I stumbled upon an article recently with the headline “13 things mentally strong parents don’t do.” When I opened the link, I expected to see things like “cry in the shower when your preteen daughter won’t hold your hand in public” or “eat an entire gallon of ice cream after bedtime.” Instead, this list was something totally different: It’s things parents can do to help their children become self-sufficient, responsible adults.
Essentially, this was a guide on how to be a mentally strong parent now so your kids can be mentally strong adults later.
I loved the gist of the list because it’s how my husband and I try to parent. Note how I said try because parenting is definitely an ongoing effort to become better. I fail almost daily in some way or another, but I pick myself up, assess where I went wrong and come up with a plan to do better tomorrow.
And basically, that’s what this list of mentally strong parent attributes is all about. Are we learning from our mistakes and teaching our kids how to do the same?
Here are a few items that stood out to me on the list of things mentally strong parents don’t do:
1. They don’t condone a victim mentality. There is nothing worse than a kid (or an adult) who always is pointing a finger of blame at someone else for their shortcomings. In our house, we don’t allow the phrase “She made me … (fill in the blank).” If our kids try to go down that path, we quickly redirect them by pointing out that no one can make you do anything whether that’s making you punch them in the face or simply making you mad.
2. They don’t let fear dictate their choices. This is a tough one for me because I am basically a professional worrier, although I’m keeping my amateur status so I can compete in the Anxiety Olympics. So it’s hard for me to put aside my fears and let my children get hurt or solve a challenge for themselves. But I am proud to report I regularly let my children out of my sight … sometimes.
3. They don’t give their children power over them. Have you been around families where the kids rule the roost? I’m talking about when the kids get to make all the decisions while the parents run around trying to accommodate them. The mini-tyrants grow up to be obnoxious adults who don’t understand why the world doesn’t still bend over backwards to please them.
4. They don’t expect perfection. In our house, it’s all about the growth mindset. Setbacks are opportunities. Hard things are simply challenges that encourage our brains to grow and make new connections. We don’t expect perfection, but we do expect effort. And we expect failure. In fact, we often tell our kids that if they’re not failing occasionally, they’re not pushing themselves hard enough.
5. They don’t confuse discipline with punishment. I see parents often mistaking these two tactics. Punishments are meant to shame and to make a child suffer for wrongdoing. Discipline, however, is meant to guide a child toward self-correction. Thanks to the Love & Logic method we use in our home, every act of discipline is merely a recognition of natural consequences so our children can hopefully learn how to correct behavior and mistakes in the future.
The final item on the list of "13 things mentally strong parents don’t do" lands at the core of what it means to be this type of parent: Mentally strong parents don’t lose sight of their values. When we set out on this parenting journey, we have a laundry list of ideals we want for our children. And then, real life sets in. Our no-TV policy morphs into a not-so-much-TV-that-their-eyes-glaze-over policy. We overlook the backtalk we swore we’d never tolerate because hey, it’s just easier not to get into it right now. And we dole out arbitrary punishments because thinking through effective, enforceable discipline is exhausting.
We all do it. Reality tempers our lofty ideals and we let them slip away. But the truth is, mentally strong parents don’t. Mentally strong parents may trip up here and there, but they refocus themselves on the values and goals they want for their family and their children.
And in the end, that’s what our children see and learn. Are we mentally strong enough to walk the walk even when life throws us curve balls? Can we accept accountability and recommit to better live our core values? Are we resilient enough to bounce back, to do the hard work even when it hurts?
Because if we can do that, then they can, too.