There are so many ways to go about parenting another human being. If you're a helicopter parent, you tend to hover over your children and inform their every decision. But if you're a free-range parent, you're probably giving your kids more freedom and space to figure things out on their own. Lately, I've found myself somewhere in-between these two parenting styles. In other words, I'm what's called a "lighthouse parent." And now that I've found some common ground, I think there are things every mom can learn from a lighthouse parent that will help both the child and the mother.
Now I admit, I held onto my helicopter ways pretty tight. I was terrified that if I wasn't around my two children constantly, they would get hurt or fail in some spectacular and ultimately damaging way. Of course I know failure is an important part of self-growth and cultivating resilience. Rationally, I knew I needed to back off and let my children learn on their own. But after enduring a difficult childhood that left me feeling more alone than I care to admit, my fear that my children would experience what I survived pushed all rationality aside. I wanted better for my kids, so I found myself being a little more than overprotective.
The older my kids get, though, the more open I am to stepping back and letting them take the lead. They are never going to learn and grow and become self-sufficient adults if I don't allow them the room to make mistakes, get hurt, and learn how to pick themselves back up and soldier on. And over time I've realized my kids are fine and much tougher than I originally thought. I've seen my daughter bring up a bad school grade without my help. I've seen my son lose a card game and know the world isn't over. I've seen both children fall and endure scrapes and bruises, only to be reminded of their strength. I've seen that, yes, it's OK to embrace a more relaxed style of parenting. I can be the guiding light for my children, like a lighthouse is for a ship, without being the tug boat that pulls them this way or pushes them that way. So with that in mind, here are some other things I think every parent can learn from a lighthouse parent.
Boundaries Are Necessary
I've always been a fan of boundaries, but the older my kids get the blurrier the boundaries are becoming. When I hovered relentlessly as a helicopter mom, boundaries were kind of non-existent. I crossed whatever imaginary line separated me from my children, and didn't really allow my kids the room to breath and grow on their own.
But through the years, I accidentally stumbled into lighthouse parenting and hung up my hovering and smothering in lieu of adopting concrete boundaries (while still utilizing gentle parenting) that definitely benefit all of us. Every parent can learn from lighthouse parents the transformative power of boundaries. In the end, kids want and need them. And so do parents.
You Have To Let Your Children Fail
One of the hardest lessons I've learned as a parent, in general, is the importance of letting my kids fail. Lighthouse parents embrace failure as a means of helping children fully understand and appreciate the hard work that comes with achieving success. It's hard to watch my youngest stumble, because my instinct is to protect him by any means necessary. But as I've learned to let go, I've seen his self-esteem improve. It's absolutely true that children, and adults, have to lose in order to win. Without failure, success means nothing.
People Are Not Defined By The Mistakes They Make
Sometimes it's difficult not to let my kids' actions affect the way I feel about them, personally. I've gone on and on about "unconditional" love since their conception, but there have been times I didn't always "feel the love." Lighthouse parents know their children are not defined by their tantrums. Of course I love my kids unconditionally, but now I work a little harder not to let their childish decisions hinder how I parent.
Balance Takes Work
I never thought a work/life balance was possible and honestly, some days still don't. If I'm doing well with work, I'm typically letting other things in my life suffer. If I'm giving my all to my kids, my work suffers.
Lighthouse parents, I've realized, are OK with things never feeling 100 percent 50/50 in their daily lives. Finding a balance isn't easy, and I know I have to be mindful about where my time and attention go and for how long, but when I'm able to strike any semblance of balance — not hovering, but also not allowing too much freedom — I watch my kids soar.
Communication Is Key
I've always been adamant about constantly communicating with my kids (sometimes to a fault, especially in my helicopter mom years).
Lighthouse parents keep the lines of communication open to build on the relationship, as opposed to shutting their kids down with "my way or the highway" in an attempt to control the situation. I've learned that by practicing communication often, my kids willingly come to me about the harder talks instead of me seeking them out.
Kids Will Still Be Kids
Lighthouse parents know kids will be kids. They'll make bad choices and not always understand the consequences and throw tantrums and be unreasonable. They'll make mistakes. They'll do all the things that mean my job as a parent is that much harder. That's OK.
That's why, unlike helicopter parents that work so diligently to keep their children from making mistakes, a lighthouse parent will back off and let the inevitable happen. But unlike free-range parents, they also know kids need some guidance, so they won't give them too much space, either. They'll allow their kids to be kids while providing some distant guidance. It's truly the perfect balance.
You Have To Learn To Let Go
Among things I've learned as I evolve further into becoming a lighthouse parent, I'd say the hardest lesson has been the importance of letting go. That line between giving them more freedom to make their own choices, while standing just far enough away That I can swoop in and help them if it's necessary, takes a lot of practice in restraint. The outcome, though, is that my kids are becoming strong, independent beings, capable of making their own decisions without me. And honestly, isn't that the purpose of parenting?
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