Stop Shoulding On Your Kid – Love the Child You Have, Not the One You Want

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Author and speaker, Todd Clark, put words to what we feel as dads, spouses, co-workers, and living-breathing-human beings:

“Have you ever should on yourself?

I feel like I do, just about every day!

If I even think about saying “no” to someone there is immediately a courtroom convened in my mind. And I begin to privately put myself on trial as to all the reasons I “should” do whatever the person is asking or inviting me to do.

What’s maybe even worse is that I should on others, as well, pretty much every day. I have secret job descriptions for pretty much every person I meet. And when they don’t live up to my expectations … I should all over them. And they don’t even know it!”

Ever been there? Most of us have. And, when it comes to our parenting, we build secret job descriptions for our own kids. Don’t we?

  • He should be better at math
  • She should be able to catch a ball
  • He should be faster
  • She should be a more talented musician

We have to stop building these kinds of job descriptions for our children. Stop shoulding on them!

Love your kids, without condition, even if they fall short of your expectations. Accept them for who they are and not what you wished they would be.

Here are some classic pitfalls that we, as dads, can easily fall into. If we aren’t aware of them, we’ll end up writing secret job descriptions for our children without realizing it.

“My kid isn’t good at sports”

Who cares?! Most kids aren’t going to go to the Olympics or play a professional sport. The odds of your son or daughter being the next LeBron James are slim to none.

You may want to live out your own dreams through your kids, but try to avoid it. They are smart and intuitive and will pick up on the fact that you’re disappointed in their lack of athletic prowess.

Yes, they need to be active and healthy. But let them be who they are – even if that means they come in the last place.

“My kid is not very smart”

Hey, Sir Isaac Newton. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! Just like you did, your children are going to learn and experience life at their own pace. Some of our kids are slow-learners and some are late-bloomers. Some aren’t as passionate about school while others might love one subject and hate another.

Every child is different. So, be patient and avoid putting unnecessary expectations on their cognitive abilities. The world is cruel and is already putting unwanted pressure your kids to be successful. Be supportive, accept them for who they are, and help them grow in their own time.

“My kid is messy and unorganized”

The worst thing a leader can say is, “My people just won’t ____.” Instead, a good leader always says, “I haven’t led my people to_____.” Can you see the difference? The same principle is true in your parenting.

If your kids are messy and are incapable of being organized, it’s likely that you aren’t leading them well enough. You may not be modeling the right behavior for them. They may not have great influences in their life. So, before you start shoulding on them, take a look at the examples your children have around them.

“My kid moves too slow”

You’ve been there before, right? You’re trying to leave the house, you’ve told your kids to put their shoes on 100 times, and it feels like everyone is moving with stones tied to their feet.

Kids don’t live with the same sense of urgency that we do. And, actually, they are better off for it.

Let your kids be kids. Be patient. Their brains process information more slowly than adults. And, let’s be honest, you want them to enjoy the slow pace of childhood for as long possible.

“My kid lacks common sense”

Common sense is caught, not taught.

If your child lacks street-smarts, the first place to look is in the mirror.

Much like Obi-wan taught Luke Skywalker the ways of the force, your child needs you to teach and model how to live in this world.

Invite your son or daughter into your life. Bring them to meetings when you can, let them spend time with your buddies, and ask them to ride with you on long road-trips. Let them see how you interact with others and how you use your own common sense (assuming you have it). That’s the best way to instill common sense while not putting unneeded expectations on your kids.

“My kid doesn’t have an ambition”

So what? Would your dad have looked at you as a 12-year-old and say, “That’s my boy, Jack. He so ambitious?” My guess is probably not.

Ask yourself why ambition is so important to you. And, in what direction do you wish you child would point their ambition?

It’s good to feel pressure to set up your children for success. That makes total sense. But, let’s be honest. People don’t respond very well when others project their own pressure and expectations onto them.

And, if you were really honest with yourself, you would probably say that your child’s health, happiness, and personal fulfillment are more important than their drive to succeed in the eyes of the world. Tweak your expectations and help your son or daughter develop their natural gifts and talents instead of the ones you wish they had and loved.

Podcast Ep. 132 – Stop Shoulding On Your Kid – Love the Child You Have, Not the One You Want

“My kid doesn’t have a good work ethic”

Dealing with this “should” is an art-form as it means exposing your kids to natural consequences. Letting your children learn through natural consequences is essential because, sometimes, work-ethic isn’t inherited – it’s learned from experience.

Nothing in life is free. If there’s something you want to buy, you have to earn money through hard work. That’s just reality.

So, if there’s something your kids want, don’t give it to them. Let them learn, through experience, that a work-ethic is important.

The caveat here is that you have to be patient! If it takes your kids three decades to figure this out, then it takes them three decades. Love them for who they are. You can be a good example, and set up some guardrails, but the reality is they are going to have to learn this on their own.

“My kid doesn’t want to go to college”

The old American recipe that a good education = good job does isn’t true for everyone. It especially isn’t true for everyone in today’s world.

Your parents might have put pressure on you to attend a good college, get a graduate degree, and find a high-paying job. But that doesn’t have to be what you do to your own kids. Here are two important things to keep in mind:

  1. College isn’t for everyone. And, if you look at it objectively, college will likely leave your child with thousands of dollars worth of debt and a job that has nothing to do with their education.
  2. Times have changed. To succeed in this world, college is not necessary. Tradesmen, and other skilled laborers, make great incomes. And the gig-economy has changed the workplace in drastic ways.

Here’s the deal. Don’t put the same expectations on your kids that your parents put on you.

Now What?

If you’re like most parents, you haven’t really thought about this before. So, take some time this week to re-evaluate the shoulds you’ve projected onto your children. Think about the ways in which you could start unconditionally loving them for who they are – not as you wish they should be.

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