This article is adapted from Parenting for Spirituality by Summer Welch and Professor Jensen.
The Professor, like all psychologists, believes that what you do to the child is important. But he adds that what you are is even more valuable. The basic idea is to focus on being more than doing. More growth, progress, and change in your child will come about naturally just by you being what you need to be. Don’t look at this as not a passive or easy route to take. Of course you certainly realize that by first being what you need to be the task of parenting is turned around.
One reason why being the parent you need to be is more effective than doing things to the child is that being is something you have the power or control to do. To be successful in this way you are not dependent upon the child changing but instead you can count on something that is totally under your own control. You’re only dependent upon yourself. For example, you cannot make your child be happy, but your child is much more likely to be happy if you are happy and you can do something about being happy.
This student knows what this principle is all about:
I am the oldest of five children. Growing up I always wanted to be like my parents. I emulated them. There were numerous times I walked in on one of my parents and there they knelt at the side of their bed. Eyes closed, head bowed. This was a powerful example of prayer to me. I knew that besides our family prayers each morning and night my parents said personal prayers. I am sure, even though I no longer live at home, that each morning and night my parents kneel and pray on behalf of each of us children. I love and appreciate them for teaching me through their example. They also encouraged each of us to say our personal prayers. When I was younger they would kneel with me as I prayed. As I grew older I did this on my own. Now my parents kneel each night with my younger brother and sister, instilling in them the importance of praying to our Father in Heaven. I want to do this for my own children.
When I was going to BYU for my undergraduate studies I worked for a residential youth treatment center. Katie was a particularly negative girl. She was very smart and she would usually try to manipulate her way through situations. Being so negative, she would always see the bad side of any situation. One day after a refreshing weekend away from work, I came in to see Katie smiling. I watched her interacting with her peers kindly, and treating the staff with respect rather than hostility. This went on throughout the whole day, and as we gathered in the living room for our nightly group meeting with the girls before they went to bed, I waited for Katie’s turn to tell us about her day. When it was Katie’s turn she said simply, “I realized this morning that I could choose today what I wanted today to be. I can always choose to be happy if I want to be.” Months later Katie was able to leave treatment, but that was the turning point where her progress started. From then on Katie was taking responsibility for her own happiness.
If you will pause for just a moment and think about any successful person, you will notice that they generally enjoy what they do. This holds true for all walks of life. I tell my children what my father told me so many times: “Happy people are happier.” This didn’t make much sense when I first heard it, but after listening to it day after day and noticing how it applied to my brothers I finally realized that it is my responsibility to be happy. There are those days when [all children are] in a bad mood and nothing seems to make them happy. Their miserableness seems to create even more problems which then make them even more unhappy. But the same is true for adults. [When children] are happy and enjoy what they do, they are more likely to succeed, and so it is with your parenting.
During a parenting class the following study was presented. A group of researchers studied a large sample of parents’ child rearing techniques in depth. They archived their data and 20 years later another team of researchers found their records and located the children who by now had become adults. They then identified those grown children who had become successful in life: such as graduating from college, becoming professionals, having happy marriages, etc… Next, for purposes of comparison, they found those whose lives have turned out poorly: broken marriages, poor job performance, educational failures, criminal records, and etc. The researchers then searched for predictors of what determined a successful or unsuccessful life. To their surprise it was not toilet training, breast feeding, or type of discipline that was the best predictor. The best predictor of being a successful parent was being a parent who enjoyed children!