I regularly read books, articles or blogs describing today’s parents as anxious. Parents are worried about doing the right things for their children, buying the best products, ensuring their kids are engaged in the right activities and worried about keeping them safe. Apparently, parents are overwhelmed by the stress of the demands of the job of parenting, exhausted and confused by all the decisions. Surprisingly, if you are reading what I am reading, no one is having any fun being a parent! It is all work, worry, and no play.
For a number of parents, the least favorite part of the job about which they worry is enforcing rules and asking kids to do things. And no wonder this is stressful because kids show a striking tendency NOT to comply
A significant portion of those rules and expectations for what a child has to get done, however, were imposed by the parents in the first place. So, it could be argued, parents are creating their own grief. If these rules were examined closely many may seem unnecessary, or at least the rigid and inflexible application of them all the time is unnecessary. So examine those rules, maybe choose the ones that are most important to you and only enforce those.
Or take a moment and consider what you are trying to instill in your child by upholding a rule. Is it responsibility, perseverance, empathy? Could there be alternative strategies for exposing your child to these values? Isn’t it possible to spend time outdoors exploring, or indoors building ramps or pretending to cook a meal and instill those same values we think we teach through the enforcement of rules?
When not upholding rules, time spent with children doing relaxing or fun things is what is described as the best parts of parenting. A shared bedtime story, snuggling and watching a movie, or taking a walk together, hand in hand. Parents describe these joint activities as joyful, energizing and worthwhile. So why not dedicate time to just spending time? Not scheduled playtime, but play anytime and anywhere. Feeling connected and interacting more or less as equals may characterize the best teachable moments. Contrary to what you think, you may not be accomplishing much when exerting power as the rule enforcer.
Through our thoughts and behaviors, we set a tone for our children about who they are and who we think they should become. Is all this worry a good tone? Might the expressions of anxiety convey a sense of discouragement to our children? We worry they can not be successful before they have really had an opportunity to try. We worry that they won’t find the answer, so we provide it too readily discouraging their own efforts or allowing them to make a mistake and recover and learn from it. Worrying is well intentioned, but before you know it, it undermines encouragement and supportiveness. At some point, you have to learn to believe in your child and develop a sense of optimism about her future.
I worry about parents who worry because that apprehension is exhausting. Worrying jeopardizes our own feelings of adequacy and optimism. It disperses our focus and parenting is about focus or giving our children attention without distraction, or worse resentment – even if it’s only for a short period of time.
To handle all of this worry, I see suggestions to exercise more, do some deep breathing, or seek advice and support from friends. All of these strategies are great, but none involve spending time in those very parenting activities that bring us joy or feelings that are the opposite of worry. So if you are experiencing worry, try getting down on the floor and playing. Roll in the grass, climb a tree or dig in the mud with your child. Follow her lead and make sure you are really hearing what she is saying. Listen for her inner thoughts and feelings and what she is passionate about.
This information about your child, time spent in developing a warm connection, and having fun will keep (most) worrying at bay. Play helps children make sense of their world and recover from its stressors. Play with your child may help you to make sense of parenting and recover from its worries.