There is so much pressure on us, as parents, to be perfect. You’ve seen the judgmental look of a passerby as you wrangle your child into the car. You know the guilt that comes after reacting in anger to your child’s innocent (but annoying) plea for attention.
I had a moment of clarity in parenting the other day.
Here’s what happened: We had people over for dinner. It was getting late and my youngest was starting to lose it. I remember thinking as I grew increasingly embarrassed, this is so not like her.
Then, I saw it was past her bedtime.
In that moment, I unknowingly articulated three keys to being the good-enough parent my child needs–being present over being perfect.
Through her cries, I said simply into her ear:
“I see you. I hear you. I care.”
I carried her to the other room, got her ready for bed and she was out cold within 5 minutes. I’m not perfect, but I’m good-enough…and so are you. Try these three keys to show your child you are present.
- I SEE YOU.
What percentage of the day are your eyes at some type of screen? I will catch myself looking at my screen, forgetting my kid is right in front of me. When I look up, she’s watching me—looking for my eyes—and breaks into a smile. I’ve found her (with my eyes) again, and she’s found herself. Your facial expression and your eyes communicate vital information to your child about her safety and her worth. So, if your child is acting out, repeating your name over and over again, being really loud or “annoying”, consider dropping what you’re doing for a moment, getting to her level and giving her your gaze.
- I HEAR YOU.
If you’re looking at me, but are checked out, you aren’t understanding what I’m saying and what I’m feeling. It is not so much your child’s words, as much as it is the feeling behind the words. Oftentimes, children need help understanding what it is they are feeling in a situation and you can help them do that. Is it really about the toy that Alice took from me? (Well, yes, children are often very concrete!) But it is also about feeling hurt, disrespected and powerless. So, in hearing your child, you want to do two things: (1) reflect his feelings and (2) offer a way for him to feel empowered in the moment.
- I CARE.
Not only do you understand, but you care enough to do something about it. If you’re a “good-enough” parent, your face and words are likely communicating to your child (most of the time) that you care. This step is more about showing you care enough to do something differently. How will you be or do something differently now that you have seen and heard me? So, in my situation above, I saw and heard my child and I took steps to get her ready for bed and put her down. If I had kept throwing toys or food at her, I would not have been hearing, seeing or understanding her.
So the next time you feel inadequate or overwhelmed, remember: “I see you. I hear you. I care.” You just have to be good-enough.