What do successful families have in common? They’re empowered to be their own experts. Here’s how they do it.
by Heidi Indahl
One of my first teaching jobs was in an infant classroom. In various positions as teacher and program director, parents often gave me expert status on family issues, even when I had no experience with them. Parents would come to me with questions about feeding and sleeping issues and I would confidently regurgitate the information from my college courses and reading. When I didn’t know an answer, I would translate our classroom best practices into a list of suggestions that parents might find useful at home.
When I became a parent for the first time a few years later, I began to struggle with the same issues myself, and I realized that textbook answers were only part of the answer, and that textbook and academic experts were only one type of expert. I realized that what parents needed from me all those years was not only information, but empowerment.
Empowerment is what the successful families I have observed over my years as both a parent an educator seem to have in common. The truth is, as a parent, we don’t need to be an expert on every family situation . . . just our own.
Here are eight keys to being an empowered parent and expert on your own family.
1. Know your own strengths and weaknesses
Knowledge is a key to being an expert in any topic. And the first thing that a person needs to know about is his or her own strengths and weaknesses. This can be as simple (or complicated) as admitting that you are a person who needs eight hours of sleep each night. Once you know your own strengths and weaknesses, you are better able to take care of yourself, and then better able to take care of your family.
2. Know the members of your family
Once you know yourself, you need to know the other members of your family—and here we’re talking about the kind of knowledge that only comes from an authentic, intimate relationship with one another. No matter whether you have one child or twelve, they are all individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses that contribute to the family dynamic. Sometimes managing the members of your household can be as complicated as managing a sports team with many personalities and strengths!
3. Be an avid researcher and fact gatherer
Knowledge of the people involved in your family is only one of the types of knowledge you’ll need. Confident and empowered families also seek outside information. There are many ways to gather information about particular parenting situations; search out the sources that you find to be consistently useful to your family based on a knowledge of your expectations, goals, and/or mission statement. Like any good researcher, be sure to know your source!
4. Know what will work for you
I’m not suggesting that every piece of information you come across be put into action in your own family. Empowered families have the ability to look at information and decide if it will be useful for their family based not only on factual knowledge, new research, or expert opinions, but also on the knowledge of their own strengths and weaknesses and those of their family members.
5. Surround yourself with successful families
I’ve noticed that confident families tend to come in groups. They spend time with other families with similar values and expectations. These groups tend to cross generational boundaries. I often observe couples with older children informally mentoring newly married couples. I know many people who travel great distances to attend a parish or school that is supportive of their family’s lifestyle. Positivity tends to rub off and genuine relationships with people who understand the real deal struggles of parenting can provide support when we aren’t feeling so positive.
6. Have clear expectations, goals, and/or a mission statement
I’ve written extensively about the many benefits of having goals and mission statements as a family. The only thing I want to add is that knowing expectations is contagious. If parents don’t know the expectations, neither do children. It is difficult to feel empowered and confident as a parent if there is a disconnect between parents and children. Many behavioral problems can actually be boiled down to this disconnect.
7. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Empowered parents are not afraid of their mistakes. They know they will make them, and even laugh at them. Laughing at mistakes helps build knowledge of each other as family!
8. March to the beat of your own drummer
Confident families know what they want. They surround themselves with resources to support them on their journey. They build relationships. The most important trait I’ve noticed, however, is that empowered families do not apologize for marching to the beat of their own drummer. They know that there are many valid ways to raise a family, and believe they have chosen the best one for their family. And that’s that. They don’t feel the need to put down families who make a different choice. They don’t assume that the choice they made is the choice that is best for everyone. They don’t follow every next-best piece of advice and parenting fad.
They are their own experts.