We all know parenting can be difficult and challenging at times. Let’s be honest – there are truly some exceptional parents that exist, and there are other parents that don't put much effort into parenting. Then there are parents that are somewhere in-between. Most of us are in the middle somewhere, striving to become better. We all want what is best for our children, and what’s best for our children is for us to be the best parents we can possibly be. So what are the obstacles that interfere with us reaching our goal of becoming the most effective parents we can be, and how do we overcome those obstacles?
Time is precious and there's not enough of it. We have a multitude of things demanding of and competing for our time. We have jobs. We have chores. We have deadlines. We have family. We have our community. And we have our children. Frequently, our children seem to get what's leftover of our time. Sure, we do the basics of taking them to school and attending their extracurricular events, but do we carve out that special time for them they so desperately deserve and need for maximizing their development and creating a special and transcending bond?
The most successful parents internalize the mindset of prioritizing time each and every day to spend with their children just to be with them. This is the most important “appointment” of your day. This can take whatever form you want. It can be informal fun time, bonding time, talking time, laughing time, reading before bedtime time, silly time, or building something together time. This time allows your children to see the real you. This time is the time your children will remember the most and will have the most developmental impact on them. This time will be the time they develop emotional stability, self confidence, and the sense the world is a safe place. This is the time where your relationship will grow trust, honesty, respect, and love. Be available.
Energy is closely associated with time. After we put in a full day at work, after our necessary chores are done, and after we wrap up all of the responsibilities we deem necessary in order to survive, succeed, and perhaps advance, we are tired – physically, mentally, and emotionally. So our first instinct is to use those few precious moments of free time we have to recharge our batteries, relax, and recover.
What the most successful parents know is that spending time with your children and putting the appropriate amount of energy into your children actually increases your energy level. Putting energy into your child is an investment, short term and long term. The long term return on your investment is contributing to creating a healthy, happy, well-adjusted adult. The short term return is the stress of daily life is put into perspective. No longer are you focused on the nasty thing your boss said to you that morning. That doesn’t matter when you're making your child giggle over a corny joke. When you see your child’s excitement and enthusiasm over playing a board game, the grass that needs to be mowed all of the sudden doesn’t seem that long. You gain greater perspective and reconnect to what's really important. You become centered again. That is reenergizing. Be strong.
Along with time and energy, our focus tends to be on things that are in direct competition with our children’s need for attention. We are fighting for career advancement. We have to keep in touch with our relatives. We have to keep up with the never-ending list of things to do around the house. Yes, our focus on all of these things is important in maintaining a healthy household and environment for our children, but it's extremely easy to lose the focus on the smaller, more subtle needs of our children – the ones that aren’t front and center in our everyday routine.
Often times we approach parenting as if it were a marathon. Day after day, year after year, the struggle of life continues. We pace ourselves so we have enough in the tank to finish strong. In reality, however, we only have a short time to have a maximum impact on our children. The old adage is true: they do grow up fast and when they leave home, you'll be wondering how it happened so quickly.
The best approach to parenting is to approach it as if it were a sprint. Go all out everyday and don’t save anything for the finish line. You'll find you have plenty of time and energy to focus on other things when your children leave. You'll also realize nothing is quite as rewarding as the race you just ran. When the finish line is closer than you think, your focus on your children will improve. You will maximize every opportunity to make an impact, to coach, to guide, to listen, and to love. Be aware.
This is perhaps the largest downfall of parents. We all are self-centered to one degree or another, it's basic human nature. Prior to having children, we are wired to meet our own needs. It's an essential part of growing up, developing, and even surviving. When we have children, it's extremely difficult to make that fundamental shift of putting someone else’s needs above our own at all times. We, of course, put other’s needs ahead of ours in relationships, at work, and in our community a great deal of the time, but these are reciprocal and even beneficial. Your needs are part of the equation. Having children is different because your immediate needs aren’t always a priority. It's necessary to have the ability to see beyond our immediate needs and to look at the larger picture: to raise successful children and to earn our children’s respect and admiration.
The obstacles of time, energy, and focus can be overcome by adopting a mindset of selflessness. When we becomes parents, we're given a gift. That gift is the opportunity to put someone else’s interests ahead of our own. That in and of itself is a life lesson we all struggle to learn. Children are very perceptive and will quickly understand whose interests are prioritized in the relationship.
Oftentimes, we see adult children approaching their relationships with their aging parents as a chore or an obligation. This has to do with the fact that they never felt as if they were the first priority and are therefore less apt to give back to their parents. The essential elements of trust and dedication are simply not there.
When we have children, if we focus on shedding our old ways of thinking, coping, and being, and adopt a mindset of serving, we actually are rewarded tenfold. If a child recognizes their needs are the priority, they will in turn reward the parent with love, respect, and dedication. They will truly understand the sacrifices made on their behalf and have the ability as adults to love and put others ahead of themselves. Be whole.
Parenting is often like the old military adage: you get out of it what you put into it. The more effort you put into creating time for your child, using your energy for your child, maintaining focus on your child, and concentrating on his or her needs above your own, the more you and your child will benefit. Be available. Be strong. Be aware. Be whole.
If you are truly the best version of the parent you can be, your child will recognize that and you will reap the benefits of respect, love, and closeness, and see your child grow up to be a quality human being. This quality human being will be your main source of pride and main accomplishment in life. Your child will be your masterpiece, your Mona Lisa forever subtly smiling in your direction.