I’ve gotten parenting advice from many different sources. I’ve read some fabulous books over the years, heard inspiring public speakers, and gleaned useful techniques from teachers. There are organizations that have encouraged me and provided resources, and I’ve learned much from many wise parents who are farther along the parenting journey than I.
And of course there is the support of my husband and my personal friends, the people who literally walk alongside me as a parent. They eat at my dinner table and invite me and my family to their own. We share barbecues and holidays, camping trips and trips to the pumpkin patch. I am so grateful to know that I have thoughtful, insightful people in my life I can call on when I face a parenting challenge that leaves me looking for answers. Whether I need empathy, understanding, wisdom, or practical advice, I know there are friends I can count on to ask the tough questions and seek the elusive answers with me.
But when it comes to the most effective and impacting insights of all, I go to a source that I think is too often overlooked. I’ve never seen it listed on resource pages or in bibliographies. Rarely do I hear it mentioned in friendly conversation or even in parenting classes or moms groups. I suspect it gets overlooked because it is so readily accessible—it is easy to become blind to what is always before us. At least I hope this is the reason, though I also wonder if we neglect this avenue because we are afraid of what we may confront. The simple truth is that for me, some of the most powerful and needed feedback I’ve received as a parent has come straight from my kids.
My kids will be honest with me. My kids will tell me what I need to hear. I know they will do this because they always have. They tell me when I need to be more patient with them, when I need to listen better, or when I need to spend less time on Facebook and more time reading them stories or playing horse. I have established a history with them that assures them that what they share will be heard, honored, and appreciated. I will not always agree with them—they know this too—but I will always value their input. I am grateful for their honesty; they are grateful to have a voice.
I have found that inviting my kids’ feedback on a regular basis instills an intimacy and openness between us that strengthens my role of authority in their lives. They know that I know that I am not, in fact, impenetrable. They trust me as their caretaker and guide, but also recognize that they have valuable insights to share that will make me even stronger and more capable. For them this is both power and responsibility. They know they have influence, and this very knowledge encourages them to be thoughtful and prudent in their expressions. If they are flippant with what they share the power of their voice diminishes; if they are kind and honest, their words carry weight and their sense of mutual ownership over the environment in our home increases.
As our kids get older it may be harder to elicit honest feedback from them, especially if this is not an established routine. Ask them anyway. Older children may fear punishment or a scolding; they may doubt the sincerity of our inquiry, our commitment to listen, or that their words will have any impact. Prove them wrong. Giving our kids a voice at the table doesn’t mean they dictate; it means that they matter.
Sometimes as parents we think hearing our children means submitting to their whims or relinquishing our authority, but this is not the case. True leadership requires that we never stop learning. Being willing to learn from those most directly under our power teaches us some of our most important lessons.