Two conflicting attitudes that exist in tandem give rise to a paradox. A paradox is defined as a contradictory statement, imagined much like a Mobius Strip, starting one way, yet only to come back in the opposite direction. So, how does a paradox occur in parenting? It happens when adults make decisions or polarize opinions on the ‘right kind of parenting’. “A poignant paradox is that sometimes the very desire to be a good mother or father will lead the parent to mistake duty for love” writes William Watson Purkey. The crux of the matter lies in the fact that it might take many years for us to realize the consequences of our actions, and to take an enlightened approach to manage and optimize the real-life effects of such parenting on our children and families.
Jennifer Senior, author of a parent well-being book “All Joy and No Fun”, says “children do not improve their parents’ happiness”. A study by behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman supported this statement. It was found that when women were asked which activities were most pleasurable, childcare was “pretty far down the list”. Senior, who is a wife and mother, continues encouragingly, “well[ing] up with this wild sense of pride and accomplishment knowing what they [parents] know about who they’ve produced in the world — it’s sort of an unrivaled feeling”. The key here is to maintain a balance between everything you want to teach your children, and then let them go out there and learn through their own experiences as autonomous adults.
Examples of parental paradoxes and their solutions
The first step to any change is awareness. Listed below are some common examples of parental paradox that we need to be more mindful of:
1. Have you ever yelled at your children who have their voices raised to quieten them?
This is known as the volume paradox because you are doing what you are telling your children not to do. As this isn’t a great example of parenting, next time, you should try the opposite. Use please and thank you when you’d like them to do something for you. It would set a great example of resilience in front of your children who will gradually inculcate these habits and be tolerant next time someone raises their voice at them.
2. Have you ever wanted to control your child’s choices? (Yes, we understand it’s for their good) Yet, your child made contradictory choices?
This is known as the control paradox because we want them to act and be a certain way that might not be true to who they are. As this isn’t healthy, next time, allow them and respect their decisions. Set an example of assertion. This will help them go much further in their life. Teach them the fact that each of their actions has consequences and invite them to open-up with the lessons they have learnt so far. This is the way forward having a two-way dialogue with them while encourages them to make positive choices.
3. Have you ever been condescending, and making accusations at your child?
This is known as the teaching paradox because you want to teach your child a lesson, however, the approach has a contradictory effect. Harshly pointed tones and accusatory language embarrass a child and prevent their mind from treating the situation as a learning experience. Children whose parents dictate every aspect of their life are gradually unable to problem-solve or make decisions for themselves. Our negative behaviour can leave certain lasting impressions on their minds and hearts and hamper their process of growing and evolving into well balanced adults. Instead of lecturing them or scolding them, make an attempt to understand and shape their moral character through short and healthy lessons during good times.
The difference between fixing and helping
Fixing occurs usually after an undesired outcome has occurred and we are helplessly trying to do damage control through reprimands for disciplining the child. We usually resort to such tactics as it has been internalized from our parents practicing such behaviour on us. Such heuristic behaviour relies on impulse rather than intellect. Although it squashes potential short-term conflict, it has long-lasting consequences and prevents children from learning.
Helping, in contrast, is a longer-term approach to enable your child to succeed after they become independent young adults and learn to stand on their own feet. For example, some parents follow the five C’s approach: Confidence, Character, Convictions, Compassion, and Competence. Writing down the qualities and characteristics you wish your child to embody will help you encourage them along that path. It will also help you keep the long-term goals in mind and enable you to develop resilience which can be internalised by your children. This will, in turn, enable them to maintain their calm in stressful situations, bounce back from unprecedented circumstances, develop clear and realistic goals, problem-solve, relate comfortably with others and to treat themselves and others with respect.
Rules of thumb for intentional parenting
1. Empathize with your child
Put yourself in their shoes to understand how they are feeling. Feelings of empathy are signs of an emotional resilient and kind personality. Such behaviour needs to be embodied by your child so that in an increasingly polarised world, they are able to withstand intolerance. It also builds self-worth and self-confidence in your child as their voice is validated.
2. Let go. Sit back and watch them make their own mistakes and learn.
As parents, we must give our children the room to experiment safely. So that when the time comes to spread their wings and they leave the nest, they should be prepared for the world out there. Our mere presence can be supportive and helpful to our children, as opposed to always advising them which could discourage their self-reliance and resilience. Encourage them to try again at tasks that they haven’t been able to accomplish, building their perseverance.
3. Create an environment where collaboration is encouraged
It is vital for us to understand our child’s perspective and to give them the opportunity to communicate how they are feeling and if they require our assistance or involvement or not. There needs to be an element of trust, trust that we will be there for them and trust that they will be fine with or without our support. Authors of Raising Resilient Children, Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein, write “we must think before we act, we must understand before we respond” as it is only such an attitude that will be conducive to collaborating the different perspectives of parents and children.
4. Reward reinforcement goes further than punishment
Backed by psychological theory, reward reinforcement goes further than punishing children. So, it’s better to complement the child on their successes. If you must, ask them if they need help, and how they could use support to champion difficult tasks.
Children should not only be educated to develop their general IQ, but also their emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) and social intelligence quotient (SQ). They will only be able to do so if we as parents are able to set the correct pathways by setting our own example. Empathy, patience, practising self-discipline by listening before speaking and understanding before responding; expressing kindness and gratitude make up the ingredients of successful, independent, intelligent leaders and role models of tomorrow.