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There have been many, many times during my career working with children and families that I have wondered “How in the world I am employed??”
I really should be out of a job.
After all, I teach the most obvious things. It’s just basic parenting skills- things like:
- Teach your kids to be nice.
- Feed your kids healthy foods.
- Don’t give your kid candy to stop a tantrum.
- If you want your kid to act a certain way, you have to do it too.
- Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed because then you’re not the best parent you could be.
- Let your kids try hard things. And let them fail sometimes.
- Don’t do everything for your kids. Teach them to do things themselves.
- Expect your kids to be polite.
- Teach your kids to respect people around them.
You know, all the everyday stuff that parents deal with. Nothing special.
And I got paid pretty well for it too, considering it’s information that everyone knows already. WHY was/is my advice worth money to so many people???
I was constantly surprised that the most basic of solutions solved gigantic problems– the kind of problems that terrorized families for years. It wasn’t me! It’s not like I invented some amazing cure to make every kid turn out perfectly.
I didn’t do anything revolutionary.
Just the same, old fashioned, good bits of advice that everyone knows. Or so I thought. Until I started teaching a lot of parents who DID NOT know.
Granted, I went to school and had a lot of experience doing this stuff.
I started to wonder if parenting clichés aren’t as obvious as I thought they were.
- Did I know them just because I was trained to know them?
- If I hadn’t had the education I had and the jobs I had, would I be just as surprised to find out these “obvious” things as the other parents were?
- Or maybe it’s just that nothing about parenting is obvious?
Here’s what I found out.
1) The Turn Off- Why Clichés are BAD!
Lots of parents seemed surprised when I offered my advice. I assumed their surprise meant that this was either 1) A new concept for them or 2) they had never considered that an old cliche could fit their situation.
Now, I believe that both assumptions were wrong.
With a little more digging, I learned that most (if not all) parents knew the material I was presenting- at least in theory. They knew that kids need social experiences, healthy food, consistent routines, and appropriate challenges.
And yet, something was blocking the follow through for these parents so that those things weren’t happening.
My next question was, “If they know these things already…. 1) Where is the problem happening? and 2) Why are they surprised to hear something they already know?”
After a lot of thought and observation, I started dividing my clients into two groups based on their reactions to the parenting advice I presented.
Here are the two categories of parents- using a Bible story to illustrate.
The Bible tells a story of a great commander. He led a strong army and held great prestige- until he contracted leprosy. In desperation, he searched out a prophet and healer in the hopes of being cured.
The healer advised him to wash seven times in the River Jordan and the leprosy would be cured. Now, the River Jordan is a muddy, filthy, sad excuse of a “river”. Not the beautiful rivers we typically think of.
The commander is immediately offended. He refuses to stoop to that level to bathe himself in mud. He is of high status and power after all! So, he leaves angrily and does not even try the healer’s suggestion.
If I could put this attitude into words, here’s how it would sound:
“I am surprised that you are offering me such a simple solution. I have already tried all the simple solutions and won’t try any more. If it were simple, I could think of the answer on my own. I will not try your solution because it is too easy and therefore must be invalid.”
The Bible story continues:
As the commander is angrily riding home in his chariot, his servant thinks over what just happened.
Eventually, the servant works up enough courage to challenge the commander. The servant reminds the commander that if the healer had asked him to try some grand, spectacular, courageous thing to earn his health back, the commander would have tried it. Gladly.
Why then would the commander refuse to complete something that is easy and simple?
The commander is humbled. He follows the healer’s suggestions and is cured of his leprosy.
If I could put this attitude into words, here’s how it would sound:
“I am surprised that you are offering me such a simple solution. It seems like I have already tried something similar to that, but I will try again. If it works, my problem could be solved! If not, I’m not out anything and may even be closer to a solution. Why not try?”
The problem with clichés is that people don’t accept them anymore.
By definition, they are overused and that takes away from the power and truth of what is being said- even when it’s exactly the right answer to a problem.
2) Facing Reality- Why Clichés are GOOD!
The problem with clichés being bad is that they’re not! Clichés are good!
They are almost always right! That’s WHY they are overused.
People repeat them and repeat them because they are true. They are universal. They help in a variety of situations and problems.
The problem with clichés isn’t the cliché. The problem with clichés is that people get too prideful to accept them because they’ve heard them before.
It’s easy to assume that because I have heard the phrase many times, I must be living it perfectly. But I’m not.
The problem isn’t the cliché- the problem is the person.
3) It’s NOT Obvious When You’re In It
I’m not saying people are idiots.
I believe most people are smarter than even they understand.
But being inside a real live, explosive situation is infinitely different than observing from the outside.
The answers seem obvious when you are looking in objectively, even though they are not obvious to those who are swamped with emotions and frustrations and a million other things going on.
When I became a parent, I was surprised that I didn’t have all the answers.
I know, how silly and prideful could I be?
But I assumed that I had seen enough and learned enough that parenting would be easier. But it wasn’t and it’s because of this principle. I was too involved to see clearly (and also acting like the Commander from the scenario above).
I can see things in other people’s lives (because I’m an objective bystander) that I can’t see in my own (because I’m emotionally attached to the situation).
And I believe that others can see things in my life that might not be clear to them in their own life- for the same reasons.
4) If It Were Easy, Everyone Would Do It
Sometimes we can see places that we could improve. But it’s still hard to make it happen.
When I became a parent, I found that I had to force myself to live the principles that I had always taught to other parents… and I was surprised to find that I didn’t want to!
I didn’t want to because it was hard.
Even though I knew that those typical parenting bits would work, it was still hard.
I had to change old habits and create new ones that fit into this new world of responsibility and teaching. That gave me new empathy for all the parents that I had taught.
I realized that even though you know a cliché (but true) fact, it is harder to put it into practice EVERY SINGLE DAY. Often multiple times a day.
Why don’t we have a plethora of perfect parents running around? Because the grind of the day to day gets to people.
If we could all focus on our parenting and nothing else, I bet we could perfect it. But we can’t. We need energy and time and focus for all the other things in our lives that we are responsible for- jobs, taking care of our home, supporting our community.
Parenting is hard, so we mess up sometimes. Even at the things that we know.
5) Emotional Support Goes a Long Way
There was one last surprise for me in all my observations.
There seemed to be a third category that I didn’t notice at first, beyond the “Commanders” and the “Servants” from the Bible story.
I don’t really know what to call it… But if I could put the attitude into words, it would sound like this:
“I know what I need to do. I am humble enough to try your suggestions. I just can’t do it on my own. All I need is a little extra push. I need someone to keep me on track or someone to tell me I’m doing a good job or someone to remind me why what I’m doing is important. I just don’t want to be left alone with all this on my shoulders.”
I loved working with these parents. These were parents who knew what to do, but they lacked confidence in themselves.
With just a tiny push from friends and loved ones, they were wonderful and successful parents. They often excelled at the principles we taught as soon as they learned to trust themselves as parents.
Sometimes we don’t follow clichés just because our struggle is something different, something inside ourselves.
A little help goes a long way!
Clichés are Cliché for a Reason
What is a cliché?
Something that has been said so much that it is overused.
But what motivates people to repeat something that much? Something that everyone has heard already?
Because it is true, it works, and it’s universal.
To me, a cliché is a simple principle that applies to almost anyone’s life in a variety of different situations.
This blog is full of clichés.
And that’s on purpose.
Parenting clichés work.
And I don’t want to or know how to reinvent the wheel. I’m not smart enough. So I’ll stick to what smarter people than me have said. And repeated. Over and over.
Even if you’ve heard it before…. Because it works.
And I’ll try along with you to be a little better at applying those clichés into my day-to-day.
Please share with any parent who feels cliché.
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