I remember reading the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books when I was a kid. They were some of my favorites. As a girl, I became the protagonist, be it a deep-sea diver, an astronaut, or some other kind of adventurer. I actually had the power to make decisions that would ultimately change the trajectory of the story and I found it endlessly fascinating.
My adventure with my daughter
Now that I am a mom, rather than one fictional, exotic adventure during a leisurely afternoon, I find myself navigating many stressful, nonfictional “adventures” each day. I’ll give you an example. One night I couldn’t find my engagement ring on my nightstand where I usually keep it. We moved all the furniture around and I hand-sifted through disgusting vacuum contents with no luck.
I then remembered seeing my daughter in my room earlier that day and she didn’t have a good reason to be there. I snuck into her bedroom as she slept and used a flashlight to check the spot in her room where she keeps things that are important to her. There it was. The most valuable possession I’ve ever been given, of both monetary and sentimental value.
I won’t sugarcoat this: I was furious. I was up well past my own bedtime searching for something my daughter was old enough to know she shouldn’t have taken. Part of me wanted to wake her up to discipline her immediately and the other part of me wanted to childishly take something she loved. Thankfully, I did neither. I went to bed relieved that I found my ring and woke in the morning with a fresh perspective.
In the morning, I had a talk with her on the way to preschool and I didn’t give her the opportunity to lie. I told her I knew she took my ring and explained why it was wrong. We had a good chat about character and honesty and she promised not to take things without asking.
What is responsive parenting?
I learned from an article by Claire Lerner, a licensed clinical social worker and child development specialist, that in that instance I was practicing responsive parenting. Had I gone with my first instincts and woken her or taken something of hers, that would have been reactive parenting. Reactive parenting is any time our emotions are in control of decisions involving our children. Because our role as parents is fueled almost exclusively by an amalgam of unconditional love and seemingly endless worry, it takes a concerted effort to not react emotionally when we are triggered. Responsive parenting is taking a step back to analyze the situation from a bird’s-eye view, then proceeding with caution and logic.
When my daughter stole my ring, I was feeling many things. I was hurt that she would do something dishonest, I was angry that I spent so much time looking for it, and I was worried that she may become a kleptomaniac (that last one was a stretch, but I worry a lot). Because I chose to sleep on it, I realized she’s just 4, she saw something pretty (she has told me before that she wants Daddy to buy her a ring too), and she put it in the most special place in her room.
She’s a good kid. She’s sweet, smart, and caring. She made a bad choice but I make bad choices too and I’m not 4.
This was a “Choose Your Own Adventure” where the choices I made mattered. I wanted her to know the importance of doing the right thing, even if no one is watching. I also wanted her to know that I love her and that everyone (yes, even Mom) makes mistakes. At age 4, she has the ability to remember these kinds of interactions long term. When she’s a teenager and gets herself into trouble, will she think of me as someone she can turn to for help and guidance, or will she be fearful of the ramifications of her poor decisions?
Responsive parenting is definitely the way to go for long term success with our kids, but just like anything that’s worthwhile, it takes a lot of effort. I try to go easy on myself when I react rather than respond because I’m human and parenting is hard.