Have you ever come up with a good parenting strategy only to have it fail miserably when you tried to implement it?
Part of our problem is that when we’re planning what we should do with our kids—what rules we should have and how we should deal with the inevitable breaking of those rules—we are in a different mindset than when we’re trying to implement our plan. When we’re planning, we’re thinking about the future, and we think about the future differently than we think about the present. We think about the future more abstractly. We focus more on the big picture stuff, like our values and ideals. We also think more idealistically about ourselves.
When I think about my plan for getting my six-year-old to stay in bed at night, I think about what I want to happen. I want to patiently tell him he needs to stay in bed and go to sleep, and if he gets out of bed, I want to patiently remind him he needs to get back to bed so he can get a good night’s sleep.
That’s my plan. But what ends up happening? If I hear footsteps in the hall after I’ve tucked him in, my blood pressure starts to rise. I have a million things I need to do at night and I’m tired. I don’t feel anything like the patient mom I imagined I would be at my kids’ bedtime.
Therein lies the problem. I build my plans around my future self, a fictitious version of me that can sometimes be far different from the real-life version. My future self is like a superhero with no limits, but my present self is a little less Superman, a little more Clark Kent. When we make plans that only a superhero can implement, we set ourselves up for failure.
How can we do better?
We can start by making plans our real-life selves can carry out. We’re busy, we’re tired, we get impatient, and we aren’t always confident about our decisions. We need parenting plans that take these real-life limitations into account.
How can you apply this to your own parenting plans?
First, think about something you want to work on with your kids this week. Do you want to work on getting them to do their homework? Stay in their beds at night? Get ready for school on time?
Next, imagine yourself in that situation. What generally happens when it comes time for your kids to go to bed or do their homework? What do your kids usually do? How do you usually feel? Are you tired? Rushed? Stressed? How do you usually respond?
Now think about how you can accomplish your goal with your kids given the limitations. How can you deal with your kids better when you’re stressed or tired or impatient? Will you enlist extra help at bedtime? Will you develop a more predictable morning routine that’s easy for your kids to follow on their own? Do you sometimes feel like you’re going to lose it? Think about what helps you relax when you get worked up. Will you take a time-out away from your kids for a few minutes when you start feeling like you’re going to explode? Where will you do this and what will you do to calm yourself?
When it comes to parenting, a lot of obstacles can get in the way of our goals. We need a plan for how to deal with them. Just remember, make your plan for Clark Kent, not for Superman.
Photograph © Tanaphong Toochinda, used with permission