Just one best thing, I hear you wonder. Can it really be that simple?
Parenting feels infinitely complex. So many different elements and seemingly competing demands. An endless juggling act with too many balls in the air rapidly falling to the floor. Just the practical stuff – the keeping clean and fed, and clothed and healthy – it’s a full-time job in and of itself.
But perhaps it really is much simpler than we might sometimes believe…
The best thing we can do as parents is nurture our relationships with our children.
Grow and develop those loving connections that were likely established at birth and even before.
Make those relationships a priority.
It’s a cliche, but a classic – the days are long, but the years are short. One day that relationship may be all we have left.
While pondering our educational philosophy for the umpteenth time, contemplating our big picture goals and musing over the job of parenting, this really struck me. Everything just keeps coming back to the nature of our relationships.
Valuing connection rather than compliance, respecting rights rather than enforcing rules, and listening rather than lecturing – these can radically transform our family dynamics and improve our relationships. But this is all dependent on our choices, how we choose to invest our time and resources, the effort we make in nurturing and supporting these relationships to thrive.
We are all busy, we are all tired and we are all bombarded with images of perfect homes and perfect lives, often leaving us feeling swamped and overwhelmed. But there is hope. If we can stop to catch our breath, pause, slow down and be more intentional. If we make the time to ensure that our actions, our words and our mindset are strengthening our relationships rather than undermining and damaging them, then all the other tasks of parenting inevitably get easier.
If we can put the relationship first, all the other stuff will follow. So much of what we do and who we have become has been influenced by fear. Fear that doesn’t serve us, that leads us to fret and to worry, a self-fulfilling prophecy that damages our relationships. Let’s try to worry less.
When we become too concerned with the societal expectations of children at a particular age, or the stereotyped difficulties supposedly inherent in parenting certain stages – think terrible twos and rebellious teens – maybe, sometimes, we get what we expect. We may be inviting challenges based on expectations without effectively communicating with, or respecting the reality of our children’s actual individual experiences.
If we really want to nourish our relationships, strengthen our bonds and really get to know our children better, then it can help to release ourselves and our children from the ‘shoulds’, the ‘always’ and the ‘never’. Thinking of our children, or ourselves, or indeed anyone, as fixed entities – ‘they always forget stuff’, ‘they’re always late’. ’they never learn’ – damages our relationships and disregards the reality that we are all growing, learning and developing as people throughout our lives.
Seeing our children free from the baggage of labels, maybe we or others have previously given them, can allow us to consider a greater range of possibilities when issues do arise. We can think in terms of opportunities for growth, and ways to be helpful, supporting them as they develop skills, knowledge and tools to deal with different situations. We can model useful strategies and positive responses to life in general. We can give them the chance to see themselves in different ways and embrace their whole humanity. If we can do this both metaphorically and literally then so much the better- go on, get hugging!
Avoiding judgement and resisting the temptation to disregard our children’s activities or interests can provide possibilities for increased connection. Nurture those opportunities to deepen attachments. Listen and be curious, remain open to the idea that our children have much that we can learn from.
Trust may have been lost if we have neglected our relationships. As we rebuild those relationships then we encourage that trust to return. As we learn more about each other as real people, rather than being confined to the roles that society attempts to assign us, we will gain more respect for each other and trust will become easier.
By setting the tone for our relationships with kindness, peace and mutual respect, by trusting and being trustworthy, and acting in ways that support what we seek, we invite what we wish to receive. It’s also worth remembering here, that sometimes it’s the actions we choose not to take – the comments we refrain from making, the complaints we resist sharing, and the demands we decide not to make – that can have the most impact on our relationships.
As our relationships improve, we may see changes in the way we respond to everyday situations. We may stop acting from a place of desperation, impulsively and in fear. We can move from being reactive to becoming more reflective. And as we begin to relax and enjoy the benefits of better relationships, then so too will our children. The potential for conflict is reduced and our relationships improve yet further. Isn’t that really what we all want?
(If you’re worried that this all seems too much like being a friend rather than a parent, and you think that might be a bad idea, see what I have to say on that here)