This is something I’ve been asking myself recently: pondering what it might be, whether I actually have one and whether it even matters in the grand scheme of things?
I’ve been asking myself because the family dynamic has shifted. A new paradigm has crept up on us and all of a sudden the kids are no longer toddlers who need me to do everything for them.
With my youngest now 6, and my eldest soon to reach 2-digit figures (yikes), it’s become (a little) less about enforcing guidelines around nutrition, hygiene and bedtimes and more about strengthening their values, consciousness and perspective.
In short, I too am being asked to grow up.
And it’s caught me by surprise. Because I’d kind of got parenting-to-keep-them-alive down. And I’m not sure I’m ready for whatever is needed to encourage independence, self-responsibility and integrity!
How on earth DO you encourage resilience and autonomy in the Big Wide World whilst project-managing a happy, collaborative family unit?
Since my previous parenting guru - Gina Ford - doesn’t do tweens, I’ve been weighing up two different approaches: the first entails continuing to enforce rules in order to ingrain good habits (surely I’m at least half way towards the hallowed 10,000 hours it would take for them to ‘master’ these as skills?) and the second entails allowing them to create their own good habits by experiencing the freedom to do the opposite.
The issue is, approach number one is becoming more and more taxing as the kids’ independence becomes more pronounced and, as a Virgoan, neat-freak, recovering perfectionist the potential (physical and moral) chaos associated with approach number two slightly terrifies me.
So I find myself in a bit of a no-man’s-land muddle:
we’ve just established a child meal-clearing-up rota (approach number one)
they’ve allowed their rooms to get crazy messy which I have to avoid if I want to stay sane (approach number two)
they can spend their money on what they choose but not sweets (a mixture of one and two?)
last week they independently sold some of their old toys to unsuspecting neighbours (approach number two)
and not only gave some away to a lady who said she “had no change” (mmmm) but also, as I plan less activities and allow them to entertain themselves more, they have recently started to ask me if they can help (both proof that number two works?)
And I wonder, are these initiatives are cancelling each other out? Are we moving towards accountability or mayhem? I have no idea!
Parenting never felt so rudderless.
What I need is A Third Way: one which is boundaried but loosely so; strict but fair; an approach that respects both my needs and also theirs; a way of being that instills in them a sense of responsibility both towards their siblings and the smooth running of the household whilst also giving them the freedom to safely explore their independence.
Clearly I haven’t found it yet.
But perhaps that’s just how messy and undefined adulting is?
Remember when they were tiny and you came across a childcare issue that you didn’t know how to resolve and you tried out about a million different solutions and by the time you were on option 675 part III, said child had moved out of the phase you were desperately trying to fix ALL BY ITSELF?
To borrow a coaching concept, maybe parenting is just about busying ourselves to be ‘in action’ - not really knowing where that might lead, being aware that it helps us to feel like we’re in control and trusting that somehow they will turn out ok.
Maybe, as Phillip Larkin so elegantly put it, we will indeed unconsciously “fill them with the faults” we had “and add some extra” just for them. But maybe by openly caring about how good or bad a job we’re doing, we’re also transferring a little bit of something special too?
I hope so.
What do you think?
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