You hear it all the time, “I want to be a better parent then my parents.” Or “I don’t want to make the same mistakes my parents made.” “My dad was ______. And I don’t want to be that ______” But then fast forward a few decades and you are left scratching your head wondering when it all went bad because frankly your kid doesn’t want too much to do with you or they are struggling with all of the same insecurities & relationship patterns that you did. If you are honest with yourself perhaps on this parenting journey you have heard your parents’ voice way more times then you wanted or even needed.
The hard truth: You seem to have repeated almost all of your family’s generational patterns right onto your kids. Perhaps you even added a few new ones. While you were not paying attention you did all the same things, in the all the same ways. When did it all go bad?
There is hope. You CAN take steps to being a better parent than your parents, but these things do not just happen. We don’t stumble upon them by chance.
If we are not intentional about recognizing and resetting default parenting settings, making conscious choices to parent differently, and replacing those less than ideal settings with learned, better options then there is a good chance we will repeat exactly what we were trying to avoid: defeated, hurting, lonely, angry, broken, exhausted, never good enough kids. If we do not replace what we have known as harmful for ourselves with healthy alternatives then we are going to stumble into all the same traps, lazy discipline habits, and emotionally/spiritually neglectful patterns our parents chose.
You cannot simply say you are going to be better and then wishful think your way into better parenting choices, you have to intentionally choose, learn, and find better ways. There is no fairy godmother who bestows better parenting options upon us the moment we hold our first child simply because we have said we will be different, we have to decide and then mold our actions differently.
So yes, we are going to make mistakes and we are likely to make some of the same mistakes our parents made, but I pray our mistakes are always moving us towards a more healthy package that is better than what we have known.
Five Steps to Being a Better Parent Than Your Parents:
1. Evaluate how and why you discipline. Spanking is a hotly debated parenting topic with the number one default reply being, “Well, I was spanked as a child and look how I turned out.” Yes, you turned out to be an adult who smacks, belts, puts your hands on children… congratulations. Way to break those crappy parenting habits. You’ve become your mother minus the yardstick.
I always say that spanking is lazy parenting. When I am at my worst and most lazy as a mother I use my hands. If you have resorted to physical pain to get your point across – trust me – your kids are no longer even remembering the point. If you want to do different then you probably should look at how you were disciplined and evaluate how that did or did not work for you. Look at how you felt and what their discipline inspired or developed within you. Frankly, using shame, fear, guilt, and physical pain to get our kids to listen are the laziest options. So is yelling which happens to be my go-to. Research has shown that spanking also the least effective form of punishment or consequences. There are better options. There are a host of resources out there to train us as parents so that we can better train our kids without smacking or hollering (parenting resource post to follow soon).
2. One of the best ways to develop healthy parenting habits is to really get to know your kids. From how they love, to what they enjoy, to their deepest fears, and their shameful moments. What types of discipline they DO respond to best beyond physical punishment? Do you know what makes your child’s heart leap? Do you understand their quirks and idiosyncrasies? Are you punishing them for things beyond their developmental abilities?
In this world where the whole family is entirely too busy and preoccupied – from sports practices, to school events, from work meetings, to educational goals, and more – there is not much time to sit down face to face and get to know one another parent to child.
When we brought our oldest daughter home for school it was hard for me to see how distant we had become from one another (and she was only part way through second grade). The school routine, mingled with out family routines had left us with dry wells and distance between us. It took months and tons of leaning in to discover one another. It often hurt. It was also very good. I’m not saying you need to homeschool. Nope. What I am saying is that no matter what you choose for your family – the busyness will keep you from one another. Find ways to reconnect. Find ways to discover and uncover the uniqueness of your children and refuse to assume you know simply because they come from you, look or sound like you, and you live in the same house. Be a safe place for them to be themselves.
3. Never use shame to make a point or get your way. Shame is an attack on another person’s character and who they are as people. It sounds like this, “You are….” Fill in the blank: dumb, shy, fat, lazy, stupid, a loser, or not good enough. When we say things like this we are shaming them into boxes and our beliefs about them. We are marking them for life with our words.
Often our assumed ideas about our kids are more about us and less about them. What we project onto them: our fears, our doubts, our shame, our guilt, our insecurities, or our expectations – these can all taint the words we use to accuse and describe our children.
Sometimes we completely miss the mark on who they really are as people and what they can do and how they are in this world. We place neon labels across their foreheads that they will spend a lifetime trying to overcome.
Even if it is the heat of the moment what we say about them and to them is one of the greatest factors in how they see themselves for a lifetime. Think about how often your parents’ words have been an internal dialogue that has inspired or defeated you even into adulthood. Don’t do that.
We can and should train our own tongues as parents to speak what is respectful, kind, good, loving, honest, admirable, pure, and wise into the lives and hearts of our children. This is not always easy. I stumble daily at loving them well and speaking ONLY good things. When I remember always that my job is not to break their spirits or force their wills, but to walk out this life well beside them through genuine encouragement, peacemaking, life-inspiring and hope-giving. I am here to shape, cultivate, inspire, inform, and instruct NOT to break, force, guilt, shame them, or make them afraid. If I am breaking, forcing, using guilt or shame or causing them to fear – I am going to lose them. I will lose their trust and their respect. I will be unable to hear their voice. They will not walk away from me standing on a firm foundation confident in their own abilities, significance, or heart. They will have a difficult time trusting themselves and those around them.
4. Get your shit together. As a parent one of the greatest hindrances to our child’s development and success as a human being is whether or not we have our shit together. If you are an emotional, spiritual, physical wreck – that is going to overflow right into the lives of your children. You can have the best of intentions, but handicap them when they consistently witness your own poor life choices. Children are immensely loving, compassionate, and forgiving of our grownup mistakes (especially if forgiveness and saying, “I am sorry…” without excuses has been modeled FOR them).
Your children will suffer if you are:
- consistently an emotional wreck
- spending your days living in your own head space, work zone, or life instead of intentionally engaging with them in the present
- combating your internal and external demons
- making poor health or lifestyle decisions – what we do with out bodies for good or not so great are habits that they witness daily.
- Less than ideal relationship choices – who we allow to have contact with or access to our kids matters.
The best thing you can ever do for your children is not about money, status, vacations, housing, education, electronic gadgets, extracurricular activities, or church. The best thing you can ever do for your kids comes from being the healthiest, most wholehearted person YOU can be. By finding and cherishing yourself through self-care and healthy, whole living, when you discover your truest, most authentic self – you set your child up for success in bravely finding who they are despite a world that shouts loudly in opposition.
5. Apologize often. Repeat as necessary. You are going to fail them. You already have failed them. One thing I think my parents’ generation and the generation before them sucks at – is being wrong (especially when it comes to their kids – because they just
assume “KNOW”). They (not all of them, but certainly the churched folks) have an incredibly difficult time apologizing AUTHENTICALLY. That is apologizing without blame, excuses, demands for immediate forgiveness, or that horrid word “BUT.” An apology with the word “BUT” attached is NOT an apology. That is someone who is still blaming someone or something else for their behavior. When you use a “But” in your apologies you are STILL NOT getting it. There is a way of speaking an apology that is healing and life-giving from which peacemaking and reconciliation flow and then there are those other types of apologies where you end up looking like an even bigger, uninformed ass. Don’t be an ass.
At the end of the day what your kids need is you as their parents. They need you as healthy (physically, emotionally, spiritually) as possible. They need you present. They need you leaning into them daily. The last thing they need is another nag or tyrant or negative ninny. The last thing they need to hear is all your doubts about how they couldn’t, shouldn’t, or are not equipped, but how they can, should, attempt to leap and try and thrive. And above all they need to see you living what you expect from them – apologizing often, seeking self-care, leaping bravely, choosing honestly and authenticity.
I am NOT a parenting expert. I am a once broken woman who has found wholeness and healing – who got her shit together – and is learning to lean in and with much laughter parent some great kids.
I am not frightened of the teenage years to come. These are some of the most interesting little people I have ever had the chance to encounter. I am excited to see how and who they become. It is a privilege not a chore to get to walk out this growing with them. Families can thrive together even in the face of chronic illness, mental health concerns, and spiritual brokenness. A family can find wholeheartedness together.
We make mistakes every single day. And yes, we are probably repeating a number of generational patterns no one has noticed as harmful yet, but we are also boldly defeating some patterns that have no place in our home or lives. It is NOT easy.
We can do this and so can you.
How do you think you parent well? Are there a few steps that you could work on? How will you start?