My “Zoomed Out” Parenting Mindset

There are lots of parenting styles out there: Helicopter Parenting, Gentle Parenting, Free-Range Parenting, Snowplow Parenting…the list is a long one. And yet if I were to name my approach to parenting, I think it I would call it “Zoomed Out Parenting.”

I find myself employing a bigger-picture, longer-term perspective often when it comes to the ways I interact with my children, and to me it feels comforting and helpful. Since we became parents, Kevin and I have often reminded one another, “We aren’t raising children — we’re raising adults.” That’s not to say we want to press fast-forward on their childhood, or hold them to higher standards than is developmentally appropriate or anything like that. It just means we’re keeping that more macro view in mind as we parent. In fact, instead of wanting to speed up their childhood when I think of raising adults, I think more about what we can do right now to help them develop into amazing adults while keeping elements of who they are as children intact. (We adults would be better off if we were more in touch with our inner children, wouldn’t we?)

I read something not long ago that said if everyone lives an average lifespan, the bulk of your relationship with your child will take place when you’re both adults. That’s crazy to think about, isn’t it? And yet it also helps to shift things into perspective. Because the thing is, I desperately want to have strong relationships with my children once they become adults. And what’s the best way to lay the groundwork for that? In my mind, it’s keeping that awareness top of mind as I parent them today.

How can I best respond to Maggie at age 6 to help strengthen our relationship both today and far beyond? How can I remind her I’m always on her side, and that I also trust her to know herself and what SHE wants and needs? How can I allow her to be comfortable with a range of feelings while also equipping her with tools to help her regulate some of those feelings? How can I take time to make sure we really connect today, one on one, if even for just a few minutes?

Zoomed Out Parenting guides my response to tough situations with my kids, and it dictates the words I say and consequences put in place for certain behaviors.

I heard a psychologist talk recently about how we’d never scold our sister for putting her bag in the wrong spot upon arriving at home, or get frustrated with our husband for not finishing his dinner, or punish a friend for not always being in a cheery mood. If you look for disrespect from your kids, this psychologist pointed out, you will find it everywhere. And yet…don’t those things just seem, well, human rather than disrespectful?

I might be tempted to bribe Maggie with the promise of a treat to get her to do what I want in the moment, but long term do I want her to be externally motivated in that way? (Not to mention glorify certain foods in that way, although that’s a separate conversation!)

If Vance is having a meltdown in public, do I want to tell him to calm down (a.k.a. suppress his feelings) or instead take him somewhere (the car, maybe) where he can release some of those big emotions more freely?

How can I show up — what kind of energy can I bring to the mix — to let them know I respect them and see them as whole, independent people and also that I’m there for them if they need me?

Please don’t read this and think I do this perfectly. Of course I don’t! I find myself responding in ways I wish I hadn’t sometimes, and it’s easy for a knee-jerk reaction to something to kick in before I have a chance to really consider how I want to handle a given situation.

But I will tell you that often this bigger picture thinking really does set the tone for the way I interact with my children.

Here’s something I think about often: What traits do I want my children to possess when they are adults?

-I want them to be kind (which is different than being nice, by the way!).

-I want them to have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset, fueled by internal motivation.

-I want them to feel grounded in who they are, and comfortable speaking up/doing things differently when needed.

-I want them to view the world and the people in it with curiosity and wonder.

-I want them to feel connected to their bodies, able to trust their bodies’ signals and hear their bodies’ wants and needs.

-I want them to to know all feelings are valid and okay, and to understand how to identify them, talk about them, and regulate them as needed.

-I want them to be confident and independent individuals, able and willing to take reasonable risks and do hard things.

With that in mind, how can I start to help them back into those characteristics? My parenting behavior for today starts to come into sharp focus when I consider what I hope for tomorrow, too.

It can be hard sometimes because this approach often takes more time. It also requires that I push aside my perfectionism in favor of doing what I feel is best for my children in the long run. Sometimes it means they’ll “embarrass” me in public. Sometimes it means my response will be different from what another mom might do. Sometimes it means taking time to answer far more questions than I want to answer, or than I even feel especially comfortable answering. It takes a lot of remembering that it’s challenging to be both a parent AND a child — that we are independent people trying to learn, grow, and connect alongside one another. (I just have more of a head start than they do.)

This doesn’t mean there are no boundaries at our house, or that the kids call all the shots. There are consequences for actions at times. Kevin and I are for sure the authorities in our family. But also…we consider our kids’ perspectives and feelings as much as possible.

I find that this approach, remembering their childhood is all part of a bigger picture, helps me savor the small moments today even more, too. It grounds me in the reality that yes — they are constantly growing, changing, getting older. That I want to be present and acutely aware in the here of it all. That I want to be proud of the person and parent I am right NOW, in this very moment. That time is linear, as much as I wish that wasn’t the case.

I view my role as mother to Maggie and Vance as the greatest privilege of my life. I get to experience the amazing gift of watching two lives unfold and develop from the start, and along the way I’m trying my best to just support them and love them through that journey.

I’m also trying my best to support and love MYSELF along the way, because I most definitely continue to learn and grow, too — and that growth is exponential as a parent, it turns out. I honestly wonder where I would be in my own development if I wasn’t a parent. I have learned SO MUCH about myself and done tons of work on myself — I’ve done that for both my family and for myself. That self-reflection and work to change some of my mindset, habits, self-talk, and more (an ongoing experience, by the way) helps me become as well rounded, whole, and healthy as possible — as a mother and as a human.

And really, maybe that’s what this all comes down to: In this world of zoomed out parenting, I’m actively parenting my children AND myself simultaneously. We are all growing. We are all learning. We are all becoming. We all have a future we’re zooming out to try to see, one that we’re constantly working towards. And when I think of things that way, it levels the playing field in a way that feels really appropriately human.

Sure, I have lots to offer my children, and I have a big responsibility to care for them on many levels. I take that very seriously, too. But they have so much to offer me, too — that’s true now, and it will be true the rest of their lives. I can’t wait to watch who they continue to grow into, and I’m so grateful to have a front row seat to all of it.

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