Throughout the years we’ve worked with and interviewed scores of parents of all ages, including grandparents, about their parenting techniques and styles. In short order, it became obvious that there was one thing the vast majority of these parents expressed: parenting was the hardest job they ever had – but was also the most rewarding. Much of the parenting information we’ve gathered is in a chapter of our new book, Living and Loving Better with Time Perspective Therapy: Healing from the Past, Embracing the Present, Creating and Ideal Future, McFarland, October 2017.
But now it is summer and many children are on an extended break, so we thought we’d share a few parenting tips as well as some good advice from a friend.
Parenting: Who is it really for?
Derek Siver is Phil’s fellow TED Talks buddy. He’s an author, entrepreneur, book publisher, terrific blogger, and founder of CD Baby. In a recent column, Parenting: Who is it Really for?, Derek mentions he spends thirty hours a week with his son which led him to a profound realization: the parenting things he does for his five year old, he also does for himself. Here they are in a nutshell:
- Deliberately cultivates a long attention span – Derek believes whatever his son is interested in is the most important thing when they are together. So he encourages his son to continue doing it for as long as possible. For instance, they’ll play at the beach, forest, or park, making things with sticks and inventing games for hours before his son loses interest. When he thinks of other things they could be doing, he lets it go and refocuses on the present moment.
- Enter his world – When with his son, Derek turns off his phone and computer, enters his son’s world, and tries to see things through the eyes of a five year old. “When he gets upset at someone, I try to remember what it was like to be that age, when everything felt like a huge deal, and relate at that level. When he makes up stories, I go right along in his invented world. If he says we’re cats in Paris, we’re cats in Paris. The Minotaur is chasing us? We both run.” When tempted to check his phone, he asks himself what’s more important – and leaves if off.
- Broad input – Derek tries to expose his son to a wide range of sensory input through experiencing different places to play and visit. He also exposes his son to music from various cultures and times (classical, jazz, Bulgarian choir, opera, and such.) They visit the library each week and read books together for an hour each night. They also watch age-appropriate movies together. (Derek recommends GKIDS.)
By doing these three things, Derek has enriched his life as follows: 1) cultivates his own attention span, 2) finds meditation easier, and 3) adds variety to his life.
Love Love Love
Back to our dedicated parents – most shared that they were amazed at the exquisite feelings of love they felt for their children. One first time father said he didn’t know it was possible to love anyone as much as he loved his wife. But he had fallen deeply and completely in love with his baby. And a mother of three stated she loved her first child so much she didn’t know if she could love her second as much. But she found that she felt the same deep love for her second child, as well as her third. What these parents expressed is unconditional love—limitless affection; a deep desire to protect and nurture their progeny.
When we feel unconditional love for our children and we are fortunate enough to be able to focus on raising them in a wholesome, healthy way, we pave the way for our children to grow up well-balanced and able to cope with life as it unfolds.
The importance of boundaries
However much they may resist it initially, children actually want the security of boundaries. They are much more comfortable and at ease with a sense of order and knowing what’s expected of them. Even in a dog pack there needs to be an “alpha” to hold it all together and insure survival. Your children look to you for stability. You can be kind and gentle and still be the one in charge. Take a deep breath and do your best to remain calm, and be as consistent as possible; in your demeanor as well as your schedules and routines. What our kids need from us is love, guidance, a sense of well-being, and a set of strong core values. And they need us to be consistent, and thus relatively predictable in our actions toward them. This is what will light their path in life.
Today’s parents may not have had the best example when growing up. If mom or dad was unavailable or unapproachable, or largely left us to our own devises, we have little to work with. But parents who aspire to do better by their kids than was done for them have avenues of assistance available, be it through a church, an organization or professional counseling. And sometimes you just need someone to talk to. A valued confidant and trusted friend or relative may offer support, as well. As parents, we all want a better life for our children, and no matter how desperate or out of control a situation may feel, we do have the means to make a change. Of course the task is more challenging if you are a single parent with modest means to employ any helpers. Ideally, you should feel free to ask for needed help from family, friends, and neighbors, and make clear you are willing to reciprocate the time and effort when possible.
Whatever phase of life we find ourselves inhabiting, it is never too late to release our burdens and brighten our perspective. If your own negative past holds you back from being the parent you want to be now, consider how it might feel if you could find it in your heart to forgive your parent(s). You are a parent now yourself, and have the vision to see how challenging it can be. It is powerfully liberating if you can let past negative experiences go. And if you simply can’t get over it, step around it … but move forward. Nurture a grateful attitude for all the goodness in the now; fan the flames of hope; and build a healthy optimism for what lies ahead. We are driven to make the most of this life; but even more motivated by the dreams we hold for our children. Know that you have the power to create a positive future for yourself and for them, too — as a lifelong team on a special journey. We only go around once, so make that precious time the best for you, and them.
Take Charge! Get in touch with the Hero in You! Check out Phil Zimbardo’s Heroic Imagination Project.