Why You Should NOT Be a Perfect Parent

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Parenting advice is more accessible than ever. Books, podcasts, email blasts, speeches, blogs… if you want a parenting tip, you have hundreds at your fingertips.  

So why does parenting sometimes feel like climbing an insurmountable mountain? 

In reality, the onslaught of advice – whether unsolicited or sought – can be detrimental to your parenting in action. Every moment can be analyzed according to what you’ve learned: Did I give him enough positive feedback before that negative interaction? Am I following the right method while I’m disciplining her? I raised my voice, am I damaging their self-esteem? 

Our brains are constantly firing child-related messages at us, which causes parenting to become hard work, a chore, an obligation, a source of pressure. 

It doesn’t have to be like that! 

Revolutionize Your Relationships 

Here’s one parenting technique that will override the others and revolutionize your relationship with your child(ren): 

Do nothing. 

Well, not exactly nothing. Your responsibility as a parent is to provide your children with a warm, safe, comfortable environment. Children need stability, structure, and the knowledge that you are taking care of their needs, both physical and emotional. 

Most of the parenting struggles that you experience – disobedience, chutzpah, fighting – can be addressed by not addressing them at all.  

There are three general categories of parenting: authoritarian (“whatever I say, goes”), permissive (“my child runs the home”), and authoritative (“I am caring and supportive as well as firm”). Children raised with either of the two extremes (authoritarian and permissive) have higher rates of delinquency and issues in adulthood. Note there is a significant difference between “authoritarian” and “authoritative” although they sound quite similar. Strive to be authoritative – confident and worthy of respect, and not a dictator. 

The Significance of Limits 

Kids crave the limits that authoritative parents set – lovingly and firmly – because they thrive in an environment where they know what’s expected of them, where there is an adult in charge, and where they know, unequivocally, that their parents have their backs. When that sense of security is disrupted, either by an overly strict parent who does not allow them any autonomy, or one who gives in and allows the child to make the decisions, children develop anxiety and stress. 

Yes, kids push the limits. We want them to do that; it’s normal human behavior. And that’s a crucial part of the “do nothing” approach to parenthood: know what your children are supposed to be doing. When a newborn cries at night, you don’t snap at him to be quiet; you try to figure out what’s bothering him, then address that need. That’s the philosophy that you should apply throughout childhood. Your two year old is developmentally supposed to throw tantrums. Your four-year-old should be coloring on the walls. Your seven year old will spill the milk. Your ten year old will resist putting his shoes away. Your teenager will be impossible to drag out of bed. Your kids will fight over ridiculous things and call each other names. It’s all normal. 

Just like you don’t employ parenting “strategies” or “techniques” to deal with a hungry infant, you don’t need them for older children, either. Instead, tune into their needs. Listen to them. Learn what’s bothering them. When your child cries, he’s experiencing pain and needs care and validation, not incentives to “hadj with the complaining.” 

Control the Environment Not Your Child 

When push comes to shove, you cannot control your child. What you can do is control the environment and your own actions and reactions. Put the markers away. Help her pour the milk. Lock the cabinet. Teach your other children to stand up for themselves and protect them when necessary. Expect your child to act his age and you won’t get frustrated when he does. 

“But how will they learn?” you may ask. Simple: they learn from their surroundings, from observation, from natural consequences. If you hit your brother, he’ll hit you back. If you don’t clean up your room, you won’t be able to find anything. If you disrupt the Shabbat table, you’ll be asked to leave.  

Now, “do nothing” doesn’t mean that your home will devolve into chaos. Your job includes deciding what’s important, setting limits, managing the expectations in your home, and lovingly yet firmly enforcing them. Be honest with yourself and be confident in your decisions as a parent. Just like your kids won’t push back when you won’t buy non-kosher candy in the checkout line, they won’t push back when they know that your limits are fair yet non-negotiable. 

Simply put, see your children as human beings and treat them that way. You’ll find doing “nothing” to be incredibly freeing. Instead of living in constant “what-should-I-do-now?” mode, discover peace and joy in tuning into your children, paying attention, and allowing yourself – and them – to just be.

Dr. Yossi Shafer, PhD is the clinical director and a clinical psychologist at Empower Health Center, a private practice of multispecialty psychotherapists. They have offices in Deal/Long Branch and Lakewood and can be reached at (732) 666-9898 or office@empowerhealthcenter.net.