The 5 Worst Mistakes You Can Make as a Parent
After teaching preschool and kindergarten for over two decades, I now just chuckle when parents get unhinged over ridiculous things. They're convinced their youngster will struggle with obesity because a classmate brought cupcakes to share on his birthday. They fret their child won't get into an Ivy League college because she can't yet master the letter sounds for q and w. They're in a lather because the neighbor's five-year-old speaks three languages and their kid only knows English. They're terrified their kid is being bullied because a classmate called her a weirdo. I just want to shake some sense into them and shout, “Stop being so myopic and look at the big picture! Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint!”
As my own mothering years wind down and I look back on them at middle-age, I regret sweating the small stuff like these moms and dads do. I lament the sleepless nights when I worried about my son not being in the top reading group or not getting asked to a play-date at so-and-so's house. I wish I had kept my eye on the big picture instead of getting bogged down by the minutia.
But, when my 18-year-old son recently revealed to me he's gay, I felt good about the parenting job I had done. He came to me with tears in his eyes, in all his beautiful vulnerability, and just wanted my unconditional love and acceptance as all kids desire from their parents. At that moment, I knew for sure what I had always guessed was true. He was not put here on this earth to fulfill any of my dreams or to make me feel complete. He was here to live his own life as authentically as possible, and I was here to watch, learn, and support.
At the end of it all, we want to say we brought up strong and independent kids who were ready to enter society as kind, compassionate, and hard-working people. We want to say we developed young adults with a healthy perspective on life and a robust sense of humor who make the world better in ways both big and small. Yet, too much of the time we parent out of fear. We shelter our children, do too much for them, give them too much, and don't let them deal with the consequences of their behavior. This leaves them weak, scared, and incompetent to handle the challenges and failures that are inevitable, necessary, and character-building. Here are 5 of the biggest parenting mistakes that should be avoided at all cost:
1. Putting Your Child Before Your Marriage
It's so easy to put your kids before your spouse, especially when they're little and need diapering, feeding, cuddling, and nursing. But, some moms and dads continue to neglect their partner long after those days are over and their children are older and more independent. They drive them from one extra-curricular activity to another, help too much with their homework, become too involved in their social lives, and sometimes even become their best buddies.
Neglecting your spouse is a huge parenting mistake because the best gift we give our kids is a happy, stable marriage. When we are a loving couple who enjoy time together, parent together, and make decisions together, we give our kids a sense of security and hope that they will one day have the same. They become optimists about love and marriage.
2. Turning Your Child Against the Other Parent
Whether you're married or divorced, this is one of the most insidious ways to hurt your child. My sister recently told me that her 20-year-old son was so angry with his father that they were barely talking even though they lived under the same roof. Her son even wanted to change his last name because he couldn't bare sharing the same one with the dad he detested. She then confessed that she was the one who poisoned the well, damaging their father-son relationship.
It turns out she was taking long walks with her son every afternoon and discussing her marital woes with his dad. In the process of doing so, she was gaining an ally in her son but causing him to build up terrible resentment against his father. To my sister's credit, she realized the momentous parenting mistake she had made, immediately regretted it, and vowed to stop. She has never badmouthed her husband to her son since that time, and their father-son relationship gradually repaired itself. My sister would now be the first one to tell parents to vent with a friend or see a therapist but never speak negatively about a spouse to their child.
3. Becoming Emotionally Enmeshed With Your Child
Good parenting requires some objectively with moms and dads staying emotionally separate from their kids. When parents and children become enmeshed, moms and dads often let their feelings get in the way of sound parenting practices. They fall into bad habits such as nagging, yelling, and lecturing. All of these are ineffective, making kids more dependent on their parents and less responsible for themselves.
Debbie Pincus, a licensed mental health counselor, advises moms and dads to not lose their own identities while parenting. They should stay engaged with their own friendships, hobbies, and pursuits. Maintaining some distance is healthy between parent and youngster. She writes: "If you jump into his box and tell him what to do and how to act, how responsible for himself can he become? The two of you have effectively become entangled. Instead, stay in your own box, maintain your boundaries and take responsibility for yourself.”
4. Not Letting Your Child Fail
When I was in fifth grade, we memorized poems and recited them in front of the entire study body with our parents in attendance. I got so incredibly nervous on stage that I forgot an entire section of my poem and was mortified. When I got home, my parents didn't say a word about my performance—neither good nor bad—and I felt sad and ashamed for disappointing them. I lived in silence with my failure, believing it was far more egregious than it really was and avoiding public speaking ever since.
My fate would have been far different if my mom and dad had simply talked to me about my poem recitation and helped me put it in perspective. They could have complimented me on the parts I remembered. They could've recounted times when they were nervous. They could've talked about mistakes they made in public and how they look back at them now with a sense of humor. Any conversation about that event would have made me feel better than saying nothing at all and making me magnify the horror of it in my mind.
According to Rachel Simmons, author and parent educator, moms and dads need to teach failure as a life skill to their children. Kids need to know that success is not possible without lots of unsuccessful attempts. It's through failure that children learn resilience, the quality they need to make their dreams come true. Simmons says parents should encourage children to talk about their triumphs and failures and parents should do the same. When moms and dads screw up, they should be kind to themselves, showing their youngsters that it's normal and forgivable.
5. Parenting From Ego, Not Unconditional Love
Moms and dads parent from ego when they push their son to go out for football when he'd prefer trying out for the latest school play. They parent from ego when they put pressure on their daughter to get all “A's” when she's just a “C” student. They parent from ego when they over-program their kid with extra-curricular activities when he'd rather be home reading a book. They parent from ego when they want their daughter to go to a big name university even though she's an introvert who'd be happier at a smaller school.
According to Dr. Shefali Tsabary, the author of The Conscious Parent, moms and dads need to keep their own dreams and ambitions alive rather than living through their kids. She says parents should validate their children and accept them as they are, not attempt to mold and change them. We parent with unconditional love when we see our youngsters as our teachers, guiding us to treat them as the precious and unique beings they are.
© 2018 McKenna Meyers