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Raising kids or raising parents?

I recently had lunch with a client and during our conversation he shared with me some personal challenges he and his wife have been going through with their oldest child.

As a father of three, I could relate to his anguish as my wife and I went through our share of challenges with some of our kids, too. Because my kids are older now so I could give him some perspective and advice from our journey.

This weekend is Father’s day so I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate this blog to this topic.

I shared with him that about 10 years ago, when our older kids were teenagers, my wife and I had a few sessions with a parenting coach. She helped us a great deal by giving us a set of principles from the Adlerian method (http://www.alfredadler.edu/about/theory) for managing our relationship with our kids, which I have never forgotten since. She said:

“If you want your relationship with your kids to works always make sure that:

  1. They experience unconditional love,
  2. There is mutual respect in the relationship,
  3. You have faith in your kids and the relationship with them.”

For me these meant:

  1. No matter what they do, how they behave and how we feel about them, always make sure they know that we love them unconditionally.
  2. Respect them and respect our selves. Make sure we never disrespect them, but also that we don’t do things that disrespect us and will cause us to feel resentful later.  And,
  3. No matter how bad things may seem – how miss-behaved or off-track our kids may seem at certain periods, always have faith that they and our relationship with them will eventually turn out well.

Over the last 10 years I have had the opportunity to confront, adopt and apply each of these principles many times. And, that made me a better parent and father.

The first principle seemed very basic but still required awareness and focus.

Many times when my kids did something wrong like come home late or lie about something I would reprimand them. I am a very passionate person; even when I don’t intend to raise my voice, I raise my voice. In fact my entire family is passionate, so in our family we do everything – the good and bad – very passionately and loudly. So, the first principle made me more conscious of not coming across too harsh so they always understood and believed that I loved them unconditionally.

The second principle was more challenging, especially the latter part. I found the part about ‘always respecting my kids’ straightforward. But, the part about ‘respecting our selves’ took my wife and I a bit of time to fully internalize. Perhaps because of our upbringing, we have the tendency to always want to give everything to our kids and never deny them. So we would sometime go-along with things like kids parties at our house, doing car-pools both ways and buying things our kids didn’t really need because others had them, without truly agreeing. The second principle taught us to say no to things that didn’t work for us. This actually strengthened our relationship with our kids because when we respected our own boundaries, they started to respect them as well.

The third principle was the hardest for me to internalize. I understood the concept but living it was challenging. When my oldest daughter was struggling in high school, overweight and with a low self-esteem, ‘having faith’ seemed counter-intuitive. At the time my skeptical thoughts were: “this may work for others, but not for us”. But, this principle does work and I have experienced it personally. To make a long story short – 2 years after high-school my daughter came to us and initiated going to college. 3 years after that she started to workout with a trainer and lost 95 lbs. She’s kept her weight off for the last 1.5 years and is now in the best physical and mental shape of her life. And, our relationship has never been better.

I have shared these principles with so many friends and clients over the years and most people resonated with these immediately. In fact, some found them as relevant, insightful and transformational as we did. It seems that everyone who has kids deals with these type of issues in some way at some point along the way.

When my first daughter was born 26 years ago it changed my life for obvious reasons. I know I am a good father, but like with other things in my life I have had to work at it and reinvent myself along the way, which made me a better person.

For me raising kids has always been more about raising parents.