Kids are smart. Watch your relationship improve when you really start listening...
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that ALL of their ideas are good ones. In fact, many are silly, impossible or end up setting a bad precedent. Donuts and chocolate cake for breakfast? Drawing with permanent markers while sitting on your new couch? Of course not. However, many of the things they complain about when it comes to their parents are right on the money.
Have you ever heard your kid complain that you dress too young for your age? Or that you’re inappropriately exposed? No one says you have to give up the entirety of your personality when you have children, but there is a time and a place to express the silly or sexual side of yourself that limits your child’s exposure to too much too soon. If you’re wondering if this means that you should put away your short shorts and extra low cut tops, the answer is “Yes!” We are our children’s role models and must live as an example. “Do as I say, not as I do” is an antiquated methodology that does nothing but create resentment for your children because they don’t understand the double standard (nor should they). Because children don’t always have the language to express this resentment, it often manifests in “acting out behaviors” that set off a chain of actions and events for which no one is prepared. If you don’t want your children dressing provocatively, model what is appropriate.
Ever heard groans and gagging sounds for being too physical with your mate in front of your children? It’s all about balance here. It’s healthy and recommended for children to see their parents being affectionate. Hugs, kisses, cuddling and holding hands show children that relationships can be loving and romantic, even after several years together. What children don’t need to see or hear are gropes, loud noises from the bedroom and sexualized conversation. While there’s little we can do to control what goes on outside our homes while children are in school or with their friends, there is quite a bit we can do inside the home to set a standard and avoid putting ideas in their heads before their time.
Been on the receiving end of your child’s complaint that you aren’t home enough? That you spend too much time at work, on your hobbies or with friends, and not enough time with them? Children are smart. Without realizing it, they are constantly absorbing information about how the world works. This information is primarily gained by what they observe at home. It’s their blueprint for how things “should” be. When they see their parents prioritizing almost everything above family time, they unconsciously internalize this information and make up stories to explain. Things like “My parents aren’t here because I’m bad” or “because they don’t love me,” which can wreak havoc on their self-esteem. They grow up learning that family time isn’t important and develop coping mechanisms and outside routines that don’t include the family. Worst of all, sometimes they learn that if mommies and daddies aren’t around much, that’s how they should be with their kids one day. Remember the song “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin? By the end of the song, the father wishes he had spent more time with his son in his early years because now he wants that time, yet his son has learned not to have time for his father.
Some of these examples will surely be extreme or inapplicable to your life and that’s a good thing. The point however, is that not all of our children’s grievances should be overlooked. Often there is an important message scattered somewhere in the heap of their cries. Parenting is a 24 hour, 7 day a week job. You get tired, stressed and consequently learn to “tune out” the noise and complaints your kids love to make. No one is perfect but if you can practice “tuning in” and finding that elusive middle ground, you might round a corner on your child’s development and the relationship you share. After all, they may be little, but they may also just be right.