Parents, It’s OK to be the Grown-Up
There is a title used in media these days. People are talking about the “grown-ups” in the room. They are calling on the grown ups to make the sober, thoughtful decisions of leadership. They are calling on the grown ups to mediate and show compassion. It is a title which has special significance in the news lately, and it’s also a great lead in to a discussion about the importance of being a grown up, particularly in how you relate to your children.
Someone once said that it is a biological safety that toddlers are smaller and less physically strong than their parents, because otherwise they would kill us all. Children are not supposed to be thoughtful and measured. Their brains don’t work that way. They are hopefully going to grow into beings capable of being in control, but as children, this is not reasonable or appropriate.
And, the fact is, children need and crave boundaries.
They want to know that there is an adult in charge, keeping them safe. Imagine being a two year old and thinking you are in charge. Terrifying! And yet, as adults we struggle with being enforcers of rules and creators of boundaries.
What I often hear as a reason for not instilling boundaries in a home is some version of a really lovely instinct to nurture autonomy and uninhibited self -expression in children. What I want to offer is a way of thinking about this that is not so concrete, but allows room to explore that healthy nurturing of self within a safe and secure foundation. I like to say that we need to build the box in order to then think outside of it.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you have created a structure in your home around bedtime. You aim to have dinner around 6, then bath, then a few stories, then tuck in, look at the stars on the ceiling and good night. Having this structure helps to let everyone know what to expect, feel comforted by knowing there is a routine, and, unconsciously, your child begins to slow down and feel sleepy. Routines are good.
AND routines offer structure within which to begin to allow for self to develop. Within the structure of the routine as it stands, your child can emerge in their choice of book, song or tub game. But also, where there is structure there can be flexibility. When your little one had a particularly long nap, you might say at 6, “you know what, I bet you’re not so sleepy right now. Lets have dinner and bath and then maybe we can do an extra few books or you can help daddy do dishes or something”. In this case, you are acknowledging the structure and that you are in charge, and also acknowledging the non-tired person of your child.
I think many adults are afraid of structure because they are afraid of being too rigid. But, I believe we all feel more comfortable with a routine, with some kind of organization that we can count on. And when we can feel seen and acknowledged within that routine, we flourish.
Being the adult means more than establishing and maintaining a routine. It also means modeling thoughtful behavior. It means holding a sense of sturdiness, even when things are going sideways. This can be hard if you have not had a lot of adults in your life to model flexibility. I think it is important, as an adult human who has decided to become a parent, to be able to think realistically and compassionately about yourself and your needs. Ask for help where necessary. Take time to take good care of yourself, so that you can be available and thoughtful in caring for others.
Adult need not mean impervious, omnipotent, or super-empowered. It can, and for my understanding, often means conscious, available and aware of vulnerabilities. In my next post I will speak to some specific reasons why you might not be so comfortable with your own adult-ness.