The fact that kids learn from parents is so apparent it smacks you in the face.
Kids start out as bundles of curiosity and parents are walking talking versions of Google. Kids learn. Parents teach.
What we don’t readily see, or wish to admit, is that parents can also learn from kids, and that shouldn’t sound strange. The adage “Never stop learning” applies to every person – including parents – and every relationship – including kids.
I’ve provided a sufficient number of lessons here (6) to establish the learning-in-reverse point. There could be more.
Before jumping into the lessons, there are three irrefutable facts that support the idea.
Parent-Child Roles Always Stimulate Learning
At the start, parents are 100% responsible for infants. Infants share none of the responsibility. They bear no accountability for anything.
But this arrangement is not static. Ideally, the child eventually becomes 100% responsible and the parent can relax.
Admittedly, parents do all the leading during this stage but kids aren’t the only ones learning. Parents are learning to be more sensitive, observant, attentive, careful, sacrificial and more.
What we learn from this is that there are no learning dead zones where parenting is concerned.
Parent-Child Connections Sometimes Force Us To Learn
Everyone is a child. No one ever stops having parents. This point applies to every person even if they never have kids.
Some people never get married. Some may not have siblings. Some may never have friends. But everyone has a parent.
Like all other relationships this one will occasionally be strained. In extreme cases estrangement may occur. But even in extreme cases the influence never goes away. One can shun the other but the tethering remains.
Even when one or the other dies, the connection is always in the background.
Why is this important? Because moments when friction move relationships close to or into estrangement are defining or maybe I should say clarifying. Friction is the evidence that one or the other is not learning and the learning load should be shared.
Obviously, this type of learning doesn’t happen in well designed classrooms or controlled environments with a prescribed curriculum. It happens on the fly, as children emerge into individuals and eventually adulthood. We don’t always see it coming.
Parents can prime the learning process by realizing that they are no longer the biggest, strongest, most trustworthy, most amazing, most intelligent person in the room. Kids catch up. Parents must keep pace.
Parent-Child Relationships Are Mutually Beneficial
Children learn from parents. That’s a given but how do parents benefit? What is it they learn?
When parents finally get over their highfalutin selves they can learn what the following words really mean.
We know humility is a good thing but we view it as some kind of penalty or punishment. It always looks better on someone else.
Peter said, “Be clothed with humility” and he was speaking to everyone including parents. Kids can help us grasp the concept.
When our kids excel, when they do better than we did, that makes us proud in a good way. A humble way. We are humbled by and pleased for their success, humility at its best.
Some parents fight this because for years their affirmation was based on being bigger, smarter and more accomplished than the kids.
When a child’s achievements begin taking shape, rather than belittle it, recognize it, applaud it. Learn to be authentically happy to look up rather than down on others.
Everyone says they need more patience but we have to ask if the concept is really understood when it comes to kids.
Patience is usually thought of as a posture or attitude we maintain while waiting for an intolerable situation to come to an end. That is partly true but kids add a new dimension.
Kids are long term projects and life has endless numbers of layers. Human growth is not a straight line progression and it never ends till we stop living.
What that means is the need for patience where kids are concerned never comes to an end. They are never finished. There is no final milestone.
The only option is to enjoy and celebrate the process. There will be ups and downs, and successes and failures but it’s an ongoing never-ending process.
Kids help parents learn the benefits of living in a constant state of patience.
Trust, like the other words, is also misunderstood but in this case is inflated and used as a weapn. Parents use it against kids a lot.
Trust must be earned. I can’t trust you. You’ve broken trust.
Investing trust in another person has come to mean we expect them to be prefect. That’s never going to happen but with kids the idea is expanded. Kids are trusted when they always agree with our way of thinking, never make a mistake and perform any task we assign them perfectly.
No one qualifies by that definition. That is not trust.
What we learn from kids is that trusting another person means believing in the person in spite of their mistakes. We trust their ability to figure things out, to learn from failure, to overcome poor decisions, to make fewer mistakes in the future because they have learned well from the past.
What parents learn from kids is that trust means, “I know your learning curve is a wave not a circle. I believe in you.”
Parents often say they love their kids unconditionally but they usually say that before the kids do anything to exceed the boundaries.
Let’s face it kids aren’t immune to doing the unthinkable and it is only when love’s conditions are stretched that we learn what unconditional love really means.
Most of the time parents entertain unrealistic ideas about what their kids would never do.
A good example is John Hinckley Jr. He infamously tried to assassinate a president who was arguably the most popular and best liked in American history, Ronald Reagan.
You can read his story elsewhere but the important thing to remember is this. He didn’t bear the brunt of public disapproval alone. His parents, who never endorsed his actions, stood with him during and following the trial in spite of the exposure.
They stayed involved. Instead of letting the system take over, they did their own investigation and wrote a very revealing book illuminating the insidious nature of mental illness.
Parents learn to love unconditionally when kids do things that friends and peers view as unthinkable. To love your kids unconditionally, you may lose some friends.
Parents work hard at being understood but what that really means is they work hard at imposing their ideas, feelings and opinions on their children whether the children understand or not.
The reality is, in spite of the “respect your parents” mantra chanted repeatedly to children from an early age in every era, when given the chance, children will very naturally investigate differing ideas for themselves.
That’s a good thing but parents sometimes take offense. They interpret investigation as rebellion, but parents who view their child’s curiosity as rebellion may be guilty of bigotry.
What parents need to understand is that settling on any particular belief is personal. All people, including kids, like to think through the issues for themselves. Letting them do that can be scary.
Disallowing investigation is one way of saying, “You don’t need to understand,” or “If you investigate you might find out I’m wrong.”
When parents are secure in their own beliefs and they trust their kids, children are free to investigate without recrimination or repression.
That is parental understanding.
The Art of Listening
You can do one of two things to learn how to listen.
One, you can buy and read a book on the topic. Two, you can play back and analyze the conversations you’ve had with people outside the home. You can then compare it with conversations you have with people in the home, especially your kids.
Parents who feel bullied, insulted and condescended to at work may take it out on those at home. Kids are defenseless. They’re easy targets.
A few touch points would be:
Were you defensive? Did you begin to justify yourself before they finished their thought?
Were you insistent on your point of view only? Did you really understand what they were trying to say?
Were your words contradicted by your tone of voice? Did your questions explore or rejection their ideas? Were you dissing their point or them?
A flood of arguments may win the debate but the resentment it engenders will hamper the relationship.
If you find yourself lacking you might start over by first admitting to your fault. Kids teach us how to listen.