How can we improve our relationship with our children? Rev Sam shares useful tips.
As young parents, my wife and I often wished that there was a “perfect” method to parent our child without traumatizing her—but found no such “perfect” book! Yet, I find that the global trend in parenting is to over- love and over-care for our children and strive to be perfect parents who raise perfect children.
This could be partly due to our desire to fulfill all our deprivations growing up and to ensure that our children have a smooth ride through life without strife and worry— “Don’t worry, Mummy will look into this,” or “Daddy will drive you to your various appointments,” or “The maid will help you,” etc.
The following are 5 Tips for Meaningful Parenting, coming from my experience as a parent as well as a counselor.
- Stop trying to be the perfect parent
“Perfection is an illusion, and the perfect setup for failure.” For example, if we want our children to become the lawyer that we were unable to become, then the pressure is on them to fulfill our dreams—not theirs! While busy trying to be perfect, we also tend to be intolerant of our children’s imperfections. Consequently, we may have unhappy and “imperfect” children trying to meet our expectations for a perfect outcome that is undesirable to them!
- Stop blaming your parents for your imperfect childhood
- Stop chiding yourself for the mistakes in parenting that you seem to make.
- Stop adding to your “to-do” list of things to improve your child’s life! Learn to relax and enjoy your children as they go through their developmental stages.
- Switch off your autopilot mode
When serving in the Air Force in the 1970s, I was fascinated by the autopilot mode that caused planes to follow preset flight patterns. This mode needs programming and must be regularly upgraded! Similarly, parents also have programmed responses to our children, starting from their first cry for food. Over time, some reactions tend to be “preset” and are not “upgraded”! These autopilot responses could traumatize our children, causing them to retreat and not tell you anything, for fear of your over-reactions!
- Do you tend to jump to conclusions without understanding your child’s views?
- Do you tend to problem-solve when your child only wants you to listen?
- Can you find resources or people who can help rather than jump in?
- Uncover unrealistic expectations you have
Psychodynamic theory in psychology raises the concepts of projections and transference. As parents, we often project unrealistic expectations on our children! Many years ago, I read of a leading heart surgeon from Mt Sinai Hospital (USA) who resigned at the peak of her career. She said, “All my life I have been doing what my mother wanted me to do. Now, I am going to do what I have always wanted to do.” She became an artist, because she had loved drawing and painting all her life!
- Are your motivations coming from your child’s own needs or yours?
- Don’t compare your child with the accomplishments of others: there will be no end to it.
- Be open to learn from others. Seek help if needed as your child goes through different stages in life.
- Listen to communicate effectively
Attending skills are some of the most fundamental skills in counseling. Among them is the skill of active listening. However, in close relationships we tend to neglect them. Here are some simple corrections we can make in communication with our spouses and children.
- Listen actively—reflect what you heard in your own words and acknowledge the feelings that accompany the content.
- Accurate empathy—you don’t always have to agree with what your child says, but you can acknowledge what it means to her.
- Avoid judging, criticizing, or ridiculing your child’s story.
- Keep a Healthy Marriage
After 33 years of marriage, I believe I can vouch that the quality of a marriage is not constant! Both partners have to continually work at it. How is the quality of your marriage? When did you last evaluate it? Is your marriage meeting your needs for intimacy? Is your communication open and honest? What do you do together that brings excitement, joy and fun? Do any of these questions make you feel uncomfortable?
- Keep talking with your spouse to find out what is happening. Don’t assume!
- Go back to Tip 4—express your need clearly.
- Don’t analyze everything. Sometimes, you may need to suspend judgment when you hear things that you find difficult to agree with. Our parenting styles may not be perfect, but they can certainly be meaningful!
The above-mentioned tips are inspired and adapted from the book by Laurie Ashner and Mitch Meyerson (1990) “When Parents Love Too Much.”
About Rev Sam Kuna:
Rev Sam Kuna is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God of Singapore. He has a BA in Psychology and an MA in Marriage, Family & Child Counseling. He is a trained Sandplay Therapist, Addiction Counselor and Clinical Supervisor. He currently serves as Dean at the School of Counselling in TCA College. He sits on the Board of several professional counseling associations and is an active volunteer.