I do not take parenting lightly. Teaching my five children to be respectable members of society is a massive undertaking, and I feel the tremendous weight of that responsibility on a daily basis.
I used to be pretty uptight about the whole endeavor, managing the details surrounding parenthood with as much exactness as possible. I was so worried about failing as a mom that I tried to control every facet of my kids’ lives, thinking that would somehow allow me to control what kind of people they would grow up to become.
It was an exhausting and stressful way to live, for all parties involved.
I have relaxed significantly since then. Perhaps that is because I am more comfortable with my parental role and do not constantly feel like I have something to prove to others and, most importantly, to myself. Perhaps it is because my kids are older, less needy, and have learned to self-regulate pretty well. (A little micromanagement and lots of oversight are necessary for babies and toddlers.)
Perhaps it is because I have realized that perfection is unreachable, and control is an illusion. Or maybe it is because I have defined what things are important to me (and worth fighting with my kids about) and what things are not; the things worth fighting about are few and far between.
But, whatever the reason, I now see the value in loosening my grip so that my kids can learn for themselves. While control used to be the name of my game, I have now settled into more of a backseat approach to parenting, giving the kids freedom to make their own decisions and mistakes. (Within reason, based on their age and maturity level.)
Sometimes they make a mess of things, which gives us opportunities to teach them about accountability. (Like when one of them ignored the emails from the library regarding overdue books until he got a collections notice in the mail, which he had to take care of all by himself.)
After many years of trial and error (sometimes significant error), I have realized that what I want most is for my kids to make good choices because they understand that their choices will determine where they end up in life, not because I am looking over their shoulders telling them what to do and how to do it.
I want them to internalize moral values rather than doing things simply to please me or anybody else. I want them to have the courage to stand up for the things that are important to them, which implies that they know what is important to them, not just to me. I want them to be competent and take charge of their lives so that they will not live as perpetual children.
How will they ever learn those things if I don’t step back and let them make decisions, make mistakes, deal with the consequences, and figure out how best to make amends? But, man alive, it is crazy hard to do that when I can see things so much more clearly than they can because of age and experience alone.
Micromanaging is my natural tendency because I have high standards and want things done correctly. But experience has taught me that it undermines my efforts to teach my kids to be responsible and independent, two buzz words in my world.
While I have learned numerous things in nearly 18 years of parenting, arguably the most valuable lesson boils down to this vital concept that does not always come easily to me:
Lead more; control less.
Excessive control has the potential to destroy relationships and trust. Good leadership, on the other hand, gives people (including children) room to breathe, to explore and to grow. It inspires, uplifts, and encourages.
While I still must consciously suppress my tendency to manage every situation and am far from a perfect in that arena, leadership is what I am working to develop in my parenting. I believe that avenue will give me the best chance of raising capable and conscientious kids. I still have a few years to go until I see the mature fruits of my labors, so hopefully, my efforts will pay off in the end.