What is the most important thing to you as a parent?
All of those sound important, but are they the MOST important part of parenting?
Parenting means weaving together so many different skills.
You keep your child warm, well fed, and safe. You care for their physical health, their emotional well-being, and their spiritual center.
You’re their cook, their chauffeur, their landlord, and their friend. You juggle housekeeping, paying the bills, and repairing the car.
Somewhere in there you try to teach a thing or two and have a little fun. Maybe you even safe-guard some personal time and private interests of your own.
You have so many priorities. How do you figure out what is most important and what you can let slide?
It turns out there’s one thing that’s more important than everything else.
It’s the quality of your relationship together.
There we were hanging out with our forest playgroup at a new urban wilderness playground. My son was alternating between begging me to leave and hitting other kids.
Then I called him a butt, and his face fell in hurt and disappointment.
How did we end up here? There has to be an explanation for how this went so wrong!
Let’s back up.
I love the outdoors. My entire life, being outside has been a critical component of a life well lived. I’m in love with hiking and camping. I’ve been rock climbing, sky diving, white water rafting, and canoeing. I like to sleep under the stars, and I’ve got a thing for the full moon and the summer solstice.
Being outside and having outdoor adventures is part of ME.
But, as my kid will grumpily tell you, he hates nature. Our outdoor playdate organization has the word “forest” in the name. My son says, every time we go, “I hate the forest.”
Now, I’m big on including kids in the decisions about their...
Before I became a parent I was a nanny for many years. One of the services I offered was to design the children’s playroom. I created beautiful spaces with toys grouped by learning categories. Everything had its place.
As soon as the kids broke a toy, I whisked it away never to be seen again. The parents always returned home to a clean and organized playspace.
Needless to say, I have a different style of family, and my child’s play areas look a little different. There is one giant toy box that all the toys get shoveled into. Or not. My son’s toys are all mixed up with one another and scattered here and there… or somewhere.
I used to think that broken toys were sad. I didn’t understand why a useless item should stay among the intact toys. Now I have a more -ahem- casual relationship with cleaning up. My child’s collection of toys is riddled with broken parts.
And from those broken pieces, I’ve seen a magic arise.
I watch him stack the wheels...
No, wait, that’s not right.
We have no charts, star stickers, chore lists, threats, or bribes. I’m not even sure my 5-year old knows the word “chore.”
And yet, our house is cleaner than some people’s, messier than others, and doing alright.
Dylan doesn’t care if his toys are all over everywhere.
Which of our preferences should take priority?
I don’t assume that my way goes just because I’m an adult.
Because the living room is shared family space, when I want it picked up, I do it myself. I let Dylan know when I’m picking up so he can help if he wants to or move any projects out of the way.
Dylan’s room is 100% his. Just like my room is mine. Wouldn’t it be pretty...
A loud noise reverberated from the next room over.
You’re a parent, so you know. You know the fears that run through your mind when there’s a BANG somewhere, and your child is also… somewhere.
Of course I was in the shower. Heaven forbid I make it peacefully through a whole shower.
I listened for crying. No. Probably no one was injured.
I stepped out of the shower and dried off, just in time.
Just in time to see my naked 5 year old run into the bathroom.
Covered head to toe in orange paint.
And the carpet was also bright orange, leading from the bathroom back to his play area. I plopped my son into the bathtub and then turned the corner to see where the bang had come from.
I never found out what actually caused the bang.
The floor was a giant puddle of orange paint. The table was also covered in orange. A nearby room divider, orange. Chairs, orange.
How did I react to all of this? Was I angry? Sad? Disappointed? Overwhelmed?
It can seem like our jobs as parents is to find out what our kids want and declare whether or not they get to have it.
YES or NO, we decree.
This is a great and heady power.
We default to no.
Then one NO accidentally slips into no no no no no no no no no….
To know this, all you have to do is listen.
One day I paid close attention, and this is what I heard myself saying to my toddler:
And that was just 20 minutes in the kitchen during breakfast! Imagine how the rest of the day sounded!
The life of a child is overrun with barriers and boundaries every step of the way. The no’s are...
That’s my name for today. My son Dylan is 6 years old, and he’s pissed at me, and he’s decided to call me Life Ruiner.
He’s not just saying, “You’re a life ruiner.”
He is literally addressing me as if my name were Life Ruiner.
“I’m going downstairs to watch TV, Life Ruiner.” “Will you make me some lunch, Life Ruiner?”
You’re probably thinking it’s funny. Okay, it’s definitely a little bit funny.
But we’ve been struggling the last few days, and he’s been expressing a lot of anger, and he’s been saying he doesn’t love me and that he doesn’t want to be around me. And so my feelings are hurt. Like, not just “tell him my feelings are hurt so he will understand the effect of his words.” My heart is legitimately heavy, and I feel like shit about the whole thing.
When Dylan does something I don’t like, I have a fork in the road ahead of me. I...
My son and I recently visited a Waffle House where it’s a lot of fun to watch your food being made right in front of you.
We decided to try some of the food at home.
Dylan shouted out his order, and I tried to make hash browns, cheesy eggs, and deep fried French fries (not an actual Waffle House food!) as good as you’d get at any greasy diner.
I’d even holler out “Order Up!” when the food was ready.
But I’m not a short order cook.
Dylan can’t drive, which puts me in the driver’s seat for helping get his out-of-the-house needs met. I take him to the grocery store, to recreational activities, to his friends’ houses, and to Walmart on allowance day.
But I’m not a chauffeur.
I do a lot of cleaning on Dylan’s behalf. I wash his dishes. I do his laundry. The older he gets the more he picks up after himself. But I still pick up after him quite a bit.
But I’m not a maid.
Usually when you hear a parent lament that they...
That’s right, I absolutely NEVER punish my child. If I’m being completely honest I did punish him once, I guess just to give it a try. It felt so completely wrong that I’ve never even been tempted again, and that was 3 years ago.
Pissed off parents have no shortage of punishments to choose from. There’s spanking, of course, or the ever-popular time out. There’s grounding your kids, taking away things that they like (that’s the one I tried), or forcing them to do something unpleasant.
If you’re looking around for justification for punishing your child, you’ll find that, too.
But there’s another radical option. It involves having a connected, cooperative relationship with your child instead. I know. Far out, huh?
To have the kind of relationship where you come together in joy, you have to give up punishments. You just do. Punishment has no place in a family.
Let’s talk through the reasons I don’t punish my child and why...
Learning to parent with connection is the most important thing you can do as a parent. In some ways it’s the magic spell that - POOF - makes everything better. But…. (you knew there was a but coming, right?) connection is so different from how we may be used to relating that it can be hard to pull off at first.
I’ve broken it down for you to make it easier for you to know where to start.
Connection comes in three layers. These are three different ways to think about connection. When you stack them together over time, they make the magic happen.
Let’s start with the BIG one - your core connection.
Parenting with connection starts with a strong foundation. This is the basic sense of positivity running through your relationship.
I call it your Core Connection. It’s the strongest feelings you share with your child. The mutual emotional space you share together. The constant sense you have about each other no matter what is going on.
Get the parenting newsletter that helps you feel more relaxed and deeply connected to what really matters.
PLUS, the free PDF of 112 Things You DON'T Have To Do To Be A Good Parent.