Losing your parenting ego: Keeping the kids’ needs in mind

Repeat after us: "Put your hat on! (Or don't. Whatever.)" File photo. Repeat after us: “Put your hat on! (Or don’t. Whatever.)” File photo.

There’s an old saying: “A sweater is what you put on when your mother is cold.”

I’d like to add that it’s also what you put on when your mother fears judgment from fellow parents at the bus stop for possibly allowing her child to go slightly underdressed.

My own mother forced me to wear a coat until the spring equinox every year of my childhood regardless of the actual temperature. Back then it was still commonly believed that you could catch the flu from inappropriate attire, so I’ll cut my mom some slack. But that myth is no excuse for my own status as an occasional sweater pusher. I do it because, well, I’m always cold, but more importantly, I don’t want to spend the day worrying that my children might be cold—I just don’t have time for that! Also, and this is embarrassing to admit, but I really do care what other people think. If my daughter doesn’t wear a sweater, will “they” think I don’t care for her comfort? Will they label me a lazy parent? Will they assume I’m incapable of handling a second grader who whines every morning having to wear an outer layer?

Deep down I believe that if I’ve ensured my child’s warmth, packed all the right things in her lunchbox and checked that she did her homework correctly, then everyone, including me, will know I’m a good parent—that day anyway.

The parenting ego is a powerful thing, but as hard as it is to fight, it really has no place in child rearing, according to the experts. With research to back it up, they say that when parents focus, consciously or not, on meeting their own needs—whether that’s to keep up appearances, be proud, or just feel engaged and involved—they might not be satisfying their children’s needs to become self-sufficient, confident, resilient, capable adults. To do that, children must have age-appropriate autonomy and the freedom to make mistakes and take risks. When children have the physical and psychological ability to do something or make a decision, they should be allowed to do it from that point on—whether that’s tying their shoes, choosing their outerwear, riding their bikes to a friend’s house three streets over or giving up soccer.

Also, according to renowned social psychologist Carol Dweck, parents should praise children’s efforts, not their actual accomplishments, even if that means parents don’t get to put one of those “My Child Made the Honor Roll!” bumper stickers on their minivans. Dweck says praising or labeling children as “smart” or a “star” athlete may actually tamp down on their motivation to take on new challenges that could jeopardize their status.

All of this is easier said than done, of course, especially when you’re already 10 minutes late for work and forced to watch your child struggle to make bunny ears with her tennis shoe laces. For fellow parents who, like me, are valiantly battling their egos, but just need to celebrate little victories once in a while, here are a few suggested new bumper stickers for the family truckster:

“My child went sockless in 30-degree weather and the world didn’t end.

Also, she says she’ll wear socks tomorrow!”

“My child struck out all four times at bat at Little League and still showed up and tried his best the next time!”

“My teenager decided to drop all of her AP classes,

but at least now she doesn’t totally hate school anymore!”