In anticipation of this New Year, instead of making huge resolutions about how to improve yourself or your kids, how about trying a different parenting approach? It starts with a non-action: taking stock of what you’ve got going on already.
Taking stock begins with separating life into parts. Think of a pie chart and divide your life into pieces. For example, I’m starting with health, relationships, work, and money because I tend to make resolutions these aspects of life the most. This initial step is important for me because I get overwhelmed easily.
Instead of jumping into the change mode, spend the next week getting curious about each one. Personally, when I take stock of my health, I realize that things are going well enough. I sleep better than I did a year ago. I found an online yoga community that, for now, I am at home in. I’m eating pretty well. There is surely room for improvement, but my health is also better than it was. Taking stock allows us to pause before acting. I was thinking of joining a gym before I changed my mindset; now, not so much.
In this category, things are moving in the right direction, even if the position is not exactly correct. This is an important distinction.
The new parenting approach: simply noticing.
When we “cut” life into smaller pieces, we can see them more clearly. This offers us a better chance of assessing them more consciously. Some of taking stock occurs in conversation, through journaling or merely by noticing.
If you are here, it’s likely you will choose your relationship with your child. To take stock, choose one time of day to start with, maybe the morning routine or better yet, the “How was your day?” conversation. In either of these interactions, notice what you say and how your child responds. Notice her body language and tone of voice. If you want a challenge, notice your own emotions during this interaction.
For a whole week, approach your teen with curiosity. Allow yourself to assume less and genuinely wonder about who their friends are, and what kind of mood they are in when they get home from school. It means noticing how asking them about their day produces the same answer, “Fine.” Remain in taking-stock mode and make a physical or mental note of what is there. Do not fix anything.
What if I realize that my relationship needs work?
As a parent, this practice of taking stock can shift perspective and relationships dramatically.
Taking stock means you get out their last report card and look at all the grades and comments, not just the areas for improvement. It means listening for what they say–“I don’t have enough time,” or “The coach is a jerk,”–and taking it in.
Taking stock means that you also notice your thoughts about their behavior. I was recently out with a couple who relayed a story about their daughter who got wasted at a dance last month. It was not the first time it happened, and it sounded like they had made peace with it by saying even the valedictorian got drunk.
We all make excuses for the things that gnaw at us, but in take-stock mode, perhaps they would conclude that both their thoughts about their daughter and her actions might be a problem.
What happens when you just witness yourself and your kids without trying to change?
Spending a week to witness your kids may help you identify the pieces of their pies. You might see that their lives are also full of social, academic, and athletic demands that pull them in different directions. In some areas, they might be thriving; in others, not so much.
I would not share your findings yet; if anything, resolve not to fix anything for a couple of weeks. Here’s why: teens have a radar for judgement and they do not want to be told how to get better (again). They are much more likely to be receptive in the future if they feel like you aren’t going to force them to change.
At this time of year, instead of overhauling, settle in and observe yourself and your teen. Soon enough, you will come to see what is working great, what is fine enough, and what needs attention. The distinction between the three will make change that much more possible. If you are comfortable, please share any new connections that you can make about your child and yourself as a result of just taking stock of who and how you both are right now.
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