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Are You an I-Family or a WE-Family?

Challenging the idea that kids always come first.

Most of us latch onto one form of parenting style or another. Whether you are a Tiger, Helicopter, Free-Range parent or some combination thereof, you believe you are doing the best for your children. In today’s child-centered world it seems to make perfect sense to put children’s needs front and center.

After a certain age, however, child-centered parenting is not healthy for the whole family or its individual members. Early on, infants and very young children are helpless and rightfully, the center of attention. According to Tracy Hogg, The “Baby Whisperer,” and journalist Melinda Blau, as children move out of toddlerhood it is time to change focus if you want to create a strong family. They make good sense when they suggest that shifting from “child-think” to “family-think” is essential for creating more resilient families. Tricky, yes; doable, absolutely. Their new book, Family Whispering, details exactly how.

“Child-Think”—The I-Family

“Child-Think”—The I-Family

Consider families you know, maybe your own, in which one child’s soccer schedule determines what the rest of the family does; one child is injured and requires considerable attention and assistance. Or, a new baby arrives and the focus flocks to the baby, often leaving older children feeling left out or disgruntled.

In most situations like these it is easy to slip into allowing the soccer star, the injured child or a new baby to become everyone’s focus. That’s understandable, as Hogg and Blau note, because we think like parents: 

  • We’re used to thinking of ourselves as individuals.
  • We’ve become overly child-centered.
  • We ask little of our children.

Although we may think of family as a group of individuals, no single member acts alone; every action affects the members and that is one of the essential reasons parents need to shift to “family-think.” Says, Blau, “Kids need a sense of family more than they need the individual spotlight.”

The Shift to “Family-Think”—The We-Family

“Family Whispering” begins when you apply wisdom and consciousness to the whole family as opposed to its individual members. In the midst of all you and your children do, turning the spotlight off the children and seeing each person’s schedule and commitments from a whole family perspective is a positive switch. You want to ask yourself: How does a change to one person in the family affect all of you?

Here is a sampling from Family Whispering of “family-think” steps you can take to make your family stronger and in the process help your children grow into caring, supportive human beings. You are swapping “I” for “We” in how your family functions.

  • Ask your children to pitch in more, real jobs that the family needs done.
  • Allow children to weigh in on decision; listen to their suggestions and preferences.
  • Don’t micromanage your partner or your children. Your “way” isn’t necessarily “better”—it’s different.
  • Remember that anything that happens to one of you affects all of you.

When you think as a family and everyone participates in running the family, you increase your children’s sense of competence and build their confidence. And, when you think “family” instead of parent-child, time becomes available to focus on your relationship with your partner. That, too, will strengthen the family unit.

The shift is about much more than parents stopping their child-centered ways (always a good idea) and more about considering the relationships within the family. The authors acknowledge that every family is unique and will enter “family-think” in a different way. However you engage, you will look at sibling rivalry, your own behavior and reactions to your children and circumstances in a new way—not from “I” but from a “We” position.

Family Whispering is chockfull of solutions for parents with children who want to control the family, siblings who are long on rivalry, and for your own instinct to be a protective or Helicopter parent. The move into family-centered parenting allows everyone in the family to have a voice and be heard—precisely what is needed to raise children who thrive.

Can you be a WE-family instead of an I-family? If you have made the transition, how did you do it?

For more information, read Family Whispering: The Baby Whisperer’s Commonsense Strategies for Communicating and Connecting with the People You Love and Making Your Whole Family Stronger.

Related: On Helicopter parenting, When Does Mothering Become Smothering? Part 1 and Part 2; on Tiger Moms, The Essential Ingredients of a Stereotype; on sibling rivalry, The Dark Side of Siblings; Who Is the Most Violent Person In Your Family?

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Copyright @ 2014 Susan Newman

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