From navigating the sleep of infants to supporting teenagers through the ups and downs of middle and high school, there are plenty of moments to make anyone unsure of what it means to be a good parent or even how to do a better job at something so important. Even now with two young adult children (21, and 19) and two teens (16, and 14), I’m still learning how to be a better parent.
I believe there are 6 ways to grow as a parent: be a lifelong learner, pursue personal growth, give time and energy to your family, learn the art of service, practice good communication, and develop emotional flexibility. I believe pursuing these things in your life will create a lot of love within your family culture.
6 Ways To Grow As a Parent
1. Be a Lifelong Learner: There are two parts to being a life-long learner – education and curiosity. Educating yourself on a broad range of parenting topics will help you feel more confident when working through the toughest parts of your role. There is no shame in feeling lost sometimes. Everyone who has parented, mentored, or championed a child knows how it feels to be unsure. The good news is you aren’t stuck! There are so many resources available at your fingertips: blogs, articles, books, online conferences, podcasts, and more. Educating yourself will give you new ways of looking at problems and help you tackle them armed with information and hope.
The other part of being a life-long learner is curiosity. Being curious goes hand in hand with educating yourself because often it is your curiosity about something that drives you to find out more. Curiosity also helps you navigate life armed with important personal qualities such as empathy. It will also give you the opportunity to discover the world through the eyes of your child and stay nimble as generations change and children challenge your perception about almost everything. Curiosity also gives you space to discover who your child is created to be instead of jumping in with assumptions and forcing your perceptions of who they are on them.
2. Pursue Personal Growth: Valuing personal growth creates huge opportunities because it means you’re not stuck being the same your whole life. It means the relationship you have with your kids can grow and change until your last breath. It means you’re capable of adding new dynamics to your parenting style. If you want to be a more patient parent, you can learn patience. If you want to add adventure to your life, you can be more adventurous. Personal growth means you can grow as an individual – and a parent- by adding to your character or personality those things you most desire.
When I was a young mom, I wanted to be softer toward my children and find ways to be patient with them, so I made it a priority and spent time learning about kindness within our family structure. As a mom of teenagers new needs became clear: like learning how to really listen instead of finishing sentences or interrupting them when they needed to vent. Instead of feeling hopeless, I made it a priority to learn new parenting strategies. I owned my discovery, had open conversations with my kids, apologize when I miss it, and continue practicing new patterns of parenting. I still struggle with old habits, but I’m growing. Plus, my kids feel seen and loved by my willingness to change.
3. Give Time and Energy to Your Family: Every new parent learns very quickly parenting takes a lot of time and energy. It takes years of effort to raise a child and all this effort comes at a real cost. Life with children means adjusting to the fact that a whole other person (or persons) needs you. This change can feel disorienting and bring with it a true sense of loss of your “before kids” life.
As a new mother I discovered I had two options: fight or embrace. I could fight the time and energy it takes to be a parent by digging in my heels and telling myself I was a victim of circumstances. Or, I could embrace this very obvious part of parenting and treat it as any other investment of life. The choice was mine.
Raising kids is hard work, but it’s good work. Anything worth doing is. There is success when you surrender to the time and energy required for parenting.
4. Learn the Art of Service: Service is the labor that contributes to the welfare of another. It requires energy, a positive attitude, a willingness to accommodate another person, and the ability to overlook being wronged. Service is a natural part of parenting but it doesn’t come naturally to most. It means caring for your children and their needs before your own almost all the time.
It might feel counterintuitive to willingly put the many needs of your children first. After all, there are other things you need as well – healthy boundaries, self-care, and teaching your children independence. You might feel scared you will become a doormat or allow your family to take an unfair advantage of you if you serve them. It turns out there is plenty of evidence that shows the hard task of caring for the needs of another person can actually bring personal reward and even joy.
The art of service isn’t always perfect or linear but with intention you can find your own healthy rhythms and reap the many benefits that come with caring deeply for the needs of your children.
5. Practice good communication: Anytime humans interact there is a need for good communication. How you communicate with your children will grow and change as they do. For instance, young children need repetitive, consistent, and patient communication; while older children need to be valued, listened to, and guided. When children are tiny it takes a lot of patience to listen to all the words being said on any given day. When children are old enough to attend school the communication changes to asking them about their day, answering their questions, or being willing to take the time to find out why they feel upset or hurt. Teenagers often stop speaking as much to their parents – preferring their friends – which means you will need to work a little bit harder to get their words to flow.
A communication skill that is incredibly important but often overlooked by most parents is listening. While most people don’t think of listening as a part of communication, it actually plays a big role. Learning to focus on what your child is saying without letting your mind wander or formulating a response is one of the best things you can do as a parent. I will tell you one of my biggest parenting regrets centers around a breakdown in communication with my oldest son. I didn’t recognize the problem until it had grown and created bigger problems within our relationship that took time and effort to repair.
Another important part of parenting is teaching your kids to communicate. I have a couple of kids who are quieter and process internally. They’ve had to learn things like how body language helps (or hurts) your communication or how to share feelings that feel big or scary. I also have a couple of kids who are external processors. They’ve had to learn to make room for other people’s thoughts and feelings. All kids (and adults) will benefit from learning more about how to process feelings and express themselves in healthy ways.
6.Develop Emotional Flexibility: Imagine this: you’re running late to pick your husband up from the airport and the two grumpy toddlers in the back seat hate that you woke them up from their nap early only to put them in the car. All of a sudden, traffic comes to a complete stop and there is nothing you can do but sit and wait it out. The grumpy toddlers suddenly become angry and start screaming. Life is now a pressure cooker.
The ability to adjust your emotions to accommodate sudden changes in your day is important for you and your family. We all know a good day can suddenly take a turn for the worse. The temptation to let your emotions follow along without restraint is real. Keeping your emotions in normal ranges when things make you angry or flustered allows you to keep your family atmosphere relatively stable. It also helps you support each other (instead of working against each other) during stressful moments.
Another need for flexibility is with your time and expectations. It’s easy to clash over the use of free time, money, family priorities, and schedules. Flexibility is a great way to handle all the adjustments and accommodations that need to be made within a family on a weekly basis. The goal is working together as a unit to meet everyone’s needs and working as a team to be successful.
The Joy of Growth
Creating stable home environments, adding new habits to your life, valuing each other by listening, and healthy communication are just a few ways pursuing the ideas listed in the 6 categories above can benefit your family. It isn’t an exhaustive list! You can find new ways to grow and share them with your family and friends. The biggest goal is growth and reaping the benefits of that growth each day.