I remember that overwhelming feeling of leaving the hospital with my first daughter. My husband and I looked at each other like ‘now what?’ They’re just going to let us take her? What if we don’t know what to do?!
We worked it out, as everyone does, one way or another. The job of a parent seems pretty huge, doesn’t it? Wholly responsible for this life you’ve created.
Along the way I’ve discovered that it really doesn’t have to be as hard as most people make it.
You know what is hard? Trying to control a free human being. That is one exhausting goal! Fortunately, you don’t actually have to. There are some things you can give up right now!
5 Things That Are NOT My Job as a Parent
1. Making People Sleep
It is not my job to force people to sleep. I know sleep is a BIG one. There are thousands of books on the topic. Everyone wants to know how to get their child to sleep when they want them to sleep. But sleep is a biological necessity, we don’t need to force anyone to do it! Everyone has the right to sleep when they are tired and wake when rested. Trying to control that process by forcing children to sleep when they’re not tired, or wake before they’re ready, is what creates battles around sleep. It’s not the children that need to change, it’s our expectations! Expecting a child to ignore what their body is telling them and instead stick to your sleep schedule is kinda rude.
‘But I need sleep, and some time out?’ True! I’m not saying that’s going to be compromised. I’m saying EVERYONE’S needs are equal and we can work towards making sure all our needs are met (except if we’re talking about a young baby, that is! They need regular feeding/changes/comfort and you’re just going to have to get used to less sleep for a while there). Strict bedtimes are not necessary. And without them, it’s still possible for everyone to get enough sleep while also learning how to listen to their own bodies, and feeling respected and supported.
What to do instead
- Talk to children about how their bodies are feeling when they’re tired, and when they’re rested, encouraging awareness of how their choices affect how they feel.
- Create an environment conductive to sleep in the evenings (low lighting, quiet play or stories, etc).
- Connect at the end of the day. Often children have trouble resting if there’s something on their mind and some lovely connection time can help them get it out.
- Communicate your needs if necessary, ‘I hear that you want me to play. I’m feeling tired, and am needing to rest now. I’m going to sit here and read my book for a while’, ‘I’m sleepy, I want to go to bed now. I’m worried about you staying up on your own, would you be willing to play quietly in bed until you’re ready to sleep, or come and lie with me?’
Read more about how we ditched bedtime here.
2. Making people eat
Yep, another biological necessity. Another thing that you don’t need to control. What a pain it would be if someone always had an opinion about your eating habits, right? Children feel the same! The more you push, cajole, barter, or threaten, the more your child feels like resisting. I know we do it because we’re worried, but (in the absence of any medical difficulties) children are not going to starve themselves! Your job is to provide a variety of healthy foods. The end. Your child’s job is to listen to their body and eat when hungry. And we DO NOT want to override that. That’s when problems with eating start! We always want them to be able to trust their own bodies and be guided by what their body needs, instead of pleasing other people. That’s how they develop a healthy relationship with food. It is not your job to make your child eat.
What to do instead
- Start at the beginning by always letting your baby feed themselves!
- Provide a range of healthy foods, regularly.
- Let them help prepare food.
- Don’t comment on when/what/how much they eat.
Read more about how we encourage good eating habits here.
3. Controlling toilet habits
Ok this one seems obvious, but if I do a google search on ‘toilet training’ evidently it’s not. Another person’s toilet habits are not mine to control. Children absolutely don’t need to be trained to use the toilet. They’re very clever you know! No reward charts or punishments needed. Please don’t insist they ‘do a wee for Mummy’. Do we use our bodies to appease others? No. Like all things, toilet learning happens easily and naturally when they’re ready.
What to do instead
- Let them use the toilet when they want to
- Let them see you using the toilet, that’s how they learn what it’s for
- Wait until they’re ready. There’s no rush.
4. Entertaining people
That’s right! It’s not my job to be the entertainer of my children. And they absolutely don’t need me to! They are capable, whole people. Just as I don’t need someone available to entertain me every day, neither do they. They are imaginative, creative, inspired, and motivated. Have you ever seen a child play with a stick for an hour straight? Trust me, they’ve got this covered. The thing is, if you see it as your job to entertain your children, then they quickly become dependent on that entertainment. By keeping them constantly busy and entertained, you undermine their ability to entertain themselves. Then you start to hear the familiar, ‘I’m bored’.
What to do instead
- Let them be bored! Empathise instead of providing answers, ‘You’re feeling bored. It’s hard to know what to do sometimes’.
- Include them in your life. Children want to do real things. They are never bored when they are allowed to be an active participant in your day.
- Create a home that encourages independence. Make sure they can reach all their own things and use them independently.
- Provide open ended toys and loose parts so that they can use their imagination to play in whatever way they like.
Read more about raising independent kids and self-directed learners here.
5. Keeping people happy
Controlling people’s emotions is definitely not my job! And happiness is not the only acceptable feeling. We’re not trying to raise happy people, but whole people. People who know how to feel and process any of the emotions that life elicits. So sadness, anger, frustration, joy, happiness, envy, anxiety, contentment, loneliness, optimism… all perfectly ok! Our job is not to prevent our children from experiencing negative emotions, it’s to support them so they have the emotional regulation skills they will need for adult life.
What to do instead
- Empathise! That’s really it! I highly recommend this book to help you with it.
“When we stay with empathy, we allow speakers to touch deeper levels of themselves. What evidence is there that we’ve adequately empathized with the other person? First, when an individual realizes that everything going on within has received full empathic understanding, they will experience a sense of relief. We can become aware of this phenomenon by noticing a corresponding release of tension in our own body. A second, even more obvious sign is that the person will stop talking. If we are uncertain as to whether we have stayed long enough in the process, we can always ask, “Is there more that you wanted to say?” -Marshall Rosenberg
Many parents take on these jobs, but you can rest easy that you don’t have to! And things will be fine.
Is it any surprise that these seem to be the most common areas that parents struggle with? Sleeping, eating, toileting, entertaining, and big emotions? There’s a reason! It’s because those things are not for us to control! They are entirely the responsibility of each individual person, and children are people too. Children have the right to autonomy, both of their bodies and minds, and they know this, so they fight back when someone tries to take that control from them. That’s when you find yourself in a battle of wills, and that’s not a fun place to be.
“One of the most unfortunate results of making our objective to get our children to do what we want, rather than having our objective be for all of us to get what we want, is that eventually our children will be hearing a demand in whatever we are asking. And whenever people hear a demand, it’s hard for them to keep focus on the value of whatever is being requested, because… it threatens their autonomy, and that’s a strong need that all people have. They want to be able to do something when they choose to do it, and not because they are forced to do it. As soon as a person hears a demand, it’s going to make any resolution that will get everybody’s needs met much harder to come by.” -Marshall Rosenberg
Instead, we can respect children’s rights to make decisions pertaining to their own bodies and minds, and work with them instead of against them. I promise, it’s a whole lot more peaceful! And no, before you say it, it doesn’t mean children ‘doing what they like’ without regards for anyone else’s needs. It’s about everyone’s needs being equal and working towards solutions that benefit everyone!
Children are equal, and they deserve our respect instead of our control. And surely we could all do with making our lives easier by giving up some of these unnecessary jobs we’ve created? Trying to control a free, autonomous individual is exhausting. You don’t have to do that.