By Lauren McClain
William Glasser wrote, “Few of us parents are prepared to accept that it is our attempts to control that destroys the only thing we have with our children that gives us some control over them—our relationship.”
Parenting is relationship building and a state of being. The goal of parenting is to build a healthy parent-child relationship through being together. In this way, the job of parenting becomes modeling rather than commanding and ruling. A good parent provides the model of a good person, and we do our best parenting when we be the best we can be.
Children require a special kind of attention compared to most other relationships because they need parents, and what they have to give in return is unlike anything we get from other relationships. Analyzing this, it follows to think of children as needy friends. Whenever you feel overwhelmed by their talking over each other, their surprise messes, and the demanding calls for ‘Mama,’ think slowly to yourself: “These are my high-needs friends…with whom a relationship of mutual respect, learning together, and teaching through modeling, will provide the best chance for their growth and success.”
What would you do if a friend you wanted a good relationship with behaved in an overwhelming way? We may try not to be enabling for them but it doesn’t mean we prevent them. We can’t control them in that way. Instead, we do our best in the relationship to help show them how to develop self-control.
Most ‘failures” in parenting are not failures at all. They are manifestations of the fact that our child is not ours to control; that she is a person we can never completely understand who is on her own path. The relationship we develop through curiosity and respect is our highest form of parenting. This relationship is not like other relationships. Children need us. We shouldn’t be permissive or treat them like contemporaries, but our relationship is our greatest strength as a parent.
Building a real, healthy relationship with our children is tricky, mostly because it is so uncommon and we have so few models and examples. The article Authenticity in the summer 2017 issue of Pathways shows us three indispensable elements of all healthy relationships including those we have with our children. I’ve summarized them here. For a fuller discussion see Roslyn Ross’ excellent piece on page 10 of Pathways #54.
How to be in a relationship with a child:
1. Spend Time Together
With children, it’s all about quantity time. Quality time is a con. Children thrive on consistency and the unremarkable familiarity of the ordinary day. They’re not going to wait until your planned excursion to tell you what’s in their hearts. It’s too much pressure. They do it when you’re leaning against the doorjamb watching them put away clothes or wax poetic about Minecraft.
If you don’t listen to them talk when it doesn’t matter, they won’t talk when it does matter. Good relationships are built on being there and being available.
Find new ways to be together. Periodically approach an experience with your child as if they were someone you don’t know. Be willing to learn more about your child every day. Who are they? Who are you together?
2. Both of You Express How You Feel About Your Time Together
In healthy relationships, both people can express how they feel about the time they spend together. With our children, we should talk honestly together. This doesn’t mean you tell them everything you think or feel. We have to filter for children; the younger the child, the greater the filter.
When they talk, we believe what they say. They are a person and have a right to express their feelings, whatever they may be. Remember that we want them to express their ugly, anti-social, or difficult feelings to us and not elsewhere. We’re safe. Part of a healthy relationship is staying safe for each other.
3. Be Committed to the Relationship
We are born into our parent/child relationships. They are the friends we don’t choose. To keep the relationship strong we have to intentionally choose them every step along the way. We have commit to being the safe one, the perpetual, the constant. Not so much the authority figure or faultless leader.
As Roslyn Ross says, “Long term committed relationships have a special potential to become toxic because they almost always come with job descriptions.”
If we set aside our compulsion to control, which comes from our fear of doing a bad job, then we can approach parenting with less heaviness. We can set aside the title of Parent and approach our relationship as mature sources of safety, stability, and love.
Everyone needs someone to walk with during their formative years. Let’s trust each other, spend time together, and learn more about ourselves in the process. Let’s be friends.
Lauren is a childbirth educator (Birth Boot Camp) and the author of the Breech Baby Handbook. She owns Better Birth Graphics, a shop full of practical, intuitive birth media for professionals. Her work has been published in Mothering, Holistic Parenting Magazine, Birth Issues, True Birth, Mama Birth, and elsewhere. She lives in Maryland with her family of five.