By Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, PhD
Today’s parenting adults and families are saturated with advice about what to do, what not to do, and what matters most. They’re told to get involved, but not to be helicopter or lawnmower or tiger parents. Or perhaps they should be free-range parents. Or . . .
The problem is that most of these approaches begin with the mindset that the primary role of a parent is to shape or mold kids into what they are supposed to be—or what we think they are supposed to be. So we create checklists of strategies we’ll use to be sure our kids turn out the way we want them to be. If we just follow the recipe . . .
Parenting as a relationship
Of course, it doesn’t really work that way, does it? Part of the reason is that the heart of parenting is a relationship. It’s a bond, a connection, not a strategy. As psychologist Alison Gopnik wrote:
“Parent” is not actually a verb, not a form of work, and it isn’t and shouldn’t be directed toward the goal of sculpting a child into a particular kind of adult. Instead, to be a parent—to care for a child—is to be part of a profound and unique human relationship, to engage in a particular kind of love. (The Gardener & the Carpenter, 2016)
Tools to connect in families
KeepConnected.info is a new website from Search Institute that focuses on strengthening family relationships. Based on extensive research on five key elements that make developmental relationships, the online resource provides tools to help families connect, reflect, and grow together. It offers ideas and tools for you and your family to:
|Take quick quizzes that reflect on different aspects of family relationships. Invite other family members to take them too. Then use the results to deepen your connections.||Talk together about what makes family relationships strong and to get to know each other better. Some discussion-starter questions are for kids and parents together. Others are for groups of parents.|
|Spend time together in interactive family activities that explore family relationships and how you might be more intentional and consistent in how you care, support, challenge, share power, and expand possibilities for each other.||Explore research on different aspects of family relationships and why they are important for how young people grow up, learn, and thrive.|
Resources for those who work with families
In addition, KeepConnected.info offers insights and tools for people who work with families, including those who use Search Institute’s signature family engagement program Keep Connected for middle school families. It highlights the power of shifting family engaging strategies to emphasize relationships and building trust as the foundation—just as these are essential in families themselves.
Take time to connect
We live in a time when it’s easy to feel both isolated and bombarded with connections and information all at the same time. Each of us—parenting adults, youth, grandparents, and others—all need meaningful, real connections to keep us grounded and help us grow.
We’ve created KeepConnected.info as one resource to help you do that. Very little on the site is designed to be done alone. It’s designed to stimulate a conversation, an activity, or a new family practice or ritual that brings you closer.
In the process, we hope you discover new strengths and opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive.