Learning to Let Go

All too often, parenting blog posts start with some type of statement; from the author, on how they’re failing as a parent, or how they are failing their kids, or how they’re just not cut out for this parenting thing. Look no further than my catalog of post over the past 7 years.

To say I’ve grown tired of that mentality, and constant trip to the old well of self-deprecation for cheap laughs, would be putting it lightly.

I’m a damn good father, and not just by the lame/tired societal standard that all you have to do to be a good dad, is not abandon your kids. I kill it at being a dad. And one of the ways I do that, is by showing my kids that I’m flawed, just like them. I make poor decisions all the time…again, look no further than my catalog of writing.

But one decision I made; not too long ago, is that I stopped trying to be super-dad. I stopped trying to fix everything for them. I stopped keeping them in the dark about decisions I was making, and why I was making them, and most of all, I stopped treating my children as if they needed to see me as some all knowing leader, and instead I ask that they see me as a guide; as someone who has been on similar paths they are going to travel, and can offer insight and advise, but is ultimately going to leave the decisions on where their paths twist and turn, up to them.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be one of these free range parents, that lets their kids do whatever and whenever; I’m just no longer going to the one that fixes all their issues, or tells them how they should feel about something. But, I’m also not going to involve my kids in decisions or discussions that ultimately are about true adult content…they are still kids after all.

I realize that all may be a bit confusing; hopefully I can help make a little more sense here.

Listening, Not Fixing:

Recently one evening, my son came to me and asked if we could talk. During our chat, he told me that while at school, the subject of fears was raised, the kids were asked to share one of their fears. He explained he said he didn’t have one, but that was because he didn’t want to share. Then he went onto tell me that he did, in fact, have a fear, and he had confided in one of his classmates what that fear was.

Now, being that we’re talking about 7yos here, it came as no surprise that his next comment was that that same classmate then broke that confidence and told the whole table where there were sitting during lunch; which then led to my son being teased by other kids; one kid in particular who has been screwing with my son since kindergarten.

As you can imagine, I was in full Papa Bear mode, ready to tear into those kids; tell my son what losers those other kids are, and how he should handle the situation the next time it happens. But…I didn’t.

Instead, what I did, was reflect back on the amazing #TalkEarly summit I was fortunate enough to attend late last year, put on by Responsibility.org. At that summit, we were fortunate to hear author, journalist, and certified counselor Phyllis Fagell talk about listening to your kids more, and do less fixing of their problems.

In her talk Phyllis brought up the subject of pausing in your conversations with your kids. This really resonated with me, as this is something I have been working on a great deal when communicating with other adults, and communicating with our children should be no different.

If you’re not familiar, the pause is exactly what it sounds like; you pause within a conversation, argument, debate or whatever, to evaluate how you’re feeling; how the other person is feeling, and give yourself a moment to self-scan before answering. Plus, it shows the other person you’re truly listening.

Back to the conversation of the kids picking on my son. After what felt like a long time sitting there, I said to my son:

“First, I’d like to let you know how brave I think you are for admitting you’re afraid of something. It takes a lot of courage to own your fear. Second, I’m very sorry someone, not only broke your confidence, but then made fun of you about something you trusted them with. I imagine that upset you. Lastly, I’d like to ask you a question before we go forward…are you looking for help or advice on how to handle this issue, or would you just like for me to listen? I’m happy to do either, or both buddy.”

The question seemed to catch my son off guard, simply because that’s not how I normally respond. Prior to this conversation, I was much more Papa Bear, than I was…whatever this bear would be. To my surprise, my son said, “No dad, I don’t need any advice. I just wanted to talk about it. I can handle those kids.” We spent the next 30 minutes or so talking about how the situation felt, and why he thought the kids acted the way they did.

I enjoyed our talked, but most of all, I was so proud of my son for having the emotional intelligence he does at such a young age. Sometimes I actually wonder, who’s more of the guide on this emotional journey, him or me.

I’ve said many times over the past 7 years, how afraid I get as I watch my children grow; especially my son. As they age, I know I will need to be more hands-off and allow them to make their own decisions, and face the consequences that come with those decisions. And as a parent of a highly emotional kid, the fear of the world eating him alive is a real thing.

I really enjoyed hearing Phyllis’ talk at the #TalkEarly summit. Here are some of the great tips she gave during her talk:

  • Are the kids identifying it as a problem or are you thinking it’s a problem?
  • Don’t interview for pain or mine for misery – be present in anything they are sharing, so long as it’s not a result of direct interrogation
  • If the child says there is a problem – ask them what outcome they want – what kind of steps could they take to solve this problem.  One of her specific recommendations was to ask your child this question: “What’s the worst idea you can think of” and then make it a fun activity – by guiding them to consider what are two good pieces of that bad idea you can take out away. This allows them to learn to think critically and gain a sense of empowerment.
  • What creates stress in kids is uncertainty and what parents can do is not fix problems for them. We instead can give them a sense of empowerment and that they have control by helping them walk through the steps but allowing them to be the main architect of the solution. This gets to the idea of “coach, don’t control.” You can specifically ask them these questions, like, “what have you tried” – “what are you going to try next” – give them a sense of agency that they can solve their own problem.

Also, remember to check out Responsibility.org for more on the #TalkEarly campaign, and for amazing tools and conversation starters to help communicate better with young children, pre-teens, and teenagers.

I am a #TalkEarly ambassador for Responsibility.org. I have received compensation for my work, but all opinions are my own

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