You know one mistake I make as a mom? I forget to live in the present moment with my kids. I worry about what’s coming in the future, or I obsess about something from the past. When I do this, I miss what they are really needing, what they are really communicating, and what is really happening.
Does that ever happen to you?
When we practice fearful-future parenting or past-preoccupation parenting, we can’t practice present-tense parenting. We don’t give our kids our best, and we often miss what they really need from us. When we’re not parenting in the present tense, we end up thinking in rigid ways, like this:
Oh no! My six-year-old is still in pull-ups at night! What if he never gains control of his bladder?
This is future-tense parenting, and it can cause a lot of unnecessary suffering. It’s normal to worry about the future—I can identify with that—but the problem is that you’re letting fear get the better of you. Your son will be able to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, just as he learned to feed and dress himself. I promise. (Unless something very unusual is going on, he won’t be in pull-ups when you send him off to college.)
When my nine-year-old was sick last week I let her stay home from school and watch movies. Now she’s sick again. I’ve set up a bad pattern, so I’d better make today less fun.
This is past-tense parenting, and it’s also destructive. There may be times that you see a genuine pattern that needs to be addressed. If so, then by all means address it. But don’t let one event in the past so overshadow what’s happening right now that you end up failing to nurture your daughter when she really needs it.
My mother-in-law says I should let my newborn “cry it out” when he wakes at night. I don’t want him to develop bad sleep habits, so if I don’t nip it in the bid right now, he’ll be a bad sleeper his whole childhood.
Again, fear-based, future-tense parenting. Babies aren’t able to manipulate. They cry to communicate when they need something. Your job is to meet those needs, right now. If you worry too much about the future, you’ll deprive your baby of what he needs in this moment: a mom who will be there for him anytime he tells her that he needs to be fed or held.
My thirteen-year-old forgot to turn in her Spanish homework last week, and now she’s turned in her math homework late. I’ve got to cancel her dance class, since she needs to spend more time being responsible!
Again, there really is something to be said for nipping a problem in the bud. But be careful not to overreact to a situation based on limited information. If your normally responsible middle-schooler makes one mistake, that shouldn’t cloud your judgment about her any time she messes up again.
My ten-year-old picks on his little sister. She’s crying now, so her brother must be upsetting her again.
Past-tense parenting. Even if your son is usually the instigator when sibling conflict arises, that doesn’t mean he’s the culprit every time. If you march into the room and look at him and say, “What did you do this time?!” before you have all the information, you’re going to risk alienating him and damaging the trust in your relationship.
My seven-year-old cries wolf all the time, pretending to be hurt or sick when she’s not. I need to teach her that that’s not the way to get my attention.
This one is a tough one for most parents. After all, you don’t want to reinforce a pattern that makes life harder for you, your daughter, and the whole family. Still, I always say to err on the side of nurturing too much, rather than too little. Kids often go through this attention-seeking phase because they have a need for your attention. And just because you are there for your daughter and connect when she needs (or just asks for) comfort, doesn’t mean that she’s going to seek attention in this way all the time. In fact, you can’t spoil children by giving them emotional connection. The more your daughter feels your love and constant affection, she’ll be quicker to move through this phase, and she’ll do so knowing that you’re on her side and have her back. All because you were able to parent in the present tense.