What Parents Really Need?

Except from Chapter 1 of The Genius in Children: Bringing out the Best in Your Child:

Dear Rick,

As a mom, I often feel that I am hanging on by my fingertips. I’ll tell you why I don’t read the how-to books on parenting: It’s because I can’t parent with one hand and have the recipe book in the other. I need both hands, and sometimes both feet. Actually, most of the time I need my whole body and my mind and my heart focused on my children. I am pouring everything that is me into all that they are. When I get into bed, I have gone to bed because I can’t stay awake anymore, so I am not going to read myself to sleep with a good book telling me all the rules of parenting I violated today. I also don’t need some guy (or woman either) telling me what to do.

As the mother of a seven-year-old and a two-year-old, my secret parenting self-medication <!–more–>when I am feeling confused and overwhelmed is discovering that there are others out there going through the exact same thing. That is why I am addicted to The Nanny and Shalom in the Home. I love hearing about the bad behaviors and how they are resolved. I am craving reminders about why I am doing this and that I am not alone.

That’s why I like your articles. In this era of “helicopter” parenting and the expectations we place on our kids, hearing the principal’s point of view is terrific. Since the parents are the original and the best teachers of our kids, how do we teach well? We know how to love ’em; how do we make ’em resilient and brave? Especially now that my oldest is off at school. It is different being the parent of a child away, and there isn’t much on the subject.

Thanks. Keep writing.


Is this how it feels for you? How is it different?


13 thoughts on “What Parents Really Need?

  1. Rick,

    This is a question that I think many parents wonder about. I like this quote from parenting expert Michele Borba (http://www.micheleborba.com/) from twitter yesterday, “Parents and Teachers, Aim to be GENTLE GUIDE not HIGH-PRESSURE COACH.”

    If we get too caught up in the success, achievement, and behavior of our children then where does that leave us as parents? What are we doing about our own success and behavior. I read a great leadership blog today that I think applies well to parenting, “Insist on Heroes. And be One.” (http://www.leadershipnow.com/leadingblog/2011/01/insist_on_heroes_and_be_one.html )

    What happens when there is a wonderful role model or mentor in a child’s life?

    As parents don’t we want to consistently model good character ourselves, and then leave the rest of it up to our kids. It’s their life anyway, not ours. I think the best we can do is teach them to get back up again when they fall. We can teach our kids the strength of resiliency by modeling it with grace; getting back up again ourselves while constantly remaining kind and respectful toward others.

    As always, I love your thoughtful posts.

    Marjie (@MarjieKnudsen on twitter)

  2. And same to you, Marjie, with the thoughtfulness. You can always be counted on to lead us to other sources for great insight. Thank you.

  3. I think it’s a high risk to “pour EVERYTHING THAT IS ME into all that they are.”   A good parent knows that he/she needs to take care of self, away from the concerns of child rearing, in order to be the most effective parent.  Perhaps that can be part of everything but what I have seen for the past five decades is parents giving away all of themselves to child rearing and then wonder why they have nothing left for themselves and each other.

  4. Years ago I remember teaching a first grader who called out in the middle of a phonics lesson, “I want my mommy!”

    During recess the principal told me to come because the little boy was in the office wanting to call his mother. “Oh, boy,” I thought. “How am I going to handle this one?”

    I sat down with him and looked in his lunch box. “Your mommy is wonderful,” I said, as we shared his chocolate ding dong. Then I asked him to come back to the classroom and draw her a picture because she loved him enough to pack a delicious lunch. Besides she’d want him to stay in school. He did and he stayed.

    How lucky was I?

    I think I would tell Gail to sit down with her child after school and share a snack together while talking about each other’s day.

    There’s nothing like a caring parent who shares and listens. I think it makes kids stronger when they can’t be together.

  5. Yes. Jean, I call this the “oxygen mask” principle. In fairness to Gail, she was saying that was what she was looking for–some way of getting perspective on mothering and to take care of herself.

  6. Nice, Jean. Thank you. Your story reminds me of another: “Getting our geniuses to Dance Together” essay #18 in “genius”

  7. From others, parents need to hear acknowledgement when they are doing something right. For themselves, they need a semi permeable tough skin that confidently repels any advice that wouldn’t work in their situation but lets in ideas that might.

  8. Bill, exactly! That’s just the way I feel as a parent and parent educator. But I have to say (sheepishly, since Rick just discussed the “praise” issue here) that I find myself not only acknowledging parents when they do something right, but out and out praising them as much as I can. I’m not careful about it the way I am with young children. I guess I figure they’re already praise junkies like me, or that it won’t harm them, but I do feel a little hypocritical when I’m suggesting they go easy on the praise with their babies!
    Rick, what do you think about praising adults?

  9. Sorry to barge in here, but I couldn’t resist! I tweeted earlier this week that what I thought new parents most needed was for someone to sit with them, listen, and reassure them that all is well, all will be well, and they are doing a great job.( I was stymied by the 140 character maximum.)
    I believe parents need non judgemental support, but saying that a child or an adult is doing a great job is really empty, meaningless praise that doesn’t help anyone get closer to experiencing their own inner strength and confidence. Acknowledgement is much closer to what I meant. Big difference, between saying “I see how hard you are working to listen to and understand your baby, and look how she is responding to you!” vs. “You are a great parent.”
    I love what Rick said to a Mom who was worried she had screwed up somehow and hurt her child because of her mistakes, “It’s OK, you are a learning Mom.”
    I believe we’re all learning all the time, and it’s not too late for those of us who grew up hooked on praise and outside approval to learn to look within, and to model this quality for both children and adults. I so empathize with Janet- it’s easier for me to resist offering empty praise and evaluation to children, but I often slip with parents.
    I think it’s because I still look outside of myself too often for validation from others. I remember how I struggled when I first started studying with Magda Gerber. I wanted so badly for her to tell me I was doing a good job. Instead, she’d turn my questions around. I ‘d ask her if she felt I was slow enough in approaching a child, and she’d ask me if I thought I was slow enough. I’d ask her opinion on a book, and why she chose that particular book to use in her teaching, and she’s tell me to read the book, and come back and tell her what I thought.What the heck? I was used to teachers answering my questions, and showering me with praise, and giving me A’s when I fed them back the answers they had provided to my questions!
    Magda gave me a great gift by turning me back to myself again and again to find my own answers. In this way, the learning was mine. Slowly, slowly I started to unhook from the need for outside praise and validation, and as I learned to look inward for answers, I found I was able to give others (both children and adults) a little more space, a little more time, a little more respect for their learning process, and finding their own way.

  10. Thank you, Lisa, for taking the time to write a full set of well organized, well focused thoughts. How do you think you did? (Half LOL.) I hestitate, but I will say: I love it!

  11. perfect timing for your question. If you read my reply to Lisa, you will see that I think you are right. No praise here, just gratitude.
    …and I guess that is my answer to your question–you ask a good one.
    OK I can do better than that. I think people of all ages need feedback. To the extent that praise is accurate feedback it is good and important. To the extent that it distorts reality (leading the other person to think that something that is merely good is great, for instance) or is a hollow lie in the interest of “being positive,” it is bad. I think our culture is hung up on maximizing “positive” and minimizing “negative,” when what we really need is data. I don’t think educators (parents and teachers both) should try to “build” a “positive” self-image in a child, but rather an accurate self-image. I believe (2000 bits of anecdotal data backing me up) that if a child’s self-image is accurate it will not only be good enough, it will be great.
    Thank you for asking and for sharing.

  12. Bill, thank you. So perfectly true. My guess is this is true for everyone. Anyone want to disagree with that?

  13. Rick (and Lisa) thanks! I feel the worry, sensitivity, vulnerability of parents in my classes… I guess that’s why I’m so keen to reassure them whenever I can. I don’t think it’s a bad impulse, and I honestly don’t believe it comes off ’empty’. I get really excited when parents allow their babies to struggle a little, etc., because I know it’s insanely hard. Whether or not my occasional positive feedback encourages them, I think they are mature enough to know I mean well…but I’m gonna keep an eye on it. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *