The Parent Trust

Some new insight on raising resilient kids…

We all know helicopter parenting is a “no-no.” The idea of micromanaging our children enables an unhealthy tendency for our one day grown kids to depend on their parents or other adults to solve their problems. No doubt, helicopter parenting is a behavioral pattern that fosters co-dependency at best, inhibiting self-reliance and a strong sense of autonomy needed to thrive in this world.

            Yet there’s a more subtle, more insidious variety of helicopter parenting that many of us (myself included) are demonstrating with our kids that needs to, at the very least, be curbed: imposing our thoughts on a subject without giving our children a chance to consider, form and articulate their own thoughts.

            So how do we curb those thoughts and opinions we have? We bite our figurative and literal tongues. We listen. We listen more without reacting. We ask questions and listen some more. We wait. We trust.

            A dear friend of mine who has spent a lifetime mentoring kids recently explained the beauty of the biting-one’s-tongue process: “When you ask questions that make a child think and listen, really listen, you are setting the foundation for true cognitive muscles.” 

            I witnessed the magic of his insight moments later, when my older son talked with him for over an hour. Normally, he’s on the phone for no more than 10-15 minutes with an adult. Curious, I asked him what caused him to talk for so long. His response spoke volumes:

            “He’s easy to talk to. He asks good questions and then really listens.”

            The mentor and dear friend is the talented author, Steve Bernstein (Stories from the Stoop).  I am happy to report that implanting his sage advice has created a subtle yet powerful shift in the relationship between my sons and me. When I approach a conversation from a place of trust in them, in a genuine desire to hear what they think and how they perceive someone or something—without judgement from me, their faith in themselves and in our relationship strengthens. 

            While there are some clear black and white “rules” in this life that we need to impart by word and deed (i.e., Look both ways before you cross the street; floss your teeth daily), the more nebulous, opinion-based questions to life offer an opportunity for open dialogue founded in both mutual and self-respect. Trust is an invaluable gift we can impart to our children when we actively listen to their words without reacting, offering them a safe space to return to again and again. The gift only grows with time, instilling a grounded sense of faith in their intuition and judgement and demonstrating what a healthy relationship founded in trust looks like.

Our children are hungry to know that they matter, that their thoughts matter. When they feel heard, their self-love ignites. And we all know: Self-love is the foundation for success in any life endeavor.

The Pricey Parenting Dish

Each time we give into the short-term, “It’s just easier” mindset, we may be paying a greater price in the long run.

As a mother, I strive to find balance on that delicate tightrope of demonstrating loving compassion and “tough love.” I’m there for my kids, but I’m also not a doormat, challenging them to take responsibility, yet not “Tiger Mothering”( Amy Chua, Yale Law Professor and author of the 2011 Memoir,  Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.)

But the other day, a friend of mine said something that resonated with me, making me realize that my so-called “tough love” could use a good more muscle. Here’s what she shared:

“*Brent is 20 years old. Everything is done for him. We’re lucky enough to afford a housekeeper, and I do everything else domestic-wise. So today I thought, ‘It’ll be good for him to do something other than learn virtually at home. I’ll ask him to take out the trash.’ But guess what? He couldn’t even do that. He didn’t know what to do with wrapping the trash up. I had to literally show him how to tie the bag. He watched me do it and said it will still confusing. The light dawned on him when I told him it was like tying shoes.”

Brent is a bright young man who maintains excellent grades at a respected university. He is witty, respectful and kind. His SAT score and GPA opened several academic doors at prestigious colleges. And yet, tying a trash bag was a genuine conundrum for our scholar.

I recall sitting at my son’s martial arts class when he was in the third grade. A mom sat beside me as we watched our kids through the clear class that separated us from our pre-pubescent ninjas-in-training. That day, her son had forgotten the required belt for class; mine had left the required black pants. Their lack of preparation for class immediately bonded us.

“Honestly, I try. I try to let him fail, but it’s just easier if I do it all. I don’t have the patience. I work at all day at my firm. I’m tired by the time I get home. If I want something done, I do it myself.”

That was 9 years ago. Today, both of our sweet ninja warriors are young men, a little over 6 months away from graduating high school. They drive cars, they shave, they are excelling in their Advanced Placement courses.

And yet…I think back to that moment in the martial arts class and wonder if I often took the easier road with the short-term benefits. I work full time and still find it “easier” to cook, clean, bake, wash, dry and fold for my teenagers. 

I’m trying to change my ways, focusing on the long term gain these days. There’s still time before the older one heads to college, still time before the younger one enters high school.

I’m a work in progress: yesterday, I gave my sons eggs, sliced cantaloupe and a warm tortilla purposely on the side just to see what they would do without a fork. That’s right, a full plate of food with eggs needing to go in that tortilla but no fork nearby. They needed to actually get up from the table to get their respective forks.

They ate with their hands…

But there IS progress: 

Both have learned to soak bowls that once contained oatmeal and glasses that once held smoothies.

One regularly “squeegies” the shower after use.

Both know to empty their trash cans on Sunday afternoons.

Progress! Both know how to cook basic things now.

Work-in-progress: I’ll leave folded clean laundry outside their door; they merely walk around it like a benign obstacle course.

I prefer the “pain” of taking time out to teach them these basic life responsibilities/skills rather than the long-term suffering waiting for a potential life partner/spouse.

Just some food for thought to all parents out there. We owe our kids a domestic education—for themselves and their future family.