Why You Should Stop Trying To Raise A Nobel Laureate

Attention un-woke dads.

by Jonathan Stern
Originally Published: 
A mom reading to her toddler

As the parenting expert Inspectah Deck once noted, life is hectic. Dr. Shefali Tsabary, Oprah’s favorite parenting therapist and author of The Awakened Family: A Revolution In Parenting, agrees — and she’s seen enough families to know that it doesn’t stop being hectic, so changing your perspective is the key to success.

“The script changes every few generations, but now it seems to be an obsession with achievement, getting ahead, and being happy,” she says. “There’s an onus to turn a childhood into a work of art with a recognizable certificate. When we transform childhood, there’s a great deal of anxiety.”

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In her latest book, Dr. Shefali talks about the myths about effective parenting, everything from making yourself the focus of your kid’s life to thinking there’s such a thing as an inherently “good” kid or “bad” kid. Here’s are the Cliff’s Notes from Dr. Shefali herself on why you need to worry less about being perfect and worry more about being present.

Don’t Push Kids Too Far

Humans have figured out how to bend nature to our will — we transform land to cultivate food and create taco shells that taste like Doritos — but it takes effort because nature is a force. And your kid is a force of nature.

When you’re pushing them to take an interest in sports, excel in academics, or just stop putting their fingers in weird places, you’re basically trying to divert a river. With your arms. “That whole idea of push, do you push forth nature blossoms? It’s the paradox. Do we need to push something that naturally unfolds? You have to dance that line between how much to do and how much to be,” she says.

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Dr. Shefali says try not to paint things so black and white. If you don’t force your kid to get straight As, they’re not going to spend the rest of their life on the couch. If you do, they’re not necessarily going to be valedictorian. Unfortunately for you, there’s no shortcut to striking this balance. Every kid is different, so having a good understanding of your child is priority number one.

Let Them Be Kids

“Three-year-olds are highly illogical and they may not understand the pressures of time — and don’t care to. This is the nature of children,” says Dr. Shefali. So instead of trying to explain to a preschooler about your 9 AM client meeting, how about you plan for an extra hour in the morning?

The biggest benefit of a little more pre-planning is you’re able to be more present for your children. Be attuned to what they need. If you know putting on a t-shirt is Herculean struggle for them, give them some time. If you know they get hangry 20 minutes after being awake, have a bowl of oatmeal ready to go. Instead of waking up every day hoping your kid has magically become obedient and organized, you can be prepared and take a minute to breathe.

Say No To Things

Dr. Shefali says that one of the ways that she carves out a little mindfulness time is by being protective of her schedule. “I rewind and slow down at home. I give myself daily meditation time between 3 PM and 5 PM for my child,” she says. “I check myself before I say yes for too much. If I’ve said yes to too many things, then I’m going to have to say no to 5 things. I ask myself, ‘Is this serving my family, or is it taking away?’”

Be Zen About Temper Tantrums

You’re not coddling your kids; you’re being empathic towards a little person with an immature mind. And if everyone from drill instructors to psychologists preach it, then it must be working. Dr. Shefali says that instead of matching their tantrum with your tantrum, talk about how their feeling, set some limits, and ride that wave when they start freaking out.

“Hold the limit without getting angry or yelling or punish,” she says. “It’s like holding a muscle when you’re exercising. A child may naturally fall into place without pressure.” Also, like exercise, it’s not something you ever feel like doing.

What Happens If You Don’t Discipline Kids?

“What do people mean by discipline? It means punishment. How best do you learn? When your boss takes away your lunch break, do you have an affinity towards them,” says Dr. Shefali. “Parents exercise power over their kids, and you may get them to listen out of fear. But there are ways to give them structure — it’s just the harder way.”

This “harder way” basically involves toeing a line between not being a pushover, but also not being a tyrant. She says you need to be consistent, be engaged, and be present. That means you and the wife are on the same page, you know what your kid is yelling about, and you’re around to talk to them once the yelling stops. “Why do we always shame what’s wrong rather than dare to inspire what’s right? It’s what our culture has been conditioned to do,” she says.

Your Kid Has Something To Teach You

If you’re frustrated by just being the bad cop every day, try looking at your kid as your partner, not as the criminal. “When children are young, the purpose is to play with them and see the entire relationship as regenerative for the parent.” Of course, it might not feel “regenerative” when you’re exhausted and they’re still awake at midnight — but the general idea is to shift the parenting paradigm from that place where they just learn from you, to that place where you’re learning things from them. Because kids look like they’re having a really good time, and a lot of the time you do not.

Nobody Said This Stuff Was Easy

“You’re working all day and you have to cook dinner and deal with tantrums. It’s not for the faint hearted; it’s for the courageous,” says Dr. Shefali. She’s giving you permission to stop putting pressure on yourself to raise Nobel Laureates while having an Instagram-worthy life. It’s all self-created, anyway. “Take off these pressures of achievement and allow your kids be who they are. Life is to be enjoyed — slow down, pay attention, and be honest with yourself.”

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