I've tried numerous parenting strategies. I was a free-range parent, until my toddler ran away from me in a parking lot. Then I became a helicopter parent and always kept one eye on my kid. Following my daughter around was exhausting, though, and that's when I read about lighthouse parenting. I learned that I could be a beacon of strength and comfort for my child, from a distance, and I knew this parenting philosophy was the perfect fit. It hasn't been easy, though, and there are struggles only a lighthouse mom can really understand.
Lighthouse parenting was coined by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg in his book Raising Kids to Thrive. The basic foundational idea behind the philosophy is that we, as parents, should be like lighthouses for our kids: stable, consistent, protective role-models. We should be giving them enough freedom to become themselves, enough guidance to make good choices, and enough room to make mistakes and experience natural consequences. Sounds great, right? Well, in my experience it absolutely is, but it's not a perfect set-up either. Like any parenting strategy, it doesn't work the way you'd like it to 100 percent of the time.
Lighthouse parents are supposed to encourage their kids to come to them and talk through problems and feelings, which is an awesome way to connect with your child, no question. But sometimes all my kids want to do is talk, and I am stuck hearing about my 8-year-old daughter's worst day ever for hours on end. Then there are the days when I ask how she's doing and receive nothing more than an eye roll and a sigh. Lighthouse parents try to let their kids make choices as often as possible, but sometimes they refuse to choose or make bad decisions that everyone has to live with. Watching your kids fail or fall is pretty much the hardest thing ever, even though you know it's necessary. I still think lighthouse parenting is a logical loving way to parent my kids, but some days it's nothing short of difficult. The struggle is real.
When Your Kid Won't Stop Talking
As someone who has spent much of my career listening to people talk, lighthouse parenting seemed like a great, natural way to connect with my children. I love the idea of cultivating open lines of communication with my kids, so I can know what's going on with them and they know they can trust me.
But when you are a lighthouse parent, you are a therapist, cheerleader, confidant, and adviser wrapping into one exhausted human. Some days I am so tired of hearing about every Pokémon card, best friend fight, bus ride, or song my kid heard on the radio. You don't have to tell me everything, you guys.
When Your Kid Says "I Don't Want To Talk About It"
Then there are the days when something is obviously bothering my kid, but extracting information about what happened or what's on their mind is like performing invasive dental work. I mean, I can't help unless my kids bring the problem to me and discuss what happened. I don't want to pry or smother them, and I know they should share the information when they're ready, but it's so difficult to see them struggling with something on their own.
When You Offer Choices & Your Kid Refuses To Make Up Their Damn Mind
I have always prided myself in giving my kids choices — about clothes, the food they eat, and other little things that I know allows them some freedom and bodily autonomy. I've found that kids thrive when they can have control over even the smallest aspects of their lives.
But there are times when you ask, "Do you want grilled cheese or spaghetti?" and your kid will respond "neither" or "I don't know." Thats when you have to decide if you are OK with them going hungry (which I try to be), or want to become a short-order cook (which I try really hard not to be).
When Your Kid Fails
There have been so many natural consequences that have totally sucked for my kids and for me. It's so hard to watch your kid get a bad grade because they didn't study or didn't do their homework, or to see them miss out on a field trip or special event because they forgot to have you sign the permission slip. Failure is a part of life, but OMG it's hard to watch, especially when you know you could probably have done it for them. Sigh.
When Your Kid Does Something You Hate
When you let your kid have the independence to make their own choices, sometimes they make bad ones. At least once a week I say, "I love you, but I don't like the choice you made." It really sucks when your kid does something unkind or makes a choice that is so not what you would do. You find yourself thinking, "That's not how I raised them, so why did they do that?"
When Your Kid Leaps Over The Boundaries You Set
Lighthouse parents set boundaries and expectations designed to be manageable for their kids, keeping their kids' safety and success in mind. But even the best kids will test the most reasonable boundaries a time or seven. It's so frustrating. The rules are there for a reason, children.
When You Don't Feel Like A Very Good Role Model
Sometimes being a lighthouse parent feels like a lot of pressure, like on the days when I don't feel like a very good role-model. I know that I am probably being too hard on myself, because I definitely model being true to yourself and how to bounce back from epic fails and hot mess moments. I know that my kids will benefit from knowing that even lighthouse moms make mistakes. At least I hope so, but for now it's hard to feel completely confident in my parenting 100 percent of the time. I'll get there, though. Eventually.
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