How Can I Be A Different Parent Than My Parents Were?

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I’m about to have my first child and I’m worried that I won’t be a “Fun” parent.

MOLLY: This came from a reader based in Washington, DC, and she added that she wants to build a “fun, active, creative, easy-going household, not one based on strict discipline and chores.” She also mentioned that she was an only child and didn’t remember “having a lot of good, creative FUN” during her childhood.

Dr. Susan Rutherford (Molly’s Mom):  It’s certainly common to be anxious before having that first child and to wonder about what kind of a parent you’ll be.

This mom feels that her own childhood was lacking in fun experiences because of her disciplinarian parents and now she worries that she’ll need to focus on the responsibility of being a parent and either she won’t have the time to play with her child or she won’t be able to because she didn’t have that role model in her parents.

I have to reassure her that she is now an adult and soon will even be a mother, too. This means that she is free to create her own definition of a household and is not tied to replicating the one her parents envisioned. If she wants to create a fun, active, creative environment for her kids, that is completely within her power to do so.

Awareness is always the first step when you want to change a pattern. If she’s aware of what she did and didn’t like about the way her own parents addressed parenting and running a household, then she can consciously choose what to emulate and what she wants to do differently with her own kids. It can help to talk this through with a spouse or a therapist in order to see things clearly without emotional filters.

As for the execution of her plan, she can enjoy moments of fun and play with the baby even in the beginning when babies take a lot of work. Joining a baby group will help her meet other new mothers and see how they interact with their babies while launching her new parenting model of doing activities together with her child.

MOLLY: It seems like in my world, the dads spend more time simply playing with the kids while the moms are responsible for overseeing the day-to-day grind of chores, meals,  homework…

DR. RUTHERFORD: It’s true that even in our modern society many families still depend on the mother to take care of all the basic necessities while the father comes home and provides play time and entertainment for the child. Parents can work together to change this division of labor by identifying how they can share more of the chores in order to share more of the fun times.

But, this mom can also take everyday tasks and make them fun. For instance, she can make the daily, routine activities such as getting meals ready, bath time, and reading a book together at bedtime, more fun for both her and her child by simply approaching them with a joyful and playful attitude and a smile on her face. Life is as fun and playful as you make it for yourself and those around you.

MOLLY: She did mention that she was an only child and doesn’t remember having a lot of fun because of chores and discipline.

DR. RUTHERFORD: I think she can succeed in creating a different world for her child than she had for herself as a child because she’s so conscious of it. The key is to be conscious of what she wants to create for her family because then she won’t unconsciously repeat the parenting from her own childhood.

Why You Should Raise an Independent Child

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My Child is needy and doesn’t want to do anything for himself. 

MOLLY: This came from a reader based in Wisconsin.

Dr. Susan Rutherford (Molly’s Mom): Often when that happens it’s because the kid isn’t getting enough psychological or emotional connection with the parent, or is getting a fair share but wants even more. So he’s using his dependency to get it. This is really not a good thing; it’s basically an unhealthy way to get your needs met.

MOLLY: Not to mention annoying for the parents.

DR. RUTHERFORD: Not to mention annoying, right. Part of the bad effect is that the parents get annoyed and then the kid feels bad and then he gets more needy because he’s not getting something he feels he needs.  So, as a parent, you can get caught in a bad cycle.

Hopefully, if this is going on earlier than 5-and-a-half, you’ll want to start addressing it as you soon as you see some sort of a pattern developing.

MOLLY: How do you address it?

DR. RUTHERFORD: There are a couple of things you can do. You can start in stages. If the child says, “I want you to help me get dressed.” Already you know that this is the pattern for the child, so you say, “Well, let’s do it together today, and tomorrow you can pick out your own clothes.”  You make it a joint endeavor at first with the intention of moving the child toward doing it by himself.

If he says, “I don’t want to, I want you you to do it,” which is likely to be the first response. You shrug and smile and say “I’m so sorry, I’m glad to help you with this but we have to do this together. You’re quite capable of this, and you want to be able to do the things that big kids do.” You don’t give in. If you give in, if he has a tantrum, saying, “You need to do it for me!” then you simply don’t do it.

MOLLY: What if the response is: “I’m tired, can you do it for me?”

DR. RUTHERFORD: You just say, “I’m sorry you’re tired. If you’re that tired, maybe you need to go upstairs (or to your room) and take a nap. But if you want to get dressed, I’m more than happy to help you with it, but we have to do it together.” This is so that he begins to have a more active role in taking care of himself.

And this can apply to all kinds of things. Like making the bed in the morning. You can do it together.

MOLLY: Then at some point you stop doing it together, and they start doing it by themselves?

DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, right  but for some kids they’ll do it by themselves automatically because they really enjoy the mastery of it. If you have a child that’s really into dependency, then you’ll have to start off doing it together. To get him to do the task all by himself straight away is probably not going to work, and then you’ll get into a real battle and it will become a mess. You want to be careful not to spark off a series of neverending battles between a parent and child.

You’ll want to give a little and you’ll want him to give a little. You’re teaching him the art of negotiation and compromise. It’s actually not a bad model for working with people in life.

MOLLY: What happens if you don’t address these sorts of issues when kids are young?

DR. RUTHERFORD: The long term consequences may be that the child grows up and shifts the dependencies onto people other than the parents, like friends, teachers, girlfriends…

Too much neediness can be very annoying, and people often find they do not want to be around a very needy person. Worse, the needy person ends up not having any sense of mastery or control over his or her life, leading to generalized feelings of incompetency and inadequacy, neither of which feed into building an emotionally stable and competent adult.