I recently received a question from a mother of a 10-year-old girl. Here’s what she asked:
“My daughter and I have regular struggles over things that I want her to do that I feel would be good for her (like studying an instrument or attending a program). I know that after she does it, she will be happy I forced her, but it causes us so much friction; it’s like tugging a donkey up a hill sometimes. What can I do to alleviate the stress in our home around these things?”
This question brought to my mind a quote:
”Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”
-Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art
I would like to propose these edits to make this applicable to peaceful parenting:
Let’s face it. It’s easy to forget that your kid is her own person, not a little ‘you’ walking around, and because it’s so easy to forget this, a lot of kids struggle under the weight of their parents’ wishes and expectations and goals for them. We well-meaning, loving parents forget that the things that light us up may not light up our child.
When puzzling out all this friction and discord, it may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:
- Why does this thing that I want for my child matter so much to me? (Is it possible that this is something I wanted for myself as a kid but never got to do?)
- Is it more important to me than it is to my child? Why? Or, why not?
- Is this something my child really cares about? How can I tell? Have I discussed it with him? Am I really hearing him? Is there a way I can get inside his shoes and walk around in them for a while to see what he’s really feeling about this issue?
- Is there perhaps a different choice here that may be more meaningful or satisfying to my child?
- Is there a compromise?
- What would happen if he didn’t do this thing that I think he should do?
- What would happen if he did do this thing that I think he should do? What is the ultimate benefit?
- Will all this matter in one day? One month? One year? Ten years?
The answers to these questions are simply to help you understand what’s going on. The answer may be that the decision you make today will matter in 10 years! (But, if that’s the case, you will likely have to do a better job making a convincing case to your child, because if your child does not buy in, the damage to your relationship may not be worth what you think the benefit will be.)
But, when you are in partnership with your child, you both may find it less stressful to make choices and decisions, especially those that pertain to what your child is wanting ~ or not wanting ~ to do. You may be convinced that this is the best thing for your child, but if you child is really not interested, then you might want to consider the potential damage to your relationship that can result from pushing her into doing something she is not feeling passionate about ~ especially if the thing you want for your child is at the perceived expense of what she wants.
And, it helps to remember that learning and growth are everywhere, contained within the things that light us up. Human beings, and especially young human beings, are hard-wired for learning; they learn from everything, and they learn especially well when they feel good and happy. That’s one reason why play is such a great learning tool. And, when you follow and support your child’s passion, when you honor the things that light up your child, and when you engage with them (to the extent your participation is invited), you will be amazed and delighted at the learning and growth that take place. It may not all be quantifiable, but it is there.
Here are three wonderful resources that tell more about this kind of learning:
- Sandra Dodd’s Excellent and Extensive Resources on Unschooling.
- Pam Laricchia’s Playground (Pam is the author of Free to Learn).
- Joyfully Rejoycing (a collection of wisdom by Joyce Fetteroll).
On a somewhat related note, it can be very helpful to understand that a child may have an entirely different “language” or most effective means of processing the world, receiving love, and expressing love than his parent. The failure to understand this very subtle truth can lead to a whole host of issues, problems, and misunderstandings.
In Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, “The 5 Love Languages,” he describes each of these love languages that we all speak, and he points out that each of us has a preferred love language. The person who is able to figure out what another’s preferred language is, and is further able to communicate in that language, holds the key to facile, more productive, more peaceful and fulfilling relationships, and as you can imagine, this is an especially useful tool when it comes to the parent-child relationship.
Oscar Wilde advised, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” When you consciously allow your child to be who she really is, you give the world the greatest gift: A unique and special individual with passions and insights only she can have.