Do you parent the child you wish you had?

Because I do. Let me give you an example of how this happens in my family. It happens regularly, because the days are long and I am slow to learn.

My boys don’t sleep well. And about twice a week, I get annoyed at all the things I have to do in order to get them to sleep better. Books, songs, sitting with them for a while, practicing deep breaths, talking about their day. We do it every single night, because it is what works for them, it is the only thing that gets their busy bodies and minds to slow down.

But about twice a week, when I am tired too, or when I have something else to do, a thought creeps in: “This is ridiculous. They should be better sleepers. They should not need help like this.” And so I don’t do the things to help. And guess what happens. every. single. time.

They don’t sleep. (I know, I get surprised too.) I know the things they need because of the people they are, and yet, when I don’t do them and they don’t sleep, I get angry.

So how often do you say things like this to yourself during the day:

“He should be less angry.”

“She should be less bossy.”

“He should be less timid.”

“She should be more careful.”

“He should be better at sitting still.”

“She should stop crying at everything.”

So we threaten, we groan, we say, “They should know better” and “Stop being this way” we punish and we roll our eyes.

Do you know what this is? This is parenting the child we wish we had. We wish they were kinder. We wish they were more helpful. We wish they were sweeter, calmer, more peaceful, braver, more outspoken, quieter……any and all of these things (and usually a lot of other things too).

And it just doesn’t help at all because they aren’t that child. Instead, they are unconditionally exactly who they are. And we, who are often so good at saying about adults with a laugh, “Well, he’s just like that”, forget to do that with our children.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t aim for better. We should. They should. But they are born to us not a blank slate, but already with their own personalities and preferences, and we have to meet them there. Where they are. Who they are.

So if our child is obsessive, we learn the tools to manage addiction early.

If our child is an angry child, we learn deep breaths and anger management.

If our child is a timid child, we learn what we can do to make them confident.

And then we teach them. We show them.

So that their life becomes, “This is who you are, and this is how you can do better.” Instead of, “This is who you are and stop it.”

Telling people to stop something without showing them how does, in fact, no good to anyone, and especially no good to these children we have been given to raise, and who will have to deal with their specific tendencies and failings the rest of their lives.

So if they are bossy, instead of focusing on making them into meek and mild children, we tell them they can stay bossy in the right settings, and show them when that is.

If they are big feelers, we don’t tell them to stop crying. We tell them how much the world needs their empathy, and show them the way out of that maze of feelings that floods their body so that they are not lost for life. Explain brain chemistry to them; that emotions always happen and they always pass, and emotions always mean something but they don’t ever mean everything.

If they just.won’t.ever.sit.still, we schedule outside time in our day, LOTS of it, and put them in sports, and practice sitting really still during a book reading, and then during two books, and then during three. And we talk to them about how when they are older they can be wilderness guides, marathon runners, professional basketball players.

And if they are bad sleepers, then we go in to them, every night, with calmness and deep breaths, with relaxation techniques to calm their little bodies down, with patient ears so they can get out everything that keeps making their minds race.

Someday, because we have learned, they will learn too.

Maybe then, by meeting them where they are, the children that we have can also be the children we wish we had.

Dana Boyer

Dana grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and has her degree in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She currently lives in Hawaii, with her husband who is in the Marines, and two small boys. They all love the ocean, traveling, and arguing about whether or not they need to wear shoes. They spend many nights not sleeping and often have a messy house. She blogs at