As the parent of a particularly strong willed toddler myself, I really understand when parents tell me they just want their kids to do the things they ask of them or are supposed to do or have been taught by the parents all their lives. Believe me, I get this in every fiber of my being (especially when that thing is as simple as just put your shoes on so that we can leave and I am not late for my clients!!!! Rough morning over here haha.).
While I might get it, I actively work to avoid having CONTROL be the goal in our family. I definitely appreciate and love the days when our son is more easy going and seems able to do what we ask more easily. However, I work hard to recognize that if the only reason he is doing things is because of me or my illusion of control over him, we are likely to have a bigger problem, now and in the future.
You see, the goal in my eyes is to have kids figure themselves out more than anything else. For them to figure out who they are, what they like, what they want in their lives, and who they want to be as a person. Unfortunately, the more parents exert control, expectations, and decisions over them - the less the kid is figuring themselves out and the more they are figuring out how to be what their parents want them to be. This worries me both as a parent and as a therapist.
Here’s why… My observation of what makes people the most miserable in their lives is not the actual feelings they have. It’s the judgment of their feelings and a lack of understanding of themselves, self-awareness, and insight that could help them figure out what they really want to be doing. The more we just go along with others’ plans for us or shame ourselves for our deepest desires, the more we lose our ability to key into our own needs, feelings, thoughts, etc. and the more likely we are to end up living lives that just are not fulfilling or enjoyable for us.
When we as parents are so focused on the outcomes from our kids’ actions (or lack of actions), we lose sight of what we should be focusing on such as the following questions:
I could go on but I think that is a good start. Often, the parents we work with at Thrive become somewhat hyper focused on what their kids are doing in terms of achievement as they really really want them to be set up for success in our world. I understand why they want this and their fear of possible negative outcomes. We live in such a competitive world and environment that we can get caught up in scarcity and the idea that there are right or wrong ways to find success.
Unfortunately, the hard truth is that we can not control the outcomes for our children and we certainly can not control who our children are going to be. We can not guarantee that they will be successful in their careers, relationships, or financially or that they will develop with the values or views on life that we hold dear.
What we can do instead is focus on how we can help them develop their own goals, plans, dreams, and decision making skills from the security of a strong relationship with us as their parents. We do this by building on and supporting them from a kid-centric perspective, rather than a top down society or parent perspective of what they should be doing or who they should become.
While this might feel strange particularly in our world of over-parenting and lawnmower parenting (that’s the one where parents mow down every obstacle for their kids), it’s just a different path to getting the outcome most parents are looking for anyways.
Most parents want their kids to become responsible adults who can care for themselves. The best way we can get there is to get to know our kids in order to help us (and them) understand how they function best, what they need, how they feel, and what they want in their lives so that we can support them along the way and they can make choices that truly fulfill their dreams and deepest visions for their lives.
We need to accept that we can not truly control who our kids turn out to be.
That’s it… the most important parenting goal is to actually just release our illusions of control and accept the truth that our kids come into the world with their own personalities, goals, feelings, and perceptions of the world.
While our illusion of control eases our anxiety in terms of wanting to be able to control outcomes for our kids, it is just not accurate or helpful. As a therapist I have watched parents try to mold and form their children into the people they want them to be and it just does not work. It makes kids miserable and honestly leads to negative mental health outcomes like worthlessness, hopelessness, and even self-injury or suicidal thoughts and actions.
Anytime you find yourself as a parent feeling like you are losing control, try to recognize that the control you are losing was not real anyway. While you can definitely set certain boundaries with your kids (and I encourage you to set them), you can not change what your kids interests are, how they experience the world (like trying to toughen up a more sensitive kid), and you will be doing harm by trying to change them instead of learning and embracing who they are.
At Thrive, we take a positive, client centered approach to therapy that is focused on creating a genuine connection with our clients. If you would like to talk with a Thrive Therapist about yourself, your child, or teen attending therapy via video sessions, please reach out to us by phone at 858-342-1304.
As always, thanks for reading and comments are always welcome regarding any issues around child or teen psychotherapy services in San Diego by Thrive Therapy Studio.
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5230 Carroll Canyon Rd. Ste 110
San Diego, CA 92121
"Watch your thoughts,
They become words.
Watch your words,
They become actions.
Watch your actions,
They become habits.
Watch your habits,
They become character;
It becomes your destiny."