Raising children is difficult. I know.
You have read the how-to books on raising children, you comb through blog posts and magazines whenever you can and yet nothing you try works.
You are still left wishing you had a better relationship with your child, that you and your child were closer. Or wishing that your dealings with your child were not so exhausting and so likely to result in hurt feelings on both sides. You are not happy, your child is not happy. What are you doing wrong?
I have two grown sons and that is how I felt the entire time they were growing up. I wanted so much to have the close and wonderful relationship I had with them when they were tiny. There was nothing more precious than that bond and yet I was sure I had squandered my one chance to build that bond with them simply because I did not know how.
It took much soul searching and reflection on my part to really look at how I was interacting with them and make the all important changes that would result in love, trust and closeness for the rest of our lives.
Because each child has his or her own needs, wants, experiences and thoughts, we can’t handle them as a group or as categories. They must each be handled as individuals.
As I was raising my kids, I had two very different personalities on my hands. One was very sensitive and artistic and the other was very physically tough and resourceful. At least that is what I thought for many years as I raised them, but the problem was I DIDN’T REALLY KNOW THEM. That is correct. Despite being an at home mom much of the time, I looked at them through stereotypical personality types and worst of all I thought I knew it all when I didn’t.
Recently I have completely changed my views and actions in how I interact with them and despite the fact that they are both grown, this has gone a very long way in repairing any emotional upset I might have created with them in the past and has set them on the path to confidence and the ability to create their own future.
This did not occur overnight. There were some very intense and painful moments of self analysis that led me to correct my behavior. There were several viewpoints I had to change.
1) Realize that no matter where you find yourself or how bad things are, you can ALWAYs turn it around.
Write that down in stone because it is true, not only with kids but in life or any relationship.
Where there has been love and understanding in the past, there can be again. The bond between a mother or a father and a child is so intensely strong that I do not believe that there is anything that can cause it irreparable harm even if it seems that nothing can repair the breach. If the breach is particularly wide and egregious, it simply takes more time but it can and will be repaired.
2) Understand that if you are fighting all the time, chances are you do not really know your child.
Ok, I know that is a tough pill to swallow but how much can you really know your child if you fight all the time?
I would wager that unless you are a totally suppressive person, when your child was born, there was instant, unconditional love between you. I am here to tell you that what you saw in that tiny bundle of everything you have ever cared about IS what your child actually is. He or she is EXACTLY what you first saw and fell in love with. All of the best things about him or her ARE him or her, and all of the bad things about him or her are NOT him or her. They are something else that should be ignored. Does he or she have tough times? yes! But don’t we all?
Any time your child is extremely upset, it means that he feels has been misunderstood in some way. Modern Psychology doesn’t help because it encourages placing children in categories. This may sound logical but let me ask you this: How would you feel if you were categorized? You know inherently that you are different than anyone else and that you are not a stereotype.
“How do I get to know my child?” you ask. That is a very good question. The first thing you need to do is talk to him and, even more importantly, let him talk to you. Do not tell him what to think, do not invalidate him or his ideas, just let him talk and acknowledge him. Then, pick a topic that he has just told you about and whether you like it or not, develop an interest in it. Let him show you HIS world. Believe me he really, really wants to.
I have had a lot of unhappiness about my relationship with my oldest son. I felt that I had failed him so much and so often that I would never be able to repair the distance between us.
But several weeks ago, I found an opportunity to help him. He had his wisdom teeth out and I knew that I could just take him to the appointment and let him sleep it off in the afternoon while I did errands or went back to work. He would be fine. Instead I took the day off work and spent the entire day with him. Do you know what we did? We played video games!
I would never have thought that doing so would have any benefit whatsoever to any living being but we had a great time. It gave us something upon which to agree and therefore a new basis on which to strengthen the love we already felt for each other. It also validated something that he thought was important. I also knew he was fearful of the surgery despite his bravery and my being there for him let him know that I understood his trepidation even though he may not have said anything outright.
Find out what your child loves, what he fears and what he dislikes. Once you know this, you have a huge treasure trove of things to talk about and as you do so, the bond grows stronger between you.
2) Find reasons to praise your child.
Everyone likes to hear that they have done something right or that they possess a quality that is admirable.
My biggest mistake has been trying to enforce the things that I thought were important on my children. Things were never perfect and I am a perfectionist. It was tough for me to stop nagging and filling the house with negative energy, and to start looking for reasons to praise them. Once I started looking, I found more and more reasons that they were stellar young adults.
With that came my ability to let go and trust them to live their lives without messing them up. It gave them more confidence because it validated what was RIGHT about who they were and what they were doing rather than pointing out what was constantly wrong.
The result of this was that they, all on their own, started cleaning things up and creating better lives for themselves. The things I had been nagging them about all fell into place. I now tell them all the time how proud I am that they are my sons. This is something they need to hear and hear often.
3) Understand that children, people and relationships change.
I think the toughest thing for a mom to do is to stop momming your kids. (Yes, mom is also a verb.) There comes a point in your child’s life where he feels he has figured it all out and doesn’t need your input any more. With both my kids, this occurred when they were pretty young.
At that point, you can’t talk to them like children any more, you have to talk to them as adults. This is what they expect. If you keep talking to them as though they were children, forcing them to do things they don’t agree with and telling them every little thing to do, they start to resent you and fight back. They know way more than you think.
I will never forget the time my youngest came out of his bedroom, ready for preschool with his boxer shorts on the outside of his sweat pants. I tried to dissuade him from going to preschool like that out of fear that he would be teased and get upset. He adamantly insisted so I let him go.
The next day, I arrived at the preschool and all of the little boys had their boxer shorts on the outside of their sweat pants. Instead of being teased, my son had started a new fad. How powerful is that? How many people do we know who have ever started a fad all on their own with one simple action?
Another time, my other son who has been playing in rock bands since he was 13, came back from the second hand store with clothes that he found on the ladies rack. I cringed! He was going to a heavy metal venue and playing with his band. The last thing I needed was for him to get beat up.
He went into his room with his buddies and they all came out looking amazing! My son had put the clothes together in such a way that they looked really cool and I would never have imagined it. To date, when I need help deciding what to wear, I have him pick stuff out of my closet. I always put it on and it always looks terrific no matter how odd it may seem starting out.
4) Never, ever listen to anyone disrespect your child. I don’t care who it is!
Children are not inherently bad or ill behaved. They do not go out of their way to upset and embarrass people.
A big trend in public schools today is to label children and then start drugging them. If your child is upset it is because he is having difficulty! I’m sorry to say it but it is YOUR JOB to find out what that difficulty is and remedy it.
Public schools, in my opinion are very quick to blame the child or tell you there is something wrong with them but have you seen how they handle children? Children are pulled and hauled around, shouted down, invalidated, told what to think and made wrong all day long in some of these classes. I am not saying that all teachers or school administrators are bad but many have no idea how to handle children.
I am sure you can recall an instance of complete injustice that has happened to you because of something that happened at school, probably several and if you are not the type to blindly obey, probably a seemingly endless number of them. We all can.
Listening to someone else insult or talk badly about your child is like listening to someone talk down your husband or wife, or your best friend. Would you listen to that junk? Probably not. If you do, you may need to reassess your priorities.
The question you need to ask yourself when you see how children are handled is “How would you react if you, as an adult were treated the same way?” Children are not some alien species, they are adults in little bodies who are doing their best to understand the complex world of the physical universe and weird and sometimes completely dysfunctional relationships around them.
Just because an adult says something about them does not mean that it is true. When in doubt ask your child and then give their response at least as much credence as the adult’s. You may be very surprised.
I have been a Music Instructor for many years and there is not one single difficult child that I have not been able to turn around. Some of them were impossible when they first came in but I have taken each one and changed their behavior. How? I work with them to find out what is bothering them. In many cases it is because they ate a doughnut or gummie bears just before their lesson. I know what those things do to me and my concentration. Imagine a tiny body with the same reaction.
Sometimes something has happened that day that has upset them. You have to get to the root of it and get them to talk about it before they can concentrate. In one instance, I had a little boy who was crying and frustrated. I talked to him and found out that he didn’t realize that you had to let the piano key come up again after pressing it before you can press it again. He was in tears and it was just a simple misunderstanding of mechanics.
One day one of my little girls came in completely caved in. My normally bubbly and adorable little student was quiet and looking down at her shoes. She listlessly sat down at the piano and I asked her what happened to make her sad. She told me that on the playground he had gotten sand in her underwear.
Now I could have said “Oh that’s nothing to be upset about! We have all had that happen!” and she would have been more upset. Instead I told her that that was horrible and probably very upsetting. This made her happier because she knew she was understood. We didn’t have to handle the underwear situation at all, just acknowledge that it sucks to get sand in your underwear. She then went back to being the sweet adorable little student she always was and we had a great lesson.
It took me awhile but I realized that I had been handling my own kids differently than I handled the kids that I was teaching and that was my mistake.
5) Understand that your child is being bombarded with data about the world around him every single day.
His little head is sometimes swimming because it is relentless. When they get tired or hungry, they can go completely out of control.
I have a little personal experience with this. When I was 17 years old, my family moved to Brussels in Belgium. Since there were 7 kids in our family, we could not afford to go to the American schools there and my mom, quite correctly, wanted us to take the opportunity to learn another language.
The result of this was that my sister and I were enrolled in an all girls Catholic school where only French was spoken. We had had no previous knowledge of French other than 5 or 6 classes shortly before we left. Back then, there was very little English spoken in the shops or on the trolleys and there was a touch of anti American sentiment that was unmistakable in certain areas. I had no choice but to do whatever I could to learn the language and customs because I was stuck there.
Every night I went to bed exhausted. It was cold and rained all the time. It was so different than everything I knew. There were many, many melt downs I had in private with the bathroom door locked. I was upset that I had no friends, upset that I could not understand what my class mates were saying, upset because I had made yet another social faux pas or that I had gotten lost on the subway. Every day was a huge undertaking trying to learn the ways and customs of the people I now called neighbors.
Young children are going through much the same thing. Unlike young children though, I had my family on my side. They knew what I was going through because they were going through it too. I always had my sister to talk to about how hard it was and no one told me I was being too sensitive or being unreasonable.
This is not the case with children. If you put yourself in their place, the world is filled with things that don’t make sense. Every physical universe law that we have learned over time, including gravity and other obvious ones are new to this little person.
Have you ever seen a kid crying because he let go of his helium balloon and then see dad or mom say “Well, I TOLD you not to let it go!” Thanks a lot mom! He has just suffered what he feels is a huge loss and now you are telling him how wrong he is. How would you like it if you lost your cel phone and someone came up to you and said “I TOLD you to always put it back in your purse”!” Would you not totally clock that person? Or at least shoot back a clever remark and defend yourself? Kids don’t get to do that. If they do, they get punished.
You need to defend them as you would wish to be defended in the same circumstance.
6) Don’t be your parents.
With my students, I watch the interaction between the child and the parents. I can clearly see behavior patterns that I am sure have been carried down from generation to generation and that are frankly, damaging.
I can see that the parent is only doing it because that is what has been done to them. There is no analysis on the part of the parent. Believe me, I have seen some extremely damaging behavior repeated down through the generations.
Make a pact with yourself that the buck stops with you and you will single handedly change the future of your children, grandchildren and all of your future relatives from here on out.
Do you want to talk about power? Just by changing what you do, you can change all future generations of your family. Who would not want to be the agent of such positive change?
Our children are the biggest blessings we could ever receive. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has lost one. I hate to be harsh but it is true. These little beings have placed all of their trust and faith in us. We must be their closest allies and staunchest supporters We must fight for them and defend them and most of all, allow them to grow up in the way they see fit. If they lose that in us, they have lost everything. If we give that to them, we have given them confidence, enlightenment and a new future for themselves and their kids and grandkids.
I know being a mom or a dad is tough but to my mind, being a kid in this day and age is much tougher. Only by sticking together and committing to a solid connection with your child, will they grow up happy. I know that that is all we ever want for them.
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*Thanks to Pete Sobolev for all of these beautiful photos!