During her years as a teacher and mother, Ms. Meyers discovered that not all praise was equal and some kinds were even deleterious to kids.
Parenting Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
After teaching preschool and kindergarten for over two decades, I now just chuckle when parents get unhinged over inconsequential things. They're certain that their kid will become obese because a classmate brought cupcakes to celebrate his birthday. They fret their tyke won't get into an Ivy League school because she can't yet master the letter sounds for q and w. They get stressed out because the neighbor's five-year-old can converse in three foreign languages and their youngster can barely do so in English. They become outraged that their precious little one is being bullied at school when a classmate called him a "weirdo."
Sadly, these parents who obsess about their children during the early years often are the ones who burn out around fourth or fifth grade. 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!”
Remember to Keep You Eye on the Big Picture
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.
Parent Out of Love, Not Fear
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.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: My grandson is 11yrs old and is disobedient, always in trouble. When grounded he seems not to care and does the same thing again for which he was grounded. How can he be helped?
Answer: Thanks so much for your question. It sounds like your grandson is calling out for help. At 11 he's old enough to open up and provide some insight into why he's disobeying. Has there been a big change in his life recently--a divorce, a new school, the end of a friendship? He may be struggling with an issue that requires more than punishment. If he doesn't care about being grounded, he may be sad and depressed about something. Family counseling may be useful for getting at the heart of the matter and the family dynamics involved.
Your grandson is also old enough to understand that mutual respect is needed within a family. A "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" rule prevails. If he's not following the house rules, mom and dad are not motivated to do what he wants--driving him to his friend's house, taking him to the movies, or providing him with a cell phone. These are all perks he earns when he's a contributing member of the family unit.
Pointing out when he's doing helpful things will also make a big difference in his behavior. When kids are caught doing things well (cleaning their rooms, taking their dishes to the sink), it motivates them to continue.
© 2018 McKenna Meyers
McKenna Meyers (author) on April 02, 2020:
No, it's not a good idea. It frustrates the child, making them escalate the behavior. Plus, relatives often have beliefs about discipline that are inconsistent with those of the parents. Therefore, their inference can create confusion. It's best if a parent handles it in private, removing the kiddo from the situation.
It's not unusual for even a calm, well-behaved youngster to act up at family events. My mild-mannered son did because those occasions were more intense than his usual routine. He'd be overwhelmed by the interaction with his cousins, get tired, and have a meltdown.
It's a good idea to state your expectations to a child before arriving. Let them know that you will remove them from the situation if they misbehave. Then, be sure to follow with it. Prevention is definitely the way to go!
Dorina Elizondo on April 02, 2020:
Is it good to get after your child when relatives are around you and they get involved
McKenna Meyers (author) on January 30, 2018:
Thanks, Peg. Too many parents think it's their job to smooth the way for their children and make their lives easier. But kids need to have bumpy patches and learn to deal with disappointment, frustration, and failure. With a son in middle and a son in high school, I see too many parents sweeping in for the rescue, talking teachers out of the low grade the teen received or complaining to the principal about a class being too difficult. They don't want to accept that their child is an average student and deserves the low grade and will struggle in some classes.
McKenna Meyers (author) on January 30, 2018:
Thanks, Bill. I don't think we appreciate how monumental the task of parenting is until we're done with it. Before having kids, I was pretty cocky that I would do parenting right and pretty judgmental when I saw parents doing it wrong. Now I have so much compassion for stressed out moms and dads because it's hard dealing with kids when you're overwhelmed and exhausted. It's hard to make good parenting choices under those conditions.
Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on January 30, 2018:
I love what you said here. "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." This is key in developing strong and resilient people that become responsible adults.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 30, 2018:
I was going to read this last night but was too tired to give it justice. Great points made and I totally agree with all of them, as a parent and as a former teacher.