It’s been said that children don’t come into the world with a how-to manual. Most parents find their way through the sometimes bewildering maze of parenthood on auto pilot or through the ways in which previous generations raised them and their parents. The book entitled: Parenting For Life, penned by Nina Sidell, MA is the closest thing I have seen to that type of instructional guide. Filled with wisdom gained, not only as a professional, but a mother of two, it addresses the needs of both parent and child as they grow together. Endorsed by Deepak Chopra, MD, it touches on the heart of parenthood. It has also received the Mom’s Choice Award, with good reason.
When you became a parent, like all of us, you entered into it with ideas of what it would be like. How did they play out? What were the surprises ?
I was excited to become a parent and had looked forward to this role for many years. I had a great deal of love, affection, creativity, and empathy to give and wanted to be the best parent that my children needed me to be. My ideas were to be a devoted lifetime parent giving and understanding as much about my parenting aptitudes and my children as possible, while maintaining my life’s balance. One surprise was becoming a single parent, especially so early on in the process.
If you had a book like yours back then, what might you have changed as a parent?
Since I was the primary caregiver to my children and worked with parents, children, and families professionally, I was developing this method as I lived it and saw that it worked well. I was keenly aware many of the aspects I wrote about as they were happening. I may have learned to let go of the little things with more grace, hindsight and humor. Those took time to develop.
How can we keep our expectations for our children at bay, while they develop into their unique beings?
The best approach is to view and enjoy our children for who they are from the get-go. Our expectations are best managed when we look at ourselves, our histories, our attitudes, and our children as they are. It is most effective to be unconditionally loving, respectful, realistic, and supportive of your child in each moment. We must value children’s feelings, opinions, wishes, and limits as the lifetime relationship grows. Similarly, we must tune into where our expectations as parents come from. With this orientation, we can better accept and allow for our children’s individual process. Development cannot be rushed, nor can individuality.
Our needs as parents sometimes get absorbed in caretaking. Please share ways of nurturing ourselves as we nurture them.
Defining self-care, including its ongoing components, timing, and implementation is an individual process of self-acceptance, self- love, and self-discovery. We are often not prepared for much of what happens while parenting. Surprises come up outside of your own convenience that need attending to and lurk around every corner as a parent. It is vital for parents to make time to re-balance and re-charge themselves, relax, renew, connect with other adults, and rejuvenate the mind, body, emotions, and spirit. Doing this well is about time and stress management. What each parent needs to self-nurture is unique to them and can evolve as the parent does. You care for your child and you care for yourself. Everyone counts and everyone’s needs matter. The goal is a win-win outcome for all.
The word ‘parent’ is both a noun and a verb. How can we consciously parent, rather than doing it on auto pilot?
The concept of doing anything well includes the necessary steps, skills, and awareness to make choices within each defining moment in the process. Like any endeavor worth pursuing, a conscious parent is alert to everyone’s feelings, internal cues, their family and relationship dynamics with a sense of curiosity and commitment. In this case and since the love and care for a child is the most important job any parent will ever have, it beckons the adult to be as fully awake as possible while at the wheel.
Please offer ways of breaking generational patterns of parenting that were not the healthiest for parent and child.
A good rule of thumb is to take the “temperature” of the household and all its members. The parent needs to be self-aware and an active listener for family members experiences and feedback. If the parent is aware of the unhealthy patterns that they have repeated or internalized, then the parent must be proactive to make positive changes on their own or with professional help. It is empowering for the parent and liberating for the parent-child relationship and family system to lead with a mindset for a present state of health. A parent has the power in each moment to acknowledge and thus alter, perpetuate, or obliterate unhealthy tendencies, patterns, whether behavioral or attitudinal—that seeps in from the past. In these moments, new traditions are born.
It may be easier to get along with one child than others in the family. How can parents keep from playing favorites?
The parent’s role and responsibility is to be loving, firm, and present for each child, no matter what. By keeping the spirit of mutual love and respect consistent with each interpersonal relationship, differing styles and patterns of interactions will exist. With these differences, and even when it feels challenging to the parent (and child), the lessons of unconditional love, respect, and support present itself. Favoritism reflects an old family tendency of conditional love or what is easy for the parent, but does not reflect what is fair. A parent who tends toward finding a favorite child or a child that requires less “work” for them needs to learn new skills of understanding, empathy, and appreciation for the differences. Perhaps one lesson is to see if the child reminds a parent of a part of themselves or traits of someone else that they struggle with- thus learning how to relate in new ways through relationship tests and situational opportunities. Remember, even challenges that stretch our perceptions and responses have their silver linings and valuable gifts and can draw us closer.
What about a situation in which there are special needs, whether physical or emotional? How can parents care for that child and still have the others feel that their needs are also being met?
Special needs, gifted needs, or any situation that goes above and beyond the average, normal, often neurotic and dysfunctional family scenario present unique challenges. Understanding, care, support, and strategies must be put in place in the family system. The levels of understanding of everyone’s needs are important matters. The degree of patience and communication within the family, along with proper structure and flow are paramount. Lastly, finding outside support in various networks, including psychological, educational, social, medical, and spiritual safe places to find strategies and external support are essential in many of these homes. Spending time getting to know and relate to each child is mandatory so no one feels ignored or neglected. Planning special one-on-one time with Mom or Dad works wonders too!
How can parents set positive examples, rather than the oft expressed “Do as I say, not as I do,” mentality?
Children need positive examples in a myriad of ways, especially in our complex society today. Parents like children need to hold themselves accountable. Despite perhaps communicating otherwise, children and young adults look and listen to the repeated messages and examples set by parents and other significant role models. If you are living a life that is sub-par ethically, morally, physically, or spiritually and teach the opposite of that, then you model hypocrisy. You run the risk of teaching your child either to be a hypocrite or nothing like you. Emotional or behavioral fallout is to be expected sooner or later. Either way, you are introducing a negative aspect to teach about character and intention. Why not choose to be the best you can be while you encourage your child to be their best too?
Why is it important to love our own inner child?
Most adults live adult-oriented lives; have formed physically, matured intellectually, spiritually, and socially, allowing for multi-dimensional and successful interaction in the world. Within each adult resides an inner child who is still a part of the adult’s heart, soul, and psyche. The adult’s inner child can be easily accessed and tended to while the adult can best care for themselves. It is a form of self-love and self-respect to honor this once small, vulnerable, and instinctual part of one self. The younger aspects of an adult can be invoked when you pay attention to and integrate the inner child and teen that still reside in you. As an adult, you are in charge; you think, respond, and thrive from your grown, wise, and mature self-taking charge of your life. This acknowledgment helps to grow your authentic self, self-esteem, life satisfaction, positive interactions with others– all creating joy and overall happiness. When we recognize all of our parts, we function better as a whole. It is like parenting the child inside in ways that nurture, heal, and support while your adult self holds the reins. Similar to my best philosophy between parents and children, the same holds true here. “The parent is in charge, and the child has a voice.
What are your thoughts about parents who call their children their best friends? Is it possible to befriend your child and be a loving authority figure?
My belief is that a parent’s job is to be the team leader, primarily to be a protector, guide, safe role model, and consistently loving and responsive caregiver to their child. A parent is the parent team leader who loves and values their children and protects their relationship. To be exclusive “best friends” is something else. Some families and family members feel very close, secure, safe yet free in the family net. The special connections between people in all relationships are not always easily definable and can stretch the terms of their roles. As long as the parent is calling their child their “best friend” is doing so from a healthy versus co-dependent place with a personal agenda, it keeps the appropriate balance. Another aspect of this term “best friends” for parents and their children is how this term makes the child, teen, or young adult feel. Is there permission to have other “best friends” or is this a exclusionary title? What conditions must be met to live their lives as “best friends”, and are their lives overly inter-twined and enmeshed, or is “best friend” suitable for best parent-child buds? It’s a good question that family dynamics and healthy boundaries can address.
If someone is a single parent, how important is it to have same sex role models/supports for your child?
In all scenarios, same and opposite-sex role modeling and supports are needed for a child’s overall development. This same sex role modeling helps the child to copy and envision what will be like to be a woman or a man, to someday grow to their grown mature male or female self. If the other parent is present in the child’s life and is an overall good role model be thankful and appreciative. The daughter of a single father needs the influence and presence of a positive female role model or multiple models. The same is true for the son of a single mother who needs the guidance and leadership of a positive male role model or multiple models. Children need to see who they are and who they can be. If they don’t have a person to help teach by example and allow their vision to grow about themselves- they can suffer. Same is true to allow and invite children to have safe supportive adults, other/older kids/safe resources of all kinds, backgrounds, colors, genders, or lifestyle preferences. Each family establishes their code of ethics or morals, cohesion, safety, and support networks. The key is that the child has the chance to see all she or he can be in the moment and in the future.