Over the years I have offered countless lectures, workshops and seminars for parents on the wonders and woes of childrearing. Invariably, during the question-and-answer phase, an attendee will make an inquiry along the lines of the following: “If you could leave us with just one piece of advice, the most important takeaway from your presentation, what would it be?”
Early in my career, I have to confess that I used to bristle a bit upon hearing this question. After having usually spent at least an hour, and sometimes an entire day or more, discussing and exploring the kaleidoscopic complexity of the parent-child relationship with great depth and sophistication (at least from my perspective), how was I supposed to be able to condense everything that I had so earnestly conveyed into a simple tip or maxim — and not sound clichéd when doing so?
Eventually, though, I began to see the value in coming up with a thoughtful response. Few undertakings are as daunting, and as overwhelming, as parenthood. So who could blame well-intentioned, eager-to-learn participants from requesting one thought, one insight, one potentially family-changing idea that they could bring home with them to reflect upon, to share with a spouse or friend or child, or — if necessary — to simply forget about?
Once I reconciled myself to the legitimacy of this question, I chose to conscientiously comply. However, being the kind of individual who bores easily, I made a little promise to myself that I would work very hard to ensure that I never repeated myself — in other words, the personal challenge that I devoted myself to was that I would attempt to come up with something new each time I was asked.
Of course, over time, this promise became impossible to fulfill. But I certainly gave it the old college try, and endeavored to go at least months, if not years, before I circled back to an epigram that I had previously supplied. Recently, I decided to compile these, and it is from this collation that I have selected the thirty that I am sharing with you in this post.
While I have never really believed that parents need advice or suggestions, I do believe that they frequently benefit from support, perspective, and a certain normalizing companionship. I hope that one or more of these aphorisms offer these, and through so doing, deepen, soften, and illuminate your relationship with your child — and perhaps even with yourself.
- Locate the part of yourself within which your expectations of your child reside. Spend some time there, just listening.
- Children ask their parents to save them from what they fear, but parents make the same request of their children.
- Children are more likely to change for the better if they know that they will be loved and accepted for staying the same.
- Childhood should be a preparation for adulthood, not a production for adults. The child’s primary objective is to transform, not to perform.
- We need to have more faith in our children than they have in themselves.
- We are defined not by what we achieve and accomplish, but by what we have undergone and overcome.
- Our main job as parents is to attract our child’s curiosity regarding why he does what he does and why he doesn’t do what he should
- We parent best not on the basis that there is a problem to be solved but that there is a capacity for thinking and feeling to be developed
- There is always a truth that hides within our own disturbing, unnerving feelings about our child, and it is a truth that deserves to be uncovered—which is best done by continuing to feel disturbed and unnerved.
- Every child is calling out across the distance, hoping to be heard. The distance is generally greater than either of you think.
- Take pleasure in what satisfies you about your child, but take interest in what doesn’t.
- The mystery that inheres in our children — what we don’t and can’t understand about them — is their most meaningful gift to us, and what ultimately sustains us. Pity the parent who believes that he understands his child.
- Don’t work to improve your child’s life — work to help her live it. She’ll take care of the rest.
- The parent is responsible for laying out the possibility that, together, parent and child can co-author a story that changes both of them forever.
- Now and then, give yourself a chance to completely abandon childrearing advice.
- Don’t count on your child to relieve you of yourself.
- We all fail at the idea of family — that we fail, and how we fail, can be our greatest triumph.
- Let your child gather his sadness around him, like a cloak. Admire and revere the cloak, for it is warming him. But don’t touch the cloak.
- It can be a great relief to know that you and your child are just like everyone else — aim to be ordinary.
- Children show us the face that they want us to see but pray that they can’t completely hide the face that they need us to see.
- Very little separates the pain of loss from the pleasure of possibility.
- Whatever you are convinced is happening with or to your child, trust that something else is also going on.
- Parents who try to be too democratic exert their own, unique form of oppression.
- What kind of parent doesn’t wail once in a while? Or at least lock herself in the bathroom?
- Raise children to be true to their own intentions, and hope and trust that at least some of their intentions will seem misguided to you and lead them astray — by your definition.
- Don’t ever give up hope for your children, but don’t ever forget how liberating it would be if you released yourself from hope’s relentless burden.
- More important than any other logic is the logic of your child’s imagination.
- Not everything needs to be said. The unsayable can be precious, too.
- Children want us to be proud of them and also to worry about them — our task is to convince them that we prize the former over the latter, while still acknowledging that the former will leave us lonelier than the latter.
- Growth depends on experiencing love and love’s absence, and the capacity to fully fear both of them.
Dr. Brad Sachs is a Challenge Success Advisory Council member, and is a psychologist, educator, consultant, and best-selling author specializing in clinical work with children, adolescents, couples, and families. He is also the Founder and Director of The Father Center, a program designed to meet the needs of new, expectant, and experienced fathers. www.drbradsachs.com