If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my psychology practice, it’s that 100 percent of parents are conflicted. From “Is this the right preschool?” to “Should I let my kids watch this PG-13 movie?,” they question every decision they make. But if you have a clear set of guiding principles that you establish early on in your parenting—or, actually, any time in your parenting—it will bring great clarity to the doubts you may have.
Let’s start with nutrition. You may feel you know what your family believes: We believe in a very healthy lifestyle. We believe in making good choices and eating organic. But then your kids go to a birthday party and you question yourself: “Is it okay if I let them have a piece of cake?” But imagine if you had a guiding principle that says, “We eat as cleanly as we can, but special occasions like birthday parties and holidays are an exception.” You can let your child have the cake and you don’t have to feel guilty about it. You made that decision in advance and you’re okay with it.
You can take this approach to everything: media consumption, social life, homework, bedtime, behavior. It’s a mission statement for your family, and it can make decision-making less stressful for you and for your kids. It also brings consistency to your child’s life. There’s less stress in the household because there’s less arguing and more predictability. Here are my thoughts on developing a mission statement for your family:
CREATE IT WHEN YOU NEED IT.
It could be as early as before you have the baby or when he’s born, or it can be as late as it needs to be. It’s never too late.
DECIDE WHAT MATTERS TO YOU.
It’s different for every parent. For one family, food may be the most important principle, but for you it may be discipline. Maybe your mission statement is “In our family we don’t yell.” You can be firm, you can be strict, you can be disapproving. But you’ve decided in advance that yelling is not going to be part of the way you discipline.
COMMUNICATE IT TO YOURSELF.
Your mission statement is not something you articulate to your child. It’s something you tell yourself as a parent. And the way you communicate it is by your consistency in the way you respond to things. Your mission statement informs your parenting and guides your response.
DON’T EXPECT YOUR PARTNER TO AGREE WITH YOU ON EVERYTHING.
It’s great if you’re on the same page, and you really need to be when it comes to the fundamental things. If you want to bring your children up organic, your partner would have to agree with that or it would be difficult. Same with religion and education. But you can have your differences.
KEEP IT SIMPLE.
You can start with three principles. Write them down. When you feel strained, go back to them. And enjoy having more confidence and less self-doubt in your parenting.
3 IDEAS TO GET YOU STARTED
Your mission statement has to come from you, but here are some suggestions that may help. Change these as you wish, or come up with your own!
- We strive to make the right decisions, but we also realize that we have to be flexible.
- We have high expectations for our kids, but we also forgive their mistakes.
- In our family, no one will get in trouble for saying what you feel as long as you don’t hurt someone else’s feelings.
What principles guide your family? Tell us in the comments.
Susan Bartell, Psy.D., a member of KIWI’s editorial advisory board, is a nationally recognized psychologist and award-winning author. She treats children and families in her private practice in Port Washington, New York.