We parents have a ton of goals, don’t we? We have ideals toward which we live for ourselves, how we parent, what we hope for our children. We have ways we want to be, things we want to do, ends we want to achieve — and then we have all of that over again for the offspring we want to raise. It’s difficult enough to move ourselves from point A to point B, but when it comes to our kids, we can be easily overwhelmed by the prospect of how to get them from where they are now to where we want them to end up.
We generally begin by thoroughly second-guessing ourselves. Then we proceed to shut off every available source of intuition. We follow this by seeking fairly random sources of “information” about how to raise children, written by various experts in making people do things. We then continue in this vein by making kids do and not do stuff in order for them to proffer the semblance of the particular characteristics of a well-adjusted human. Exactly what those characteristics are is up for debate, but the idea is to make them behave a certain way and our children will be good people. And since being a good person is definitely one of our goals for our children, we get in the Behaviorism line with all the rest in order to fulfill that goal.
But please, allow me to let you off that particular hook, because the truth is, we don’t get to choose who or even how our children will be. We might get to control what they do, for a little while, maybe, but never who they are or will become. So we can give up the performance of making them do certain things in order to make them be certain kinds of people — if we want. We can even let go of the goal of making them “certain kinds of people” if we’d like to feel the sensation of something other than beating our heads against the wall. Our best bet is not to try and mold them from the outside to fit a particular version of humanity that we most esteem. Our best bet is to love them unconditionally as nature intended and thereby empower them to become the best possible version of themselves that they can. And if we wish to have any positive influence over who they become, then we had better nourish the relationship that guides them to trust us enough to be open to learning from us.
Which is all just to say — if we want to help our children have the best possible chances at happy fulfilling lives, then the most important thing for us to do is nurture our relationships with them. It’s that simple. Or to pick a different goal — if we want our children to become self-assured, compassionate, empathetic, upstanding citizens, then again, the most important thing for us to do is to establish and maintain healthy, loving bonds with them, and to keep that the goal of all of our interactions with them. For everything we hope for our children, and for all the goals we hold in our hearts for them, our best bet is to mind the connection.
I won’t deny that it has the quality of strapping yourself into a mind-bending roller coaster and undertaking the entire ride without holding on. But when we get right down to it, we are attached to the process of parenting our children, but there is not a single thing to really hold on to. We just have to strap ourselves in and ride it out. The process itself, and the final result(s) of the ride, are beyond our control. We bought our tickets, we stood in line for 9-10 months, and then we got on and surrendered ourselves to the spectacle. The only thing we have any control over is the “security” device — whether it is a strap belt, a chest harness, or a simple rubber-coated bar pulled over our laps — that is the extent of our control. In parenting, that device is the relationship. That’s all we get. If we want to enjoy the parenting ride, then we’d better make sure we are firmly attached.
I’ve said it before, the bond we share with our children is the magic power of parenting:
The connection that you are forming and nurturing is not only what will make you a better, more successful parent, but it also makes it easier for you to parent. A well bonded child is more likely to be calmer, more self-assured, braver, more independent, and more trusting of her parents. As she is growing, she is also more likely to follow your modeling, be more attentive to your subtle cues, more responsive to your requests, and much, much more adept at acquiring new skills and learning. In fact, nurturing our bonds with our babies, is the single most important thing we can do for our children’s health, happiness, and success in life.
In terms of strategies for raising our children, then, one thing becomes abundantly clear. If we want to refine our understanding of what we need to do as parents to have the best overall effect toward fulfilling the goals we have for our children, our rule of thumb could be as simple as this: “Let every interaction we have be guided by and in service of the relationship I share with my child(ren).” That’s all we need to know how to do. That’s all we need to be sure of enforcing, or exerting effort to control. That’s all we’ve really got in our parenting arsenals — and really, it’s our only hope.
So whether we are trying to get out of the house to the kid’s dentist appointment, or trying to help her understand how to interact in various social situations, our guide and the path we follow is the relationship. Whether we are hoping to help him learn to negotiate instead of hitting, or to put his dirty underwear in the hamper, our methodology lies in the connection. No matter what we wish to achieve with them, or guide them toward understanding, our best bet in all things is to act in service of our bonds with them. And in the end, isn’t it the relationship that our parenting is all about?
We may have a laundry list of goals for our kids. We may have a library of ideas of how they should be, and what they should and shouldn’t do. But regardless of all the things we want for them to be or accomplish or respect, when it comes right down to it, what we really want is just to get to have a powerful, meaningful, fulfilling relationship with each of our children, right? And for that, I say the ends are the only means worthy or even capable of securing themselves. If we want to have a thriving relationship with our children, then we have to nurture it — and the best way to do that is to make nurturing the relationship the thing we do with our parenting itself. If we can keep our eyes on that prize, then and only then, do we put ourselves and our children in the best possible position for all the rest of the things we hope and aspire for them.
So maybe we could take on a new goal. Every time we want something for or from our children, let’s agree to let the relationship inform our actions and requests. Every time we interact with them, let’s keep our connections with our children as the penultimate priority. And let everything we do with our children be in service of our bonds with them.
If we can do that, we have not only ensured our survival through the wild ride of parenting, but we have secured the only thing we can truly hope to offer our children in this lifetime — the best possible conditions to grow their most stellar selves, and loving people to be with in the process. When all is said and done, can we really hope for anything better? Do we even need to try?
Here’s hoping we all enjoy the ride!