Updated: Jan 18
Why parenting is so hard.
My wife and I are lucky, we have two great kids (aged 11 and 15), with no major behavioural issues (that I’m aware of 😁), and a family unit that mostly operates well. However, as my kids get older and parenting gets more complex, I’ve been trying to figure out why I parent the way I do, so that I can be a better dad.
Over the weekend, I had a breakthrough. The no. 1 problem with parenting tweens and teens is that we love them too much.
The purpose of this article is to better understand that love. Then share 10 techniques that you can use to become a better parent by loving your kids less.
Let me know what resonates, what doesn’t, and if you have any advice from your parenting journey, share it in a comment.
Vince Hurley is a father of 4 who spent eight years as a hostage negotiator with the NSW Police Force. He is an Associate Lecturer in Security Studies and Criminology at Macquarie University. When I read an SBS article on his tips for negotiating with teens, one passage stuck:
“There is of course a material difference between his kids and hostage-takers: Hurley knows and has a huge emotional investment in the former; the latter were strangers with whom he had zero attachment.”
It is that ‘huge emotional investment’ (love), that makes parenting so hard. If we reduce our emotional investment we make better decisions and become better parents.
It is not about loving our kids less. It is about loving them differently💕. It is about better controlling our emotions as we try to guide them through their teenage years.
Why is it so hard to detach from our emotions with our kids? It is because we’ve invested so much time, effort, and energy into ‘getting’ them to where they are today.
To give you an example of the ‘investment’ I have made in my kids, see below:
20 years ago, my future wife Jo and I get serious. I think about what it will be like to be a dad, the responsibility, and what our kids might be like
19 years ago, we start seriously thinking about having kids
18.5 years ago, we start trying
17.5 years ago, we’re still trying (it’s harder than we thought, we see specialists, try a few different things)
16.5 years ago, Jo gets pregnant, and it sticks
23 April 2006, Jo gives birth to our daughter 🥳
Genetically she is 50% me
Although I cannot define or explain it, my definition of love changes
2008, we start trying for our second baby
2009, Jo gets pregnant again but loses the baby in the first trimester
17 June 2010, our beautiful son arrives 🕺🏽
My love expands
For the past 20 years, Jo and I have invested 100x more time and effort into parenting our kids, than we have invested into anything else.
Like most parents we’ve experienced the highs and lows of parenting, nurturing, protecting, and trying to guide them. I enjoy parenting tweens and teens more than parenting younger kids. Yes, it is harder (bigger kids, bigger problems), but personally I find it more rewarding.
Our relationships have become more complex – they share their opinions (they always had opinions, but now they share them). They are learning (rightly so) to challenge authority, and push boundaries (just like we did). They’re great at pushing my ‘buttons’ 🔴.
Speaking of buttons, as the complexity of parenting increases, some of the differences Jo and I have in parenting come under the spotlight. I don’t like spotlights; they make me uncomfortable.
Part of being a teenager is making mistakes, thankfully, my daughter hasn’t made too many so far 😬. Mistakes and failure are great learning experiences, however, because I’ve made mistakes growing up - and care so much - I try to stop her making mistakes (it doesn’t work very well).
Not only has my emotional investment been immense, my time investment has also been immense. Unlike most other relationships, my relationship with my kids is 24/7, seven days a week. You’re ‘on call’ all the time, every day. Parenting is not a 9 to 5 job, it’s not even an 8 to 6 job - it’s a 24/7, seven days a week job.
So, if you’re not careful, your kids can take over your life. You seldom get a weekend off, and some weekends you’re up late worrying about where your kid is, who they’re with, and what they’re doing.
If you are planning to have kids and been put off by this article, this is the moment I remind you that as difficult as parenting is, the adventure, joy, fun, and reward far outweigh the pain.
There is something brutally powerful about that genetic connection that I cannot explain… My love for my kids feels limitless - it beats my heart. I cannot imagine life without them.
Hopefully that provides insight into the huge emotional investment we have in our kids. Now that you know why the investment is so powerful, let’s see how we can reduce it, so that we become better parents 👨👩👧👦.
Your goal is to not let your emotional investment cloud your judgement.
We do this by creating space between our feelings and actions - by becoming more detached from our emotions. This allows us to make better informed and logical decisions. As Aristotle once said:
“Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not easy.”
Below, I share 10 techniques and reminders that help me reduce my emotional investment in my kids. Do these techniques work all the time? Sh#t no, because to state the bleeding obvious, after so much investment, effort, and time spent creating habits, it is not easy to break them.
Before I jump into the specific techniques, arguably the most important thing I have done to improve my parenting over the past few years is shift my mindset. I now prioritise my kid’s mental health and wellness over everything. Everything. Over their grades, their diet, how much homework they’re doing, the sports they play, screen time hours, their academic and sporting achievements, everything.
Note, that I’ve been relatively unbending with some of these things in the past, so if you’re a relaxed parent already, you may already be in the place where I’ve recently arrived 👍. Part of my mindset shift is recognising that I cannot make my kids happy (happiness comes from within), and that mental health, wellness, and the elements above, are not mutually exclusive.
However, I believe that by stepping back, by focusing less on the results, and more on the process. On the ‘how’ they behave, rather than the ‘what’ they achieve, I am giving them the best chance of growing into happy, healthy, and contributing members of society.
10 Techniques to become a better parent:
1. Remind yourself that your kid(s) are not you. Just because you like something, that does not mean that they will like it. If something floats your boat, it doesn’t mean it floats theirs. Genetically they are 50% you, but that does not mean that they think like you. What is good for you, may not be good for them.
2. Practice meditation and mindfulness. There are almost as many definitions of meditation and mindfulness as there are ways to do it. The way I look at it is meditation is a defined practice routine you do to become more mindful. To open your mind and consciousness. Mindfulness is the everyday practice of being more present and mindful of your surroundings, actions, and reactions. Whatever you call it, and however you do it, meditation and mindfulness are the most powerful techniques anyone can learn to improve their stress management and mental health. 110% they will make you a better parent.
3. If a parenting situation is stressing you out, take the long view. Imagine it’s 10 years in the future and ask yourself whether the situation turns out good, bad, or indifferent, will it be important to your kid’s wellbeing at that time? Usually, you’ll discover the outcome of the current stress event is less important than you think it is.
4. If you live in the same home as your kid, you probably have some control over their movements, however, you can never control what they think, feel, and (often) do. Behavioural scientists tell us that the only things we can control are our thoughts, actions, behaviours, decisions, effort, and attitude. Kids, partners, and friends fall within your circle of influence. You can influence them through your efforts and actions (actions speak louder than words, so make sure you lead by example and ‘walk the talk’). But you cannot and should not try to control them. Note I struggle with this one a bit, however, I try and remind myself that my job is to be their guide or manager, not their benevolent dictator 😁.
5. You’re their parent, not their Best Friend Forever (BFF). If you’re confused about this, a good technique is to think back to when you were a teenager. Did you treat your parents like your BFF? Did you hang out with your best mates and parents talking sh#t? Did you always confide in them? Of course not. Importantly, this doesn’t mean you don’t have a friendship with your kid(s), ideally you do. However, your job is not about being their BFF.
6. Study philosophy and spirituality. What’s this got to do with becoming a better parent? Like no. 2, it makes you a better human being, which makes you a better parent. I’m not religious in a traditional sense, i.e. I don’t go to church, the synagogue, mosque, or temple. However, I’ve studied philosophy and spirituality to better understand myself and my body, mind, spirit connection. Alongside meditation and mindfulness, the study of philosophy and spiritually has been the biggest gamechanger in my life over the last few years. Full stop 🎯. And it’s made me a better parent.
7. Don't worry too much about your kid’s friendship circle or get too involved in the nitty gritty of their relationships (unless they ask you to). Someone once said to me that over time a teenager’s friendship circle acts like the lava in a lava lamp. The groups change, expand and contract, break-up, and reform. I’ve found this visual analogy helps me worry less about my kids’ friendships as they change.
8. When things get tense or an argument ensues, breathe, try to walk in their shoes, and let them vent. Practice active listening, and don’t be in a hurry to resolve the argument. Take a break and walk away to give both of you time take the heat out of the situation. Note, sometimes the price of being ‘right’ isn’t worth it.
9. Say sorry more often (saying sorry is super-powerful! Learn to say sorry even when you think you’re right because you might be wrong 😆).
10. Remind yourself that your kid(s) are not you. This is so important, yet difficult, that I’m repeating it. Most of us view the world through a lens; our upbringing, culture, relationships, media consumption, etc. produce a particular coloured lens. And if we don’t consciously open ourselves to other people’s views, we think and act as if everyone else is looking through the same coloured lens. That view is false. One of the first steps in building your self-awareness, and breaking down your unconscious bias, is recognising that everyone wears different coloured lenses. A good place to start improving your self-awareness is to read a few articles on ‘unconscious bias’. Or you can complete a behavioural/ personality profiling assessment. Once you realise that what you see isn’t what everyone else sees, and that your right isn’t always right, you’re on your way to becoming more self-aware (it’s a lifelong journey).
Change is hard, be patient and gentle with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up when you make mistakes along the way – recognising your mistakes and learning from them, is a big step in the right direction.
Finally, remember that the 10 techniques above not only make you a better parent, they also make you a better human being. So, don’t just try them out for your kids, try them for yourself too 🚀.
To start with, I recommend you pick one or two techniques - that you’re not already doing - to try out.
If you have any questions, need further pointers on how to get started, you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach out on any of Mindhabit Coaching’s social channels.
Thanks as always for your time, let me know how you go, I’m off to the beach to hang out with Jo and the kids.
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