Recently I had the opportunity to visit my mother-in-law in South Florida. Five full days away from the pressures of home to clear my mind and enjoy the Florida sun. On my first morning there, I decided to go for a run around her neighborhood which, thanks to my aging body, quickly became a “fast walk/slow jog.” While I was slightly discouraged at the forced slow-down, the reduction in pace and pain opened my eyes to the amazing wildlife all around me. In particular, there was a vast array of bird species “doing their thing.” Some were enjoying the banks of the many ponds, others were flying overhead, and several were just enjoying a lazy swim, but what really caught my eye was the family of geese meandering at the water’s edge.
This family of geese included, what I believed to be, the “mom and dad” and approximately five small offspring. The babies were wandering freely, exploring their world while the parents were doing their own thing at a safe distance. I was struck by the adult geese and the sense of calm and confidence they displayed, and by the freedom their offspring seemed to feel. As I walked toward them, instead of the adult geese rushing to protect the babies, the young geese began to slowly make their way to the safety of their parents. Something about this interaction resonated with me deeply. I couldn’t help but appreciate the stark contrast between our feathered friends’ parenting style versus what has become the all-too-common helicopter-style parenting that so many of us rely on today.
I encourage you to take off that propeller and put on some wings! Here are some ways to get started:
- Don’t let your feathers get ruffled. For the geese, my invasion into their space was a real threat, but the geese parents knew better than to “lose it” in front of the babies. Our children need us to do the same. Whether it’s a bad grade, a messy room, a broken curfew, or a behavior problem at school, challenge yourself to remain steadfastly calm. Show your children you can handle anything, and that you believe in their ability to do the same. They are looking to you to be their fearless leader, so don’t disappoint. When we freak out, we are only adding to stress of the moment and giving them the loud and clear message that things are not okay.
- Don’t run in to save them. Our children need to know they are competent and that we have faith in their ability to solve their own problems. Try to be a calm presence alongside of them in a supportive role. Listen and show empathy, but stay out of problem-solving mode. If your child does ask for your help, start by asking them what they think would be a good way to handle it. Let them come to you, not the other way around!
- Let them do their own thing. As much as possible, you should encourage and support your child in their interests, hobbies and talents. Too often, we unintentionally heap our own wants and expectations onto our children creating unnecessary anxiety and even depression. The cultural “shoulds” have no place in parenting. (i.e. you “should” be a star athlete, you “should” be a straight-A student, etc.)
- Lead by example. This kind of goes together with not letting your feathers get ruffled. Just like the geese, we need to show our children how to get along in the world. If we get upset over every little thing, or are constantly losing our cool, we are teaching our kids that mistakes are to be feared rather than learned from.
Support your children’s wandering and let them explore while you sit back on the sidelines, quietly observing and you will be sure to raise a confident, resilient and self-assured child!