In Parenting Outside the Lines, Meghan Leahy acknowledges that as parents, we’re insecure and desperate to get it right. So we keep searching for the perfect book or workshop that will tell us how to raise our children. But, truthfully, there is no perfect method. The only thing we can do is learn how to tune into ourselves and our children, and respond to specific situations with flexibility and grace. Forget everything you’ve learned about parenting. Instead, discover relatable insights for staying connected to your child and true to the parent you want to be (and already are).
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Forget What You Know About Parenting
As parents, we’re insecure and desperate to get it right. So we keep searching for the perfect book or workshop that will tell us how to raise our children. But, truthfully, there is no perfect method. The only thing we can do is learn how to tune into ourselves and our children, and respond to specific situations with flexibility and grace.
Author Meghan Leahy actually recaps a moment when she felt like she’d hit a parenting low. Her daughter wanted to go to daycare in pajamas and refused to get ready. Leahy was so frustrated, she had to lock herself in the bathroom to cool down – a moment I’m sure all parents can relate to.
In a search for solutions, she found the Parent Encouragement Program. Calling the hotline, she had a conversation with one of the counselors that sparked the beginning of her own journey of forgetting the parenting rules and tuning into her kids. After Leahy shared the pajama incident, the counselor responded with: “Why shouldn’t she go in pajamas? Is that really so important?”
Not so much of a magic word moment as it was a reframing of priorities. Leahy explains how the counselor’s response made her take a step back and evaluate the situation from a different perspective. She realized she’d been applying arbitrary standards to her kids. There was no real reason her daughter couldn’t wear pajamas to school. Leahy’s resistance to that was based on the fear of other people’s judgment and wanting to keep up appearances.
The phone call made her realize that, in order to connect with her kids, she’d have to unlearn all of those old ideas and tune into things as they were, instead of what she thought they should be.
One of the first steps toward the intuitive parenting Leahy is talking about is identifying and releasing expectations for the way things should look. This is an important step in the process of unlearning the parenting rules that sound good but may not always be right for our child or situation. Something that’s worth emphasizing from that story is that Leahy says being more in tune with reality as it stands, instead of the expectation of how it should be, allowed her to truly tune in and connect with her kids.
The Importance of Connection
Connection is a big piece of being able to parent intuitively. Leahy gives a good example of conflict. She makes the point that parents often play a role in the escalation of conflict with their children. She describes a scene at the grocery store when her two-year-old daughter started having a meltdown.
Looking back, she tried identifying what went wrong and realized she’d played a significant role in pushing her daughter over the edge. By pushing her agenda and expecting her young daughter to go along with her plans, she missed cues that her two-year-old was already exhausted before they stepped foot in the store. So many of us, like Leahy, run on autopilot and try to control instead of connecting. That’s why Leahy suggests tuning in and focusing on the signals your child is expressing. It’s tuning in and connecting, instead of controlling and expecting, that helps you make those intuitive choices.
After the meltdown, she looked back to see how she’d played a role in the situation. As a busy parent trying to get everything done, it’s easy to forget that young kids can hit a breaking point running errands, too. Leahy definitely spotlights the importance of connection in a very relatable and easy-to-understand way. While we want to be fully in control as parents and lead well, it’s important for us to acknowledge when we play a role in the escalation of situations.
Any parent who’s familiar with sibling bickering will appreciate this next example. Leahy explains that sibling fighting is normal, but just like with the grocery store scenario, you might have a role in making it worse. If you take a step back and look at the family dynamics, you may find clues that will help you improve the situation. For example, your kids may be arguing to get your attention. If that’s the case, start finding ways to give them positive attention so they don’t have to resort to fighting. This is a touchy example, but Leahy advises to evaluate whether or not you show favoritism. Children will sense that behavior, subtle as it might be, and it’ll fuel a sense of competition.
And the methods you resolve the fighting could be playing a role in their intensity. If you get involved with every spat, you might be making the situation worse. But if you’re not addressing it and tiptoe around the sibling fights, it could be time to exercise more firm leadership as a parent.
Things That Limit Connection
Well, I don’t think it’s a surprise that tech addiction is something Leahy addresses. While she acknowledges the dangers of children being glued to screens, she turns the focus back on parents. When you’re scrolling and distractedly listening to your kids, they’ll sense your lack of focus. This, of course, isn’t conducive to connecting with your children. And when they sense they don’t have your attention, they’ll start acting out to get it.
So, the author stresses that before you try managing kids’ screen times, you evaluate your own relationship to devices. Leahy provides some practical tips for managing screen time. For parents, managing your time responsibly could look like having designated phone times, and even telling your children when you need to send an urgent message. Being clear and letting your kids know when they have your attention provides reassurance and models tech etiquette you want them to be conscious of.
Children should, of course, have good leadership around how and when to use their devices. This could look like having universal rules for the household about when it’s ok to be online and making sure everyone sticks to it.
But I think it’s an important distinction that Leahy makes about managing our own tech addiction as parents and modeling healthy habits for our children instead of trying to enforce rules even we don’t keep.
Leadership as a Parent
As a parent, it’s a big responsibility to lead your children. And when you don’t lead well, things can quickly get out of hand. Leahy explains that, at a certain age, all kids will start to push back and test boundaries. If parents give in, kids start calling the shots. Children are emotionally immature and unprepared to be in that kind of leadership role, and they don’t really want to be in that role. What kids want is clear and kind leadership. She goes on to say that when parents keep giving in to their kid’s requests and tantrums, they’re essentially giving up their parental responsibility and giving kids more power than they can handle. The solution is to stick with your boundaries. Saying no and letting your kids be upset may not always be easy, but it’s an important part of character formation for them. Not always getting their way will help build their resilience and keep the power balance in the household at a healthy place.
It is quite a challenge to stick to. Being a parent is hard work. And that’s why we want to read all of the books or take the course that will make us the best parents we can be. The author’s perspective of allowing more intuitive decision-making and connecting with our kids leads to a less rigid, “this is what it should look like” parenting style.
Don’t Expect Children to Validate Parents
In the book, she uses the example of deciding to make a healthier dinner for her kids. Instead of the usual chicken nuggets, she spent time making salmon, rice, and vegetables that sat uneaten and unappreciated by her kids. At first, she was understandably frustrated but, after cooling off, realized it’d revealed a deeper dynamic in her parenting. She was placing unrealistic expectations on her kids’ behavior. She goes on to explain that parenting can’t be transactional. You can’t do something for your kids and expect to get something in return. She kindly reminds parents that parenting is really tough and they deserve every validation, just not from the kids. Kids are kids.
They have their own emotions and experiences of situations, and they don’t owe anyone a particular response. Leahy says to consider looking around at anything you do for your kids that you can’t afford emotionally or financially and find ways to make those things feel like less of a stretch and more sustainable. The more you parent in a way that’s sustainable to you, the less you’ll feel the need for that external validation.
The key takeaway from this title is to connect more intentionally with your kids and parent without deep-seated expectations of what things should look like.