What Kids Really Need

Laura Markham's picture

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The most important qualities of a great parent? Not playing endless games, or making cookies, or coaching the soccer team. Not staying home with your kids, necessarily, or working outside the home, necessarily, even if it makes you happier.

What makes a great parent is being fully present when you're with your kids. Loving and accepting your child 100%, exactly as he is, without wanting to change him, at the same time that you offer him inspiration and guidance to grow. Knowing your unique child, and meeting her unique needs. Giving your whole-hearted attention, as often as possible. Being happy, and inspiring your child with that happiness. Being yourself. Prioritizing your connection with your child.

So many mothers feel they need to prove their love by bringing perfectly decorated cupcakes to the class party or making their child's Halloween costumes. They measure other moms' dedication by the elaborateness of the birthday party, or the number of activities she shuttles her darlings to every week. That's not love, that's performance, and performance is a distraction from our real work. Those may be rewarding tasks to the mother, but they have nothing to do with motherhood, unless the child is the motivator and does most of the project - in which case the cupcakes and the costume are likely to be fairly unimpressive to the outside eye, although the child may be justifiably bursting with pride.

Real parenthood is invisible: the patience to listen, the big-heartedness to see it from their side, the self-discipline to not take your current bad mood out on your child, the commitment to do most of the work of nurturing a relationship with this growing human, the motivation to keep doing this every day when no one else really understands what it takes out of you.

Great parents meet kids' needs, not their wants. What kids really value has nothing to do with 90% of what mothers spend their time on -- planning the lavish birthday party, picking the perfect outfits, decorating the room, even folding the laundry. What kids need, money can't buy. Kids need time with their parents. They need to feel lovable, and competent, and like a valued member of a group -- their family, as well as their peer group. They, like all of us, need to discover their passions and give their gifts in the world.

What do great parents spend their time on? Making engrossing dinner table conversation. Supporting their kids' passions. Tummytime with the baby. Floor time with the toddler. Couch time with the tween. Walks with the teen. Family game night. Tickle battles. Star-gazing. Listening. Laughing. Lighting candles. Connection.

Dr. Laura Markham
Aha! Parenting.com