“Parents can’t give their children what they don’t have.” — Brene Brown
The problem isn’t always what we give our kids, but what we don’t.
We do give our kids what we have. These may be things like money, advice or cell phones. But, we also pass along the less obvious things like anxieties, fears and baggage that often have nothing to do with our kids.
Here are some areas I often see parents unable to give because they simply do not have it. This is not to say they can’t have it, they just don’t possess it at this point in time.
- Time. The one thing we can’t make more of and probably the one thing that can make the biggest difference in our children’s lives. Life is busy. Jobs, school, activities, everything cumulatively takes our time. If we don’t have time, we can’t give that to our children. Undirected time with our children gives them a sense of connectedness, peace and security.
- Emotional regulation.We all want our children to act in a socially acceptable and responsible way. But how often do we model the opposite of what we want our kids to do? Regardless of what we say, our actions speak louder than words. One way or another, we set the standard of what is acceptable.
- Confidence. We all want things to turn our right for our kids. Our experience tells us how many things can go wrong and we know instinctively we can’t prevent everything. Our fears take away our confidence. It shows up as worry, yelling or anger. It’s not because we are bad parents. It’s because we’re afraid for them and we can’t protect them from everything (including themselves). It can be frustrating and sometimes infuriating. As our confidence and security goes, so do our children’s.
In many ways the issue is our priorities. We can say what is important, but our actions and our patterns communicate our real priorities. Harry Chapin sang of this problem and its consequences in his song, “The Cat’s in the Cradle.” If you tracked how you spent your time, what would it say about your priorities?
The good news is these are things we can change. Here are a couple simple exercises to try this week.
- Spend at least 15 minutes of undirected time with your child every day. That is, do what they want to do without making suggestions on how to make it “better.” Even 15 minutes a day has shown that children are more compliant, happier, more confident and more willing to do homework or chores.
- Pay attention to what you are modeling for your child, especially when you’re tired, angry or frustrated. Remember, expected behavior makes our kids and everyone around us comfortable. Unexpected behaviors make everyone uncomfortable.
Becoming better parents is like anything else. It takes deliberate effort and planning. It won’t just happen. Taking a few small steps in that direction will result in some very tangible results.