There is a contradiction at the heart of parenting. On the one hand, we parents have a great deal of power to influence our children. If we play our cards right, we will be the most influential people in their lives through their childhood and teenage years.
On the other hand, we have limited control over the behavior of our child at any moment and who they become in the long term. Some children are markedly independent from an early age and all children sometimes make decisions that leave us scratching our heads.
Introducing the Parenting 2-Step
Wise parents deal with this contradiction by perfecting what I call the Parenting 2-Step:
- Step one: Hold yourself accountable for your parenting actions, and for continuously improving how you support and guide your child.
- Step two: Accept and love your child for who they are, no matter what they do.
So, if your four-year-old is having a tantrum in the grocery store, your job it to use your best abilities to help him get ahold of his emotions. You should not measure your success by whether he actually does calm down quickly, although hopefully he does. Rather, success is managing your own emotions and continually getting better at understanding and supporting your child to manage his.
Your four-year-old may not yet know how to manage his strong emotions. He needs you to teach him—which may take a long time.
Retain influence by maintaining connection
Or, if your 13 year-old rolls her eyes and storms out of the room, your job is to put your best self forward and live to fight another day. You should not measure your success based on whether your daughter treats you with more consideration and respect tomorrow, although hopefully she does. Rather, success is modeling emotional intelligence and nurturing the connection you need to be able to slowly but surely help her internalize norms of respectful communication.
Your 13 year-old may not yet know how to manage her strong emotions. She needs you to model it for her, and to help maintain a space of respect and dignity so that she has time to grow into her capability.
Acceptance creates space for growth
The Parenting Two-Step works because it helps us to become and stay our best selves through the many challenging moments of parenting. The first step asks us to pay attention to ourselves, and seek to continuously improve the way we understand and support our child’s growth. The second step reminds us to accept our child the way they are. They are their own person and deserve the opportunity to make their own mistakes and find their own way in life, beginning when they are young.
When we hold these two truths in our heart simultaneously, we increase our opportunity to positively influence our children in the long term—even if we appear to be “losing” to them in the short term—because our children are always watching and modeling themselves after us, even if they aren’t listening. In other words, we maximize our powers when we acknowledge their limitation. Humility breeds acceptance and acceptance creates space for growth.