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Parenting’s Dirty Secret

October 23, 2014 | by Emuna Braverman

How to go from hyper-parenting to calm-parenting.

From helicopter parenting to the latest hyper-parenting, from Dr. Spock to Dr. Brazelton and beyond, from the permissive parenting of the sixties to the tiger moms, there have always been trends in parenting.

And most of these trends share two important similarities. 1. They are frequently taken to extremes and done to excess, often crippling the child emotionally and just plain exhausting the parents. 2. They are often the products of or play to the desire for magical thinking.

If I can find the right (the only, the true, the best) parenting strategy, then my children will turn out perfect – in character, in obedience, in school grades and college acceptance, in fulfilling their (my?) career aspirations and in marrying well and raising my dream grandchildren.

We may not give voice to it but this is what many of us imagine. This is what underlies the race to the newest parenting class, book, CD or seminar, the desire to find a parenting guru at whose feet we can sit, whose words we can absorb, and whose strategy we can successfully employ.

Now I’m not suggesting there is no point to any parenting classes or books. We could all use some tools to cope with the sleepless nights, tantrums, toilet training, first day of school (and all those that follow!) and that bugbear known as adolescence.

But we need to remember that these are tools only, not magic potions.

There is no magic formula and so much is out of our control.

Here’s the dirty secret: There is no perfect parenting strategy that will ensure that everything we want for our children will materialize in exactly the way we want it to. We can’t protect them from life’s challenges and disappointments and we often shouldn’t rescue them even when we can. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a charlatan.

But the truth is that accepting this reality can, believe it or not, be freeing and can actually enhance our parenting rather than diminish it. We stop obsessing over areas where we have no control (basically all of them!). We stop micromanaging. We let go. We accept. We may even relax (am I carrying it too far?!). We are more fun for our children to be around. We spend more downtime together, are less task-oriented.

But how do we accomplish this? The first step is awareness, acknowledging our limited control. And the second step is to make peace with this.

I recently saw a NY Times piece on this topic by Pamela Druckerman (A Cure for Hyper-Parenting, 10/13/14) where she references what is supposedly a Buddhist-inspired approach to parenting: “Total commitment to the process, total equanimity about the outcome.” I know nothing about Buddhism but this philosophy certainly reflects the Jewish approach. I would just deepen it by reminding us that the equanimity is due to the fact that the outcome is in the Almighty’s hands. He’s in charge.

Once we recognize this, we no longer need that magic parenting book or pill – just prayer and acceptance. We can change hyper-parenting to calm-parenting. That is the one thing we can control.


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