Who's the Boss? When to let kids lead.
Updated: Oct 21, 2019
When I used on only work with babies, I had a speech I gave my clients all the time: When a baby comes into the world, they are the boss. They cry and we respond. Baby-led latch, feed on demand, meet their needs as soon as you can, and that's how we establish a strong foundation of attachment, trust, confidence, etc. Then a cognitive shift starts around 4 months; our child can learn new things, understand and manipulate the world around them, and that's when we can start to exert our influence and take charge...
...and that was the end of my speech. After infancy, parent's run the show; the end. My work was all about HOW we run the show (boundaries, consequences and choices delivered with love and compassion) and there was never any debate about who was in charge.
All you parents of tweens and teens - I hope you can still read this through the tears of hysterical laughter likely wracking your body right now.
Was I wrong? Not so much wrong as incomplete. Like most of my parenting 'duh moments,' I owe this one to my oldest son who has been tirelessly chipping away at my stubborn blindness since he turned 11. Well, I finally got the memo! I needed to evolve my parenting and coaching to address 2 facts that we just don't get to see when our kids are little:
1) At a certain point our kids are old enough that they know (and we can see) who they are in a deeper way. They have their own agenda, path, vision, destiny, etc.
2) We DON'T know our kids better than they do anymore. We don't know best sometimes. Their agenda, path, etc. might be VERY different than the one we see for them...and it's time for their vision to lead their lives.
Parents of older kids might simultaneously be nodding in agreement and saying, "well...yeah but..." and I am too. This is a massive oversimplification. Tweens and teens still need hella boundaries and real consequences or they quickly become runaway trains. And of course our younger kids need to feel heard and seen, and their uniqueness informs our parenting long before they become tween-y. But somehow it's different as they get older and here's the guideline I use for myself and my clients when it's hard to decide who should be calling the shots. This can work for ANY aged kid, btw (I used it just the other day with my 10-year old).
1) Is the decision/issue around teaching them how the world works, norms, expectations, or behavior? In this case, it works best if the parents lead.
Examples could be:
- Rules about going out, curfew, communication etc.
- How your home works (bedtime, cleanliness standards, mealtimes, screentime etc.)
2) Is it about their life path, fundamental personality traits or the unique way they move through the world? Take a back seat and let kids lead, or at least collaborate with them.
Examples could be:
- What kind of schooling works best/learning style
- The kind of work they do (jobs or chores)
- Extracurricular activities
Notice how there are a lot more of category 1 and a lot less of category 2 when our kids are young, and that balance shifts as our kids get older? The trick is shifting ourselves along with it! Being a stubborn dogmatic mommy on those category 2 issues really just means we're forcing them into a box instead of supporting them to define themselves, and it feels like crap for everyone!
So often we find ourselves feeling like maybe we're compromising our vision for our family if we 'give in' on something, but there are some times when letting kids inform our family vision is the right call.