Plugged-In parenting is so foundational for me that I made it the title of my first book. The concept is built upon the premise that parenting is not a spectator sport, and you only get one chance at doing it well. However, as important as it is to plug in to our kids, if we aren’t careful, we can connect in a way that drains us in the process. This is not helpful. I know you’ve all heard about the helicopter parent: a parent who hovers just above their child at all times, manipulating their every move and decision. This type of connection is not about shared love and acceptance; it’s about control. And control will only get you so far in your child’s life. In fact, if you focus on controlling your child’s every thought and decision, you will not only prevent her from finding her own power, you will deplete yours in the process—ultimately you will drain the grid.
I know it is tempting to try and control every outcome in your desire to protect your child. However, if you are ignoring your own needs in order to anticipate your kids’ desires, you are not living your life—you’re living their life for them. This does not work; take it from one who has been there, controlled that. Plugged-In parenting is a way of supporting your children from a loving connection, while at the same time allowing them increasing autonomy as they age.
Plugged-In parenting acknowledges that life has an ebb and flow; when your kids are little, it’s appropriate to make most of their decisions for them by constructing a system of rules and consistently enforcing them. Little kids like rules, because it makes their life simpler. They don’t have to worry about whether or not to do something; if the rule says it’s okay, then it’s okay. If the rule is we don’t do that, then it’s off-limits. Create rules that reflect your family values and feel good to you. This allows them the mental freedom to just play and be a kid. I frequently see parents who give four and five-year-olds dominion over their own behavior; this is too much flow and not enough ebb. Four and five-year-olds do not have the mental acuity to make their own decisions; if you give them that power, it creates stress for them. When kids get to middle school, however, the rules must mature with them.
You want to give your tweens and teens more control over their own decisions. Yes, I’m suggesting that you let them fail. Unless you let them fall down from time to time, they will never learn how to get back up again on their own. If you try to enforce an elementary school level of control on a middle-schooler, they will resent you and rebel. Then you have a whole other can of worms to spend your precious energy trying to control. It’s far more helpful to relinquish control in areas that are safe. For my family this meant my girls were in control of their own rooms and their clothing choices (within school guidelines).
When I had two teenagers and a preteen in the house at the same time, I realized that I was spending an inordinate amount of time and energy on enforcing clean rooms and “appropriate” clothing. I thought it was important, because it showed respect for their possessions and me. If things were neat and regimented, they could concentrate better, right? Wrong. The energy I put into controlling the situation only drained me and made them resentful. So, I stopped. I gave them dominion over their own space and tried not to smile when they couldn’t find something. I allowed them to wear what made them comfortable, without worrying about how it reflected on me. I put the energy that I had been using to control them into self-care and finding my own joy. I built up my self-respect to the point that I didn’t need respect from them. Instead of draining our girl power grid, I built up my own girl power, thereby creating a loving environment where they could come and recharge when teen drama drained them.
Plugged-In parenting necessitates that you plug into your kids where they are, not where you think they should be. If you create a parenting plan based upon the family values that are important to you, then you can stop hovering and controlling daily decisions as your children mature. At first, this feels scary, but then again, change is scary. Plug into the basic behavioral guidelines that feel good to you. For my family, these are: be kind, be respectful of yourself and other people, value connection over competition, and follow the fun. This loving environment of evolving autonomy will help your child become successful without draining you in the process.