
Check out more great stories from YourTango:
- 10 Tips For Raising Perfect, Unspoiled, Angel Kids
- 9 Things I'd Do Differently If I Had A Parenting Do-Over
- 11 Cartoons That Show The REAL Side Of Parenting Nobody Talks About