Parenting: The World’s Most Thankless Job
Ever find yourself in a situation where you’ve just spent the whole day with your child, bought him ice-cream and candies, had lots of good, fun, quality time, including breaking your back climbing through the Adventure Zone with him, only to have him throw a tantrum when you get home and take two minutes to relax with a glass of wine or some muscle relaxants.
Chances are, you’ve been there, but don’t worry, we all have. You are not alone, and that is good news. Are you a bad parent? No. Then why does this happen? Read on…
As parents, we have to look out for the needs of our children. We cannot always give in to their whims and desires. While this makes us unpopular at times, we have to accept it, because parenting is not about being popular. Parenting is about making the right decisions that primarily address needs over wants and create win-win outcomes (even if they appear to the child to be win-lose).
I’ll give you an example. We took Smarty Pants out swimming the other day and even went out for a slice of pizza afterwards. All was well. It was a fun afternoon that left us exhausted, especially since we had been up since 5:30am (thanks to the daylight savings time change). Needless to say, when we got home we decided it was time for hime to go to bed. Although he didn’t necessarily want to see the end of this fun day, we knew it was the right thing for us (to keep our sanity) and for him (to be well rested). So we made a win-win decision that appeared to him to be win-lose.
If we expect our children to be thankful for all that we do for them, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. What makes a child happy is not the opposite of what makes her unhappy. Think of this: not having air makes you unhappy, but having air does not necessarily make you happy. Now apply it to parenting: not having your love and support makes your kids unhappy (this is their “air”), but having your love and support does not necessarily make them happy. Why? Because, like air, your love and support is a constant. It is there. Nobody talks about it unless it is gone or it’s quality is low.
So don’t be surprised if your child doesn’t thank you for providing this “air,” and still throws a tantrum when you make an unpopular decision. It doesn’t mean you are a bad parent.
What to do?
It is important that you build a trusting relationship with your child. If your child trusts you, he is more likely to accept those win-win decisions that seem to him to be win-lose. Your child also needs to know and understand that you care about him and that you genuinley want to make decisions that are right for both of you.
To build this trust and understanding, you can involve your child in more decisions and let her negotiate with you.
With little things, a win-win might be to let them get away with what they want to do. For example, if your child wants to to go outside and get dirty, it can be a win for you, in terms of geting a moment of peace, and a win for your child, in that he gets to have the fun that he wants. So you can let him go out and do it.
For bigger things, you can’t always let your child get her way. Try and work together to come to a solution to the problem or decision you are facing (if your child is old enough to do so). She will be more likely to comply with the decision if she feels she was involved in the decision making process and was given the opportunity to make a fair contribution to the decision or solution. This also shows her that you really care about your relationship with her, which helps to build trust in your relationship as well.
Finally, try to focus on the positive aspects of the decision, and mention the consequences of not following your decision if necessary. This will help to build your child’s faith and trust that your decisions are really in his own best interest.
Here’s another example: this past Hallowe’en, we told Smarty Pants that he had to take a nap during the day (which he doesn’t always like to do). To emphasize the positive, win-win outcome, I explained to him that if he took a nap, he would be well-rested and would be able to stay up longer and go trick-or-treating with his friend. He agreed, and it was easy to get him into bed for the nap.
With tooth-brushing, you have a good opportunity to focus on the positive aspects (e.g. having clean, white, teeth) and at the same time, you can also mention the consequences of not brushing (e.g. getting cavities, having black teeth). Doing this will help build your child’s trust and buy-in to the decision to brush his teeth. See my article about consquences and tooth brushing on this site as well.
Want it all in a nutshell? Here goes…
You will always have to make unpopular decisions as a parent, and no matter what you do to provide care, love and support for your kids, you may never receive a thank-you in return. You cannot expect your love and support to make your child happy or satisfied. In fact, as soon as you have to make a decision that appears to be win-lose to your child, you may expect dissatisfaction or even rebellion.
To stay sane, do your best to build trust in your relationship with your child, following the tips mentioned here, so that your child builds trust in your decisions and becomes more likely to accept and abide by them.
I wish you the best of luck! Please join the jam and share your own tips and thoughts on this topic!
A lot of the ideas mentioned in this article are based on my readings of Stephen Covey and his 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families book. If you are interested in more about creating win-win outcomes with your child and more, I highly suggest and recommend getting the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families book.
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