In an effort to get healthier and stop feeling old (yes, it has come to this), I’ve been reading a lot about health and wellbeing. I’m newly obsessed with websites like Outside, The Growth Equation and Trained. Will this turn me into a late-onset athlete? Will it not!. However, I have managed to come across my new parenting mantra, and let me tell you, it’s way better than my old one.
So, for years, I’ve stood by the good old ‘this, too, shall pass’ parenting mantra. So far it has run through my head like a soothing balm right through the terrifying newborn days, the confusing toddler years and the what-have-I-done tween and early teen years. But not lately.
I am increasingly aware that ‘this, too, shall pass’ is basically the equivalent of wishing my parenting years away.
Running out of time
I might not be actually running yet, but I’ve definitely become conscious that I am ‘running out of time’ with my kids. That’s not to say that I expect them to self-combust the minute they finish high school. I know they will still be around and, if current statistics are anything to go by, probably still right where they are now until their late twenties. Dear god, no.
I am, however, increasingly aware that ‘this, too, shall pass’ is basically the equivalent of wishing my parenting years away. Always focusing on the ‘end goal’, rather than making space for whatever I’m feeling in the present.
One of the articles I came across during peak fitness research was Brad Stulberg writing on his The Growth Equation blog. In Big Goals Can Backfire. Olympians Show Us What to Focus on Instead, Brad argues that when you have an end goal in mind, it can backfire.
Why it can’t be about the end goal
Firstly, it’s too easy to become fixated on the goal and lose sight of why you set out to achieve it in the first place.
Secondly, big goals are too big and quickly become scary.
Thirdly, focusing too much on a goal can leave you high and dry when you finally achieve it (or not).
And lastly, concentrating too hard on end results can mean you often tie your self-worth to things you can’t control.
Instead, says my new bestie Brad, it’s better to focus on the process, not the end goal.
Focus on the process
Uh, hello. Does ‘focus on the process’ make sense as a parenting mantra, or what?
Let’s break it down.
So often we focus on the ‘end goal’ of parenting: those well-adjusted adults who love their parents (from afar, as they have moved out of home at a reasonable age). Many of the choices we make as parents have those adults in mind. A lot of the stress we carry is also about those end-goal adults, too.
Many of us tend to catastrophise our kids’ natural development
See, we tend to parent Future Adults, rather than Present Children. As a result, many of us tend to catastrophise our kids’ natural development. I know I do!
We get ourselves all riled-up imagining that unless we do something radical about the now, our children will not have changed in the future. We see ourselves living in this very (awful) moment for the rest of our kids’ natural born days. So we make big moves – big yells, big nags, big frustrations, etc – in order to shift them towards Future Adults.
However, big moves are not necessary.
Life doesn’t move in giant leaps
Instead, if we focus on the process – if we parent Present Children, rather than Future Adults – we come to understand that gentle nudges are enough. All we really have to do is help our kids be a tiny bit better at things today than they were yesterday. =
The process is all the little shifts our children make on their way to growing up. It’s the part we can really enjoy if only we’d stop trying to meet Future Adult too soon. Trusting the process reminds us to live in the day-to-day with our kids as much as possible. To meet them where they are at.
More food for thought: We need to stop being so available to our kids
We are lucky, as parents of older kids, that we have the benefit of hindsight to back this up. We have learned that no, our kids will not still be co-sleeping in high school if we allow it when they are three. Yes, our kids will eat more than white food eventually. (But, no, that little two-year-old never really did get on top of the tantrums, did they?… sigh!)
[Try this: A quick guide to managing tantrums in older kids]
We know deep down that it’s all about the small steps and celebrating the small wins. We just have to trust the process.
Let me break it down with just a couple of small examples of what that looks like for me right now:
1. Today is not tomorrow
When we fast forward to an imagined future, we tend to skip the years and years of learning and developing that will take place. Not a good idea.
For example, my new parenting mantra tells me that it is 100% guaranteed that my son will one day cut/wash/brush his hair, just not today. There have been big fights about the hair, but now I realise that no one cares if my Present Child has outrageously bad hair. He’s a 16-year-old boy and his hair is hurting precisely no one.
Rather, my panic has been aimed at envisioning him as a Future Adult with outrageously bad hair. I fast forward years and he’s schlepping along with the exact same wild hair and that hair makes me feel like I have failed as a mother.
The new mantra dictates that I need to enjoy him in all his 16-year-old unruly glory. He will slowly grow up and do with his hair what he will and it has no affect on me whatsoever for all time amen. In the meantime, there is something wonderful about a teenager who says he doesn’t care what other people think of his appearance. Kudos, son.
2. Bad choices aren’t either
Like me, you might be guilty of taking your kids’ general choices too seriously. I try to stay out of their way to let them make their own decisions, but I angst over those decisions.
You got it – I’m projecting their choices onto Future Adult, not Present Child. It stands to reason that what my 12-year-old kid likes now, thinks now and decides now will have little bearing on her happiness in ten years or more time. How supported and heard she feels right now is what will. And encouraging her independent critical thinking skills is what counts in the long run.
Helping our kids build these kinds of skills is all part of the process of building Future Adults. We can help them add a coat of resilience, independence, confidence and kindness every single day. Yep, I have a feeling my new parenting mantra is going to be very soothing indeed.
Do you have a parenting mantra these days?