Over the years my parenting has definitely evolved to meet my, and my kids', needs. I tried a number of different strategies until I learned about lighthouse parenting. That's when I never looked back. I try to be like a lighthouse — a beacon of strength and comfort for my kids— and for the most part it's been a pretty good fit for our family. Plus, I've learned there are more than a few absolute truths only a lighthouse mom would know, and those truths make this whole parenting thing just a tad easier.
Lighthouse parenting is a term coined by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg in his book Raising Kids to Thrive. The basic idea behind the philosophy is that we, as parents, should be like lighthouses for our kids: stable, consistent, protective and constant role-models. That means that it's our job, as parents, is not to follow our kids around making sure they never get into trouble. Rather, we model how to make good choices, then let them have enough freedom to make their own decisions. We know that letting your kids make choices means they will feel more in control of their lives, so they'll tantrum just a little bit less. That, my friends, is the dream. Sometimes that means letting them make mistakes so they can learn, though, and that's definitely not easy.
Lighthouse parents are accessible to their kids. They take the time to let their children know that they're always available as consultants and/or therapists, helping them talk problem-solve and processing emotions. This helps me connect with my kids in a meaningful way, every single day, and is way less exhausting and way more fun than being a hovering helicopter or controlling drill sergeant mom. Now that I've started parenting this way, I feel like I am parenting smarter instead of harder, and that is a beautiful thing.
Kids Need Space To Grow
Although it's tempting to hover close to your kid to make sure they never fall or fail, it actually holds them back from certain experiences and prevents them from being independent. I learned this the hard way, with my fearful, tentative oldest child who was constantly afraid to go down the slide or sleep by herself. When my second was born, I started giving him freedom and space to explore and learn. He pretty much started climbing on top of the fridge as soon as he learned to walk.
You Can Learn From Your Mistakes
Making mistakes is part of life. Absolutely everyone makes mistakes. So, if my partner and I never allow our kids get the wrong answer or lose a game, they won't learn. Giving your kid the tools necessary to be successful is way harder than giving them the right answers and short cuts. But trust me when say it's so, so worth it.
Actions Have Consequences
I try to allow my kids to experience natural or logical consequences of their actions — both positive and negative — within reason. That means that my kids get to be cold, if they forget their jacket. And if they make unsafe choices online, well, they're losing their computer privileges.
Communication Is Key
I started really talking to my kids every day when I became a single mom. Our relationship and their behavior improved exponentially, too. I feel like I finally started to see and know them as people. When things go wrong or tantrums are thrown or bad days just happen, we can pretty much always talk things through.
Everyone Should Learn To Cope With Challenges
As appealing as creating an easy life for your kids sounds, it's not all that appealing to think about your kids not being resilient when they inevitably face change, stress, difficult moments, or the reality of not being perfect. In the real world, they will have to learn to cope with stress, pain, loss, disappointment, and failure. If we, as parents, give them the skills, they will be better able to weather storms.
Choices Let Kids Feel In Control
Early on I realized that giving my kids a reasonable amount of autonomy about things like clothes, food, and extracurricular activities, lets them feel in control of their own lives. Kids don't get to control a lot of what goes on in their lives, and as a result, tantrums ensue. Lighthouse parents know that letting kids make choices can take the fights out of your daily routine, and that is bliss, my friends.
How To Set & Enforce Boundaries
Setting boundaries is an important skill and not one that even most adults have learned. When you teach a child that their rights, privacy, and bodily autonomy matters, and that they can set comfortable boundaries to protect those things, you give them a gift that will forever keep on giving.
You Don't Have To Be Perfect To Be A Good Role Model
When you live by the same rules you set for your kids, you find yourself being a responsible adult. (And if you are anything like me, you wonder how the hell that happened.) Nobody is perfect. You don't have to be perfect to be a good role model, especially if you are willing to own up to mistakes, apologize when you hurt others, and accept consequences.
Your kids don't need perfection. They just need you.
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