During a TED talk, Austeja Landsbergiene, mom to a 7-year-old girl, shared a story of an incident in their household that will probably hit close to home for many parents. Her daughter painted her nails during school break. As the new school year came near, Austeja asked her daughter to remove the polish. But on the morning of that first day in school, Austeja noticed her daughter's fingernails still had polish.
“I said I was disappointed. I said I was angry. I shamed her,” Austeja recalled. Her daughter reacted by being quiet and withdrawn. She even tucked her fingers in her palms to hide her nails. “I felt a stab in my heart. Why did I do this? I did not do this because of her. I did this because I was concerned and conscious of what the others will think of me,” Austeja reflected.
Austeja realized she failed to take advantage of the opportunity to create a treasured or teachable moment; instead, her daughter will now remember it as the first day of school when her mom shamed here. There is a paradox to parenting, she explained. More than anything, parents want their children to be happy. However, a parent’s fear of failure and judgment from others hinders them from doing so.
So, in our mind, our child's future happiness is dependent on achievements like a high academic standing where we praise him if he's at the top of his class. “I often ask parents why they’re so stressed when it comes to parenting. They say they don’t want their child to be a failure,” said Austeja, a CEO and founder of numerous schools in Latvia and a recipient of several awards for her work and influence in Lithuania’s education system.
But the problem is “we impose our understanding of failure to our 5-year-olds,” and it causes everyone undue stress.
It doesn't mean parents shouldn’t set expectations for their kids. To achieve balance, Austeja suggests a tip from psychologist Lev Vygotsky. You give your kids tasks that are “not too easy and not too hard; where the goals are achievable with grit, determination, and passion,” she explained.
This balance allows the children to grow and learn, and these experiences become positive memories that will offer guidance, strength and encouragement as children enter adulthood.
As an example, Austeja tells another story of a memory she holds dear. As a child, her father took her at the top of a mountain to ski, but Austeja was afraid and refused to do so. Her father then sat her in between his lap, asked her to close her eyes, and skied down the mountain. “He could’ve made me. He could’ve shamed me. Yet, he chose to be kind. And that’s what I remember to this day.
“This simple question, ‘What kind of memories do I want for my child?’ keeps me going and should us all,” she said. “Kindness makes our children feel loved; not the degrees we have, not our concerns, not the number of afterschool activities we take them to, or the homework we check. Kindness -- that is our key story and key memory.”
Creating memories is dependent on our willingness to let go of expectations and be truly in the moment with our kids while showing loving kindness. “It takes guts to be acceptive of who your child is -- to be at peace, to let go,” she said. To help you out, here are tips she shared:
1. Don’t wait for the perfect day. “If we keep waiting for a perfect day to come, it may never come. We will come back too late from work. We will be tired. We will be frustrated. We will be exhausted and angry. And it may rain when we have planned a perfect walk in the park. Parenting is spontaneous more than anything else. Parenting is about the unexpected moments of bliss that we savor.”
2. Start small. Memories don’t just come from big special occasions or grand vacations. They can be created on seemingly typical days when you engage in a tickle fight with your child on a weekday morning or play around with water outside on a hot day.
“Hug your child. Smile. Bite your tongue when you are going to reprimand. It’s only a dozen minutes most of us spend with our children per day. Let those minutes count. Let us make those minutes a candidate for the best memory competition -- an experience of unconditional love,” said Austeja.
3. Ask yourself, “What do I want my child to remember?” “Think 20 years from today,” said Austeja. “Teach them to ride a bike, to unsuccessfully bake a cake and giggle about it. Have a difficult conversation. Forgive. Apologize. Teach values. Whisper ‘I love you’ more than you have done before.
“Dare to create loving memories to last a lifetime.”