This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…
I hate writing about parenting because the world is already full of a million opinions about how to raise your child. In many ways it’s bizarre that something we’ve been doing forever has had so many books, columns and blogs written about it.
And you shouldn’t listen to me any more than you should listen to any of those books. You should listen to your children.
Parenting is an experience of constantly being out of sync; just when you think you’ve got a handle on what the little people in your life are doing, human development is such that it changes.
They switch it up.
And it can be so easy – no matter how much you’ve studied human development and how many books you’ve read – to forget the most common mistake parents make (I include myself here): To expect our children to do things and behave in ways they are actually physically, or neurologically, unable to.
We expect them to do things their brains aren’t capable of. Such as expecting teenagers to be less impulsive. Or expecting pre-school children to regulate their emotions and not have tantrums when they’re tired and hungry.
Being a therapist and hearing about all the horrible things that happen to children and how it affects the adults they become, I’m particularly prone to wringing my hands and worrying about the impact of most anything on my kids.
And, unhelpfully, wanting to get it right all the time.
Understanding development and the fact we’re always playing catch up means we need to recognise that, as parents, we get it wrong a lot more than we like to admit.
It can be hard to embrace this fact because it also means being able to say “sorry” to your kids when you do get it wrong.
Boundaries, discipline, respecting your elders, all sorts of traditional ideas about parenting can lead us to conclude that apologising as a parent isn’t a great idea. At the same time all parents would agree that we expect our offspring to say sorry when they get things wrong.
But to turn the old maxim on its head (and risk giving some parenting advice) children do what we do, NOT what we say.
So if you don’t already do it, learn to say sorry to your kids. Then say it often and with love.
Because our children don’t learn to be okay with being wrong by seeing us always being right. In fact, quite the opposite.
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