Parenting the Long Game
Parenting, the verb, makes me nervous. It suggests doing things, taking action, actively guiding and cultivating and lecturing. And so we parents today, we do things. A LOT of things.
We sign our kids up for stuff. We push them to get their homework done. We drive them around. We stalk them on social media, and grading portals, searching for inconsistencies, trouble below the surface. We fret when they show signs of laziness. We worry when they’re alone in their rooms, and we worry when they’re out with friends. We lecture until we’re out of breath and drained of energy.
We parent from the here and now, the immediate, the today. We parent the short game.
And when we parent the short-game, we are markedly short-sighted. We parent from fear, and we extrapolate our fear far into the future. A lazy kid today is in his parent’s basement a decade from now, listless and alone. An overly-social kid now never gets her priorities straight, or reaches her potential. A drug-testing teen will surely end up by the side of the road, cleaning windshields for the next fix.
The short game is a bill of goods we’ve been sold. Overly-active, urgent parenting suggests a show of little faith in our children’s innate tendencies to thrive, to be and become competent and resilient. It disrupts their ability to hear their inner voices, and discover and nurture those qualities that make them special and unique. Not this instant necessarily, but over time, a process.
I would argue that even if the short game appears to work, if it dims the lights behind your child’s eyes, it’s a loss. An enormous one.
Parenting the short game is exhausting, and joyless.
If you zoom in on a graph, you might see volatility, moment-to-moment, day-to-day. But when you step way, way back, zoom all the way out, the long game might very well be smooth. Your child’s life is the whole graph, the long game.
I have a thriving therapy practice and speaking career, much of it trying to calm the short-game parents. Barring a real crisis, and we RARELY face REAL crises, I encourage parents to relax.
Consider, for just a moment, parenting the long game. You “parent,” but just enough to offer guidance and safety, to keep your child, broadly speaking, in his lane.
But other than that, you are an observer, and a partner, and a playmate. You are in the game, with your child, not watching from the sideline, worried about blind spots, filled with worry and fear.
You trust that your child will find his way, that he is capable, and that every struggle or victory today will inform his unique future, a future he carves out himself. Know that his path will not be predictable, nor can you or should you pre-ordain any part of it. Instead of fearing for your child, you can look on with wonder. Because when you consider the long game, you recognize that, in all likelihood, it will all work out. It will be okay.
Last weekend, I visited my son in college. I watched him interact with his friends, show unexpected kindnesses, tell some killer jokes, and seem way, way cooler than his dad. He has an ease about him that I slow down and allow myself to marvel at, and admire. On occasion, I still find myself pressing into his life a step too far. But I try to recognize my agenda at play, and step back.
He’s got this, and it is his.
Looking at pictures of George as a little guy, I could not have predicted this future. His reality is, in fact, better than anything I envisioned, way better.
Honestly, I’m not sure where he’s going from here, just like you could not be sure where your kids are headed. But relax your fears, and take it in.
It’s a long, long game. A damn good one. And it’s not nearly over.
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