I am a mother to three children, my eldest son is 23, my daughter is 20 and my youngest son is 15. I am proud to say that I have loving and respectful relationships with all three of them... but that wasn't always so, in case you think that I'm some kind of superwoman!
We have dealt with divorce in our family, a divorce which I instigated. I was the one to tell my children that I was leaving their father after 21 years of marriage. I was the one who faced their fury, their anger, their sadness and their grief full on. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life. The fear that I might "lose" my children's love and respect was overwhelming and gut-wrenching.
We have worked our way through the spectre of anorexia in our family. My beautiful daughter suffered with this painful illness during her teenage years and I dealt with it head-on. I was whipping boy, I was the one the anorexia raged at, the wonderful relationship I had had with my little girl disintegrated day by day as we battled with this illness and I stood up to it and supported her as she fought to get better.
I have worked hard at being a parent. I have strong values and have always stood by these. They don't come from any religious foundation, they are simply my life values and the ones I have taught my children. Your values will no doubt be different to mine. We are all different.
I was raised by strict parents. I obeyed without questioning. As I grew up and started my own family, I knew I wanted to parent in a very different way. I wanted discussion, I wanted them to question my decisions, I wanted to be challenged because I knew it would make me a better parent and them better people.
Fact: Boundaries are vital. Children growing up without boundaries will have no frame of reference in later life.
Fact: Children will challenge those boundaries.
Fact: We will want to tear our hair out and simply YELL at them to do as we've told them.
I have often thought of the analogy of us as parents being the archer with a bow and our children being the arrow. The archer became a good archer because he practiced and he made plenty of mistakes. He didn't just wake up as a great archer nor did he beat himself up each time he missed the target, he simply practiced some more.
"How do I build strong relationships with my growing children?" was a question I found I was asked a lot. "What would Rebecca do?" was a question a friend told me she often asked herself. I am no child psychologist, my "expertise" comes simply from my day-to-day commitment to my parenting.
Here are some of my thoughts:
- It takes consistency and patience.
- Appreciate that they are growing up into young adults, they are no longer pre-schoolers.
- Understand that being a teenager in today's world is not the same as when we were growing up (goodness I'm sounding old!).
- Appreciate that they are growing their adult wings, which they need to stretch.
- Trust -- it works both ways. We must learn to trust them if we want them to trust us.
- Being available when they want to talk -- that might be in a car when your eyes are focused on the road ahead and not on them!
- Stop and think before you answer.
- Be prepared to say "I don't know" more often.
- Be prepared to show your vulnerability in front of them.
- Remember that they push you because they know you love them unconditionally... who else can give them that?
- Boundaries are there for a reason. Think hard before you set them because you're going to need to stick to them.
- Don't raise your voice, have a better argument.
- Be non judgmental. You might not choose to dress like a Goth and Grandma certainly wouldn't approve but it works for some! I'd rather an independent thinker than a sheep who follows the crowd any day.
- Have dialogue. They want to go out late to a party, ask them what they feel would be a reasonable time to come home.
- Let them know if the conversation is getting out of hand that you need to leave the room for a while because you feel angry and want to gather your thoughts before answering. Often without an audience their anger/frustration subsides.
- Remember this always -- YOU are the adult not the child
- Kids will always know which buttons to press.
- Learn to be flexible and creative in your thinking
- Question your own parenting more often. Whose voice comes out of your mouth? Your own parents?!
These are some of my initial thoughts on what I've learned, I'd love your thoughts and comments as I want to write about this in much greater detail if you feel it would support you on your parenting journey.