Parenting: Boss or Leader?

When I began this blog, I went to a few of my trusted websites for quotes, entering “leadership” in the search, not realizing that I would be offered more quotes than I could possibly get through in the limited amount of time that I had. Choosing from what I thought to be the best indicators of the topic as it relates to parenting, I’d like to begin with the following from Bill Bradley, former U.S. Senator, Basketball Hall of Fame member, and Rhodes scholar: “Leadership is unlocking peoples potential to become better.” So, you ask, how does this resonate with parenting? Yep, you guessed it, we the parents are the leaders, and our children the “people”.

A leader sets the tone and gives the space necessary to for those whom they are leading to “get the job done” without hovering and micromanaging. I am sure many of us have had that annoying “leader”, generally disguised as a boss, who can’t seem to calm their anxiety, and consequently is “in our business” more often than not. What is the message here? Possibly that we can’t handle the task at hand, that their way is the only way, and that if we don’t do it their way, that things will most likely go badly for us. Personally, that doesn’t feel like an environment that I want to be in. Bill Bradley’s quote isn’t about “making” people do things, its about giving them the space to become the best that they can be… what a relief that is! I can feel more connected to this leader, knowing that he or she will be there when needed, yet giving me the space that I need. This leader has confidence that I can figure things out.

Now let us apply this to our struggle with parenting our children. As the leaders in the family, we are there to guide our children, allowing them to make the mistakes necessary, the “hard knocks” if you will, that create the very adults that we desire then to be. Adults who have confidence in their abilities to “figure things out” and come out on the other end stronger and more aware that they have what it takes to become better and stronger and self-reliant. These are the children who become self-directed and successfully launch because their leader (yes, that’s you) has helped them unlock their potential. Hovering and insisting that things be done exactly as the parent has in mind, gives our children the covert message that they cannot handle whatever it is that is requiring their attention. Our children need to struggle well, with us, as the leaders standing in the wings, offering help when asked for or required.

Do not take it personally that your child would rather do it their way than yours… that is healthy; it indicates that they are becoming autonomous and able to think for themselves. It does not necessarily mean that they are being disrespectful or intentionally difficult. Of course, there will be times when a decision being made will need our leadership to step in, and even then, a healthy dialogue may do wonders in bringing you and your child closer together, with better understanding  for both parties. By getting a grip on our own anxiety and leading this way, we are able to create the space that our children need, physically (yes, I am speaking of messy bedrooms and bad hair choices here), emotionally and mentally. Our children need to know that we are sturdy, steady, stable and consistent, and by calming our anxiety and becoming leaders, not bosses, we are able to do just that.

Ending as I began, I will leave you with another quote, this time from Theodore Rossevelt, “People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.” As parents, it is frequently best to get out of our children’s drivers seats and allow then to do the driving. Will they have the occasional fender bender? Yes, and as long as they aren’t endangering themselves or others, let us allow then this freedom to become who they are, full of unlimited potential… I bet that they will pleasantly surprise us!

For more reading on this, refer to ScreamFree Parenting by Hal Runkel, PhD, chapters four through six… happy parenting!