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Navigating the Parenting Journey

When I finally look back on my life and consider the biggest challenge I experienced, my hunch is that raising three children will be at the top of the list.  Over the years, my wife and I have played the roles of doctor, life coach, WiFi technician, nutritionist, mentor, teacher, psychologist, taxi driver, mediator and increasingly banker, while also trying to stay on top of our own lives.

To add to the challenge, the needs of our children have changed as they have grown.  Just as you think you have conquered one stage, everything is upended yet again.  When you think you have mastered baby-led weaning, along comes potty training.  Consider yourself an expert at solving childhood spats and out of the blue you have social media.  High stakes, hair-raising stuff.

To help navigate parenthood, there are a few ideas I have often returned to over the years:

  1. See them as the individuals they are. Although we might have much in common with our children, they are not us and should develop their own interests and dreams rather than trying to fulfill ours.  When parents put their own aspirations and emotions onto their children, they fail to see their individuality and are harming that relationship.  Letting your child make mistakes is important too in building their resilience.

  2. Talking usually trumps telling.  There is always a place for the parent lecture but use it sparingly or risk diluting its effect.  In between, find ways to connect with your child, take an interest in their lives, get to know their friends, watch their sports matches, anything which reinforces the relationship will help.  Long car drives or dog walks are a great way to maintain lines of communication and connection.

  3. Be their parent, not their friend – children thrive on consistency and stability. They need someone to bring them back into line, to tell them when they make a mistake and someone to stand shoulder to shoulder with their school. Friends do not typically do this, so keep the boundaries clear and they will appreciate it.

  4. Have high expectations – children are more capable than we give them credit for.  They might kick and scream but secretly they want a parent to remind them about table manners, to encourage them to say please and thank you, to aim high at school and generally take themselves seriously. 

  5. Listen to your child – someone once told me that we have one mouth and two ears for a reason, and we should probably use them in that ratio.  Children need to find their own solutions to problems; they need a chance to let off steam and occasionally grumble about some perceived unfairness.  Parents do not always need to jump in with a solution; simply being there to hear them matters more than you might think.

There is no doubt that parenting is a challenge, one that I doubt I will ever master, but certainly being alive to the needs of children helps us to steer them in the right direction and hopefully set them on a path to a successful adulthood. 

As a rule of thumb, if your child still wants to spend time with you when they are an adult (and vice versa!), you’ve probably done something right. 

David Paton is Head of Radnor House Sevenoaks

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