From navigating the sleep of infants to supporting teenagers through the ups and downs of middle and high school, there are plenty of moments to make anyone unsure of what it means to be a good parent or even how to do a better job at something so important. Even now with two young adult children (21,19) and two teens (16,14), I still want to learn how to be a better parent.
There are 6 ways to grow as a parent: be a lifelong learner, pursue personal growth, give time and energy to your family, learn to serve, be a good communicator, and practice emotional flexibility. I believe this will help you develop personally in a way that benefits you and your family. Pursuing this creates a lot of love in your family and can bring you joy while completing the day to day tasks of parenting.
6 Ways To Grow As a Parent
1. Be a Lifelong Learner: There are two parts to being a life-long learner – education and curiosity. Educating yourself on a broad range of parenting topics will help you feel more confident when working through the toughest parts of your role. There is no shame in feeling lost sometimes. Everyone who has parented, mentored, or championed a child knows how it feels to be unsure. The good news is you aren’t stuck! There are so many resources available at your fingertips: blogs, articles, books, online conferences, podcasts, and more. Educating yourself will give you new ways of looking at problems and help you tackle them armed with information and hope.
The other part of being a life-long learner is curiosity. Being curious helps you navigate life armed with important qualities such as empathy. Curiosity will help you discover who your children are instead of assuming who they might be. It will give you the opportunity to discover the world through their eyes.
2. Pursue Personal Growth: Valuing personal growth creates huge opportunities. It means you’re not stuck being the same for your whole life. It means the relationship you have with your kids can grow and change over the years. You are capable of adding new dynamics to your parenting style; If you want to be a more patient parent, you can learn patience. If you want to add adventure to your life, you can be more adventurous. Personal growth means you can grow as a parent and add to your character or personality those things you most desire.
When I was a young mom, I wanted to be kind to my children and gentle to them, so I made it a priority and learned kindness. As my children became teenagers, it became clear that some of my early-life experiences had affected how I parent. Instead of feeling hopeless, I’ve made it a priority to learn new parenting strategies. I’ve owned my discovery, been open with my kids, apologized when I missed it, and learned new patterns of parenting. I still struggle with old habits from time to time, but I am growing and my kids feel seen and loved by my willingness to change.
3. Give Time and Energy to Your Family: Every new parent learns really fast that parenting takes a lot of time and energy. It takes years and years of effort to raise a child and all this effort comes at a real cost to you. Life with children means adjusting to the fact that a whole other person (or multiple people) needs your time and attention. This change can feel disorienting and bring with it a true sense of loss of your “before kids” life.
As a new mother I discovered I had two options: fight or embrace. I could fight the time and energy it takes to be a parent by digging in my heels and telling myself I was a victim of circumstances. Or, I could embrace this very obvious part of parenting and treat it as any other requirement of life. The choice was mine.
Raising kids is hard work, but it’s good work. Anything worth doing is. Successful parenting happens when you give time and energy to the long process of raising your kids. The result is unexpected: feelings of happiness and fulfillment which develop into joy.
4. Learning to Serve: Service is the labor that contributes to the welfare of another. It requires energy, a positive attitude, a willingness to accommodate another person, and the ability to overlook being wronged. Service is a natural part of parenting but it doesn’t come naturally for most. It means putting the value of your children and their needs above your own.
It might feel counterintuitive to willingly put the many needs of your children first. After all, there are other things to consider – healthy boundaries, self-care, and teaching your children independence. You might feel scared you will become a doormat or allow your family to take an unfair advantage of you. It turns out there is plenty of evidence that shows that caring for the needs of another person can bring personal reward and even joy.
The art of service isn’t always perfect or linear but with intention you can find your own healthy rhythms and reap the many benefits that come with caring deeply for the needs your family.
5. Being a good communicator: Anytime humans interact, there is a need for communication. The way you communicate with your children will grow and change as they do. Young children need repetitive, consistent, patient communication. Older children need to be valued for their input, listened to, and guided.
A communication skill that is incredibly important but often overlooked by parents is listening. When children are tiny it takes a lot of patience to listen to all the words being said on any given day. When children are old enough to attend school the communication changes to asking them about their day, answering their questions, or being willing to take the time to find out why they were upset or hurt. One of my biggest parenting regrets centers around a breakdown in communication with my oldest son. I didn’t recognize the problem until it had grown and created bigger problems within our relationship and it took time and effort to repair.
Another important part of parenting is to teach communication to your kids. I have a couple of kids who are quieter and process internally. They need to learn things like how our body language helps us communicate or how to feel more confident when speaking to people you don’t know. I have a couple of kids who are external processors. They’ve needed to learn to make room for other people’s thoughts and feelings, the art of journaling, and what is appropriate shareable information. Kids also need to learn how to process feelings in a healthy way, how to express themselves, how to process feelings of anger, and more.
6.Practicing Emotional Flexibility: You’re running late to pick your husband up from the airport and the two grumpy toddlers in the back seat hate that you woke them up from their nap early only to put them in the car. All of a sudden, traffic comes to a complete stop and there is nothing you can do but sit and wait it out. The grumpy toddlers suddenly become angry and start screaming. Life is now a pressure cooker.
The ability to adjust your emotions to accommodate sudden changes in your day is important for you and your family. We all know a good day can suddenly become a bad one. The temptation to let our emotions follow along without restraint is real. Keeping our emotions in normal ranges when things make us angry or flustered allows us to keep our family atmosphere relatively stable. It also helps us support each other (instead of working against each other) during stressful moments.
Another need for flexibility is with our time and expectations. It’s easy to clash over the use of free time, money, family priorities, and schedules. Flexibility is a great way to handle all the adjustments and accommodations that need to be made within a family on a weekly basis. The goal is working together as a unit to meet everyone’s needs and working as a team to be successful.