A Parent's New Year Resolution

  • I was reading an excellent paper today written by two sport psychologists about the stressors we as parents feel when our children succeed and fail.  Their paper was specific and research-based, but I was struck by the parallels I see and feel in a community of high achievers we have within the Maclay gates.  The authors speak of the different roles we as parents fill with our children.  The three roles they shared were Provider, Interpreter, and Role Model.  I know with my three boys, my wife and I cycle through chef, nurse, tutor, Uber driver, on-demand food delivery, ATM, laundromat, advisor, verbal debate adversary...I could go on, but let’s say that we (all of us) as parents are pretty busy providing for our kids.  For our children to grow up to be inspired, determined, and unstoppable adults, we must be mindful of our roles beyond simply the provider.  

    Provider * Interpreter * Role Model

    It took me some time to figure this out, but when I see it work, well, it keeps the stress level down and the performance of each child going ever higher.  I’ve heard from many parents that it is difficult to act as “interpreter” and “role model” when their child is not appreciative for what is “provided”.  Well, I don’t have the magic fix for that...so, I’ll save that topic for another blog.  What I did want to share was that I enjoyed the simplicity and applicability of this model of parenting.  Another way to look at it is that as parents, we get in the habit of thinking of ourselves as providers for our children and pushing everything we do through that filter.  We provide food, shelter, educational opportunities...those make sense as a provider, but when we only see correction, advice, encouragement, and those types of interactions as provision it robs them of their power and effectiveness.  In this way, our children receive them as just another thing we give them, we haven’t changed our role of delivery, so our children don’t change their method of receipt...and, I don’t know about you but some days it feels like that old witty comeback, “I’m rubber, and you’re glue, what you say bounces off of me and sticks to you!”  It’s like they don’t hear me at all! 

    I think in many of our minds we reserve the role as interpreter and role model until our children have made the transition to adulthood.  Maybe when they start driving?  Maybe when they are seniors? Or, maybe when they leave the house for college, and we are forced to make the transition...but, even then, they can still use you as an ATM! 

    Before I go any further, let me say I’ve never seen perfect parenting or perfect children – so, take all of this as encouragement of one parent trying to figure it out to another!  

    Interpreting is something I find myself backing into most of the time.  I seem to be reacting to my child being upset about something and he makes a statement that seems so off base, then I’m compelled to “provide correction”.  Interpreting is like revenge: it is sometimes best served cold.  The advice I was given was to ask myself when I thought I needed to say something to my boys to ask three questions: Does it NEED to be said?  Does it need to be said RIGHT NOW?  Does it need to be said BY ME? That is the art form of interpreting – having the conviction to do it, but also doing so with the finesse to have it received, absorbed, and adopted into new behavior. 

    The third role is one that I’ve gained a new respect for the longer I’ve been on this earth and observe the human condition.  I was taught that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.  Some days we all find ourselves in a mood or situation where our temper gets the better of us and our children are soaking up every bit of it.  It also goes the other way - the compassion, service, love, generosity, and forgiveness that you show is filed away in your children’s definition of “proper living”.   So, being a role model is tricky, because we can’t choose to simply turn that switch off as we can with the others.  We must choose with all our actions how to be a role model for our children.  I know on this one I feel I have failed mightily.  But, the great part about family is that each moment is an opportunity to move in a better direction. 

    As I said before, every family is different, and even children are different within each family.  So, with that in mind, I encourage each of us to do a little thinking, evaluating, growing, and adjusting as we enter the new year and the time for resolutions to try to find the right balance between providing, interpreting, and role modeling for our children. 


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