Episode 48: Q&A with Leigh – How to be Child-Focused and Parent-Centered

As a therapist and mother, I’ve observed the transformation of parenting styles from enforcing strict obedience to embracing individuality. Have you ever felt caught up in this transition, unsure of which path to take? We’re journeying through this together in today’s podcast, where we explore the delicate equilibrium every family seeks between guiding our children and also nurturing ourselves. By revisiting the historical backdrop of parenting, we discuss the importance of adapting to the unique attributes each child brings, and how this shift has affected their resilience and ours. 

I outline a parenting strategy tailored to the individual needs of your family, one that respects the cultural values we all carry and directs towards a destination where safety, attachment, and life skills are the goals we strive to achieve for our children. I emphasize the importance of maintaining parental authority without stifling your children with excessive control. You’ll learn why setting boundaries and making tough decisions can actually help your children experience the joy of simply being kids, while also allowing you the opportunity to prioritize your own self-care and wellness. This episode is an opportunity to introspect on our parenting styles and how they mold our family’s future. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned parent, there’s something to get you thinking!

What you will learn on this episode:

– The transition from rigid, adult-focused parenting to a more balanced approach that considers each child’s unique needs. 

– The significance of parental self-care and establishing boundaries to ensure children’s healthy development.

 – A discussion on why being centered as a parent is essential for leading your family effectively.


*This transcription below was provided for you or your convenience; please excuse any mistakes that the automated service made in translation.

Today we’re answering a question that sparks endless debate Should we be child focused or parent focused as we raise our kids? I hope to explain a little bit about what these terms mean and how we can find an approach that works for both us and our children. This is Leadership Parenting, episode Number how to be Child Focused and Parent-Centered. Did you know that resilience is the key to confidence and joy? As moms, it’s what we want for our kids, but it’s also what we need for ourselves. My name is Lee Gurman, I’m a therapist and I’m a mom. Join me as we explore the skills you need to know to be confident and joyful. Then get ready to teach these skills to your kids. This is Leadership Parenting, where you learn how to lead your family by showing them the way. 


Hi, friends, I hope you’re all having a beautiful day today. I’m so happy to get to spend some more time with you. Wherever you might be and whatever you’re doing today.

I know you probably have a lot on your heart. You’ve got a lot of responsibilities and, as a parent, it all matters, because we have a big job raising children. It’s just never-ending. I mean, when did you ever get a break from it? Really, you don’t. This is part of what makes it so challenging.  


So today we are doing another Q and A- and here is the question that really addresses this parenting challenge we all face. 

My husband and I are first time parents. We have a 3 year old almost 4 and I feel like we are all over the map with our parenting. I hear a lot about parenting approaches- some say to be very directive and in control, some say to be more child led.  In the middle of all of it I am exhausted and not sure if what I’m doing is even the right thing? What parenting approach do you suggest parents use? 

Thank you so much for this question. It really speaks to the big responsibility we all carry as we raise our kids


–  And boy do I hear about the challenges of parenting, specifically how to approach it. What style is best? How should we balance what to give our children and what to give ourselves? We just don’t have a manual for this. Maybe we can look to how we were raised, but I don’t know of any other manual or guidance that’s explicitly shared with us when we bring that baby home from the hospital. So I’ve been asked a lot about how to do this stuff. What approach should we use? What skills do we need? How do we learn it fast enough to keep up with our children’s ever-changing growth and development? It’s mind-boggling. There are a lot of opinions out there about how to approach parenting, and historically over the decades we can see a pretty big continuum of parenting approaches From the old days of children are to be seen and not heard, where a child’s life revolves around the parent, around the parent’s needs and desires, where there was a lot of it’s my way, or the highway, or quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about. 


Those are phrases that I remember my mom and dad talking about when they were children themselves. There was a lot of fear of getting into trouble, fear of punishment, not a lot of conversation about what they wanted. It was just not a thing at that time. I remember even in my elementary school, when I was a little girl, the principal had a paddle on the wall in his office and he’d use it on a child who got into trouble, sometimes in his office and sometimes actually in the hallway outside of classrooms, so everyone could hear the punishment going on. It served as a big deterrent for kids out of fear. You didn’t want to get in trouble like that and get paddled. So a lot of fear. 


So this is kind of an older way of parenting in our history very rigid, controlling approach that left kids disconnected and often afraid of their parents or their people in authority teachers, principals feeling unvalued and often misunderstood. So in this adult-focused parenting, parents set the rules based on what was convenient and good for them and children were expected to fit into that plan, no matter what was going on with them. Schools were based on the same theory, with one way to approach learning, one way to grade and evaluate, and if children didn’t fit in that way, they’re often labeled as deficient. I remember reading a book in the early 2000s called One Mind at a Time by Dr Levine. He’s a pediatrician and educational specialist who really focuses on the uniqueness of each child and how their mind works, and it really helped us to pay attention to individual learning styles, individual minds, so that we can really unlock the potential for our children and be more child-focused as we’re making our educational decisions. This impacted me greatly as I started to look at my children as unique entities, not just all cut from the same cloth, where the same parenting approach and style is going to be adequate for every child. So that was a shift right there, a shift from how we looked at parenting, how we looked at teaching and educating our children More awareness about child development and what children need to thrive and especially to avoid those traumatic effects that might impact children negatively. 


So when we go back to looking at the approaches in parenting, you may have experienced this in your family or somewhere up your family tree in your generations above you, where there wasn’t much room for discussion or understanding, where punishment was a big part of parenting and sometimes maybe even progressed into that place of abuse. So then they’re developed with this new awareness, an opposite approach to this parenting, kind of swinging all the way over to a very permissive style, letting the child be the leader, not expecting much, not causing any discomfort or distress to a child. And I’ve also had some experience with this style of parenting usually as I’ve been working with families because children are struggling with too much power in their family and they get kind of lost, very anxious, getting into trouble at school, either behaviorally or maybe with their grades, because they’ve been living a mini-adult life with very little direction or protection. So this kind of got embodied with the era of being your kid’s friend rather than their parent, letting children have adults say in choices, which often meant they didn’t have the ability to handle those choices and kids got in over their head doing adult things before they were mature enough to handle it. 



And we often experience pendulum swings as we sort out approaches. I’m sure you see this in other areas of life too. It kind of makes sense that the pendulum would swing all the way to the other side. This is often how social changes brought about, the negative aspects of something are brought into focus and then the opposite of that is the goal to fix it. And the child-centered movement can be seen as a correction to what was sometimes called that rigid, adult-centered parenting. Too much control over and disregard for the feelings of a child swings to becoming permissive and hands-off and often tying a parent’s hands, making it harder for them to teach their kids the skills they need to know. I totally see how we can get to this place, but for us, as we study parenting, we’re at a very interesting time in our knowledge about children, what they need and how to parent them. 



I don’t think we find great success at either end of this parenting continuum, and research is showing us now that we need a much more balanced approach, because there’s been a battle for who gets to be in charge, who gets their needs met and taken care of. It’s either the adults or it’s the kids, and this is the crucial point where we can end the battle. We need to be in the center of this continuum. We shouldn’t have to choose one end or the other. Both the parent and the child need to have their needs met. For example, who’s sleep is more important, a child’s or his mother’s? And it may depend upon which approach you experienced in your family or which end of the continuum you’re on, but the truth is, a child needs their sleep. They absolutely do need to sleep for their development. But so do parents and I run across this all the time Parents who are barely holding it together because they’re so devoted to their child that they are not sleeping, they’re not eating, they’re not having adult time or time out with their spouse, they’re losing themselves in the raising of their children, and it doesn’t serve them, it doesn’t serve their marriage and it definitely doesn’t serve the children. And of course we don’t want to flip that so that parents get what they need at the expense of children. We are looking for a win-win scenario here. 



I’ve experienced and studied both ends of this continuum in one way or another Seen the trauma and neglect that comes from being too adult, focused in parenting, and the chaos and confusion that comes from being too permissive and letting children lead the way. Neither creates the secure attachment kids need to thrive, nor does it allow for parents to take care of their own needs appropriately. So both kid and mom and dad end up struggling. A couple of years ago I had a couple in my office who were stuck between these extremes. The husband wanted the kids to listen up immediately, do what they were asked the first time, and he didn’t think there needed to be any discussion around how a child felt about not wanting to do something. His behavior should be obedient, polite, pulled together pretty much all the time, and this father’s parents raised him this way. He’d had plenty of spankings, knew what to expect if he back talked and felt kind of a fear healthy. He felt it was a healthy respect, but there was quite a bit of fear of his parents and that he thought that really helped him become a responsible adult. 



His wife, on the other hand, was on the other end of the spectrum. She’d also come from a pretty no-nonsense parenting background with a parent she felt was very harsh, with lots of expectations, not much talking or support, and she had vowed she would do the opposite when she had kids. So she often found herself struggling to help her children follow rules, even do things like eat their dinner. She mostly followed the kids’ lead when it came to doing chores or getting homework done, kind of letting them do it when they felt like it and not do it when they didn’t. 



Sleeping was a big problem. There was kind of some chaos in the house. The kids had a hard time going to bed at a certain time and going to bed on their own and even as they grew older she had to really be in the bed with them for them to sleep. So it wasn’t something that these parents were aligned with. They were really actually at great odds and it was threatening their marriage and their kids were kind of super confused because mom seemed like the good guy because she was soft and rarely asked them or pushed them to do things they didn’t want to do, and dad was seen as the bad guy harsh, less understanding and the softer she was, the more tired she got and kind of run over by the kids, and she never slept at night in her own bed alone and she did all the chores because the kids refused and she felt very resentful and the husband looked even more like a bad guy when compared to her. So he resented her and it just was a lot of chaos and the kids were the whole reason. They reached out for help because the kids just weren’t doing well, not at home, not at school. They were really struggling and they got referred to counseling as well. It took a while to sort it out because both of these parents were deeply committed to their family. They loved each other, they loved their children. They were not abusive. They had just very different styles and ideas and expectations. They were not bad parents, but they were at an impasse and no one was thriving. 



And this can happen in our families hopefully not to this extreme, but having different styles and ideas. That happens a lot. We’re kind of set up for it to happen because we each have our own histories with how we were raised and our own theories about what good parenting looks like. Over the years I’ve tried to find one parenting approach that I could lend my full, undiluted support to. I wanted there to be an easy way to just point out a book and say this this is it, this is the way, and I honestly haven’t found it. I think, like most things in life, there isn’t going to be one absolute approach that fits every child, every parent, every family, but I do think instead we would do well to build our own approaches with building blocks that we can put together as it fits our family and our culture, because cultural influence is a real thing, both cultural, like in your heritage from your nationality and customs, but also your personal family and even religious culture. 



Beware anyone telling you there is only one way to do things, just like saying there’s only one language in all the world, and we know that that is not true. At last count, there’s roughly 7,000 known languages in the world, so you can say literally I love you in 7,000 different ways. So, in your family, it falls upon you to adopt your own approach to parenting in your own language, with the focus being on what it is that you are trying to say, rather than specifically how you say it. I guess what I’m trying to communicate here is I believe we need to give kids some of those basic things to be well, to grow and thrive, and that there will be several different ways that we can do this. I know this is a controversial subject. People have strong ideas about this, and so I’m very respectful of that. I also know that I get this question like literally every week in some form or another, so I’m here today giving you my take on it. 



After years of raising my own children and helping other parents raise theirs, I’ve come to look at parenting as a win-win relationship goal where a child gets to develop, with attachment, safety and skills for life, a sense of having a relationship in which they’re seen and valued by their parents. These are kind of the things they need to set them up for success. That’s the child-focused part, and as parents, we need to focus on our children getting that stuff. We have the responsibility to do these things for our children create a strong attachment with them, create safety with boundaries, teach them skills they need in life, not just behaviors like how not to complain and obey and be a good kid, but how to do that, how to regulate their emotions and practice those skills. So I think, as parents, that’s our job is to be child-focused. But as parents, we’re also in the middle of our life and we need to meet our needs as well, in a mature and responsible way. We need rest, we need goals, we need fun, we need strong adult relationships and we need to be able to take good care of ourselves. So we’ve gone through childhood, we’re the adults now, and now we get to lead and we’re leading both ourselves and our children. We’re the only ones in the family that have the authority to guide the ship, so we need to know how to get centered in our own wellness. Kids need that from us to feel safe, and we need it to be well in our own lives as parents. 



I chose leadership parenting as a way to describe this win-win. It holds us accountable to take care of ourselves, to be parents centered, to regulate our own emotions and stay connected to our values and take care of ourselves right now, in the here and now, in this moment, so that we can be child-focused and give all of that support and safety to our children that we just talked about. Give all that to our kids as they grow. This is how I think of being in the middle of that continuum that we just described. When you think of it as being a leader to our children, it elevates the role of parenting. It’s more than just caregiving, taking care of the physical things our children require to grow. It’s so much more than being the boss and getting our kids to shape up. It’s actually having the responsibility to show our children how to do it, not only in how they should be kids, but modeling to them by our own actions how they might be adults one day. 



So this is our job to get a clear picture of what children need so we can meet those needs and protect them. But what is that supposed to look like? Where’s the manual on that? Unfortunately, I don’t have it either, but I do have the framework, the general framework of what kids need and how we can address it and fulfill those needs, and it takes work and thoughtfulness and standing on steady ground, and that can sometimes be easier said than done. So I just want to open up the discussion for you to be thinking through it. What I’m hoping to do is lay out some of the things I’ve seen and ways that I look at, things that can put some structure or some ideas out there for you to build on so you can be child focused, which means you’re parenting with your children’s needs in mind. Your focus is on appropriately meeting those needs, rather than having the kids meeting your needs, where the focus is on getting behavior to happen. So it makes you feel better and, let’s be real, we all want this right. I want my kids to do what I want, so it’s easier for me, so I feel better, and I’m all for that as an in byproduct, but not as our goal. Think about it how easy it would be to give in all the time, because it would feel good to not have any pushback or resistance. 



The hardest part of parenting is leading with a vision and holding the vision, holding the boundary around things I used to say, even out loud to my kids. Oh, buddy, I really wish I could let you go to that lake party where there’s no adult supervision. I know you won’t drink any of the alcohol that will probably be there. I know your 14-year-old friend has been driving the boat on his own for years and I know you will all be careful. Or I wish I could let you skip school all week to watch the Olympics. I know you love it so much, but I can’t let you do that. My job as a mom is to make these hard decisions and I really care about doing a good job here. You know I was not the most popular mom a lot of the time. So many times I walked out of the room feeling that tension and heaviness because I set and held the boundary. I much prefer the big hug and thanks, mom, you’re the best. 



But when we parent, we need to be child focused, thinking about what children need to be well and strong and safe. It takes some strength to do this. It takes some clarity in our minds about what the right thing is for our kids in any given moment. It takes courage and it takes fortitude and it takes support, and this is why in this podcast we have balancing episodes on taking care of ourselves and tending to our needs so that we can do this for our kids. Because a lot of times we’re doing our parenting on an empty tank. And this brings us right back to that question from our mom today how do we balance what our focus is, who we take care of first, what our approach is, how do we figure that out? Because sometimes our role as a parent preempts our consideration for ourselves, so we get empty. So kids need strong leadership, but we also have to balance taking care of our needs, and if it seems like I give you conflicting messages, it’s because I do. 



I want you to put your role as a parent, taking care of your children, at the top of your list, and I also want you to put yourself, taking care of yourself, at the top of your list. And they compete sometimes and don’t you feel it? It’s such a real tug. So I want you to be thinking of both roles you hold and I guess if you had to choose which comes first, it would be taking care of yourself, your decision to get centered that’s what we call it centered, and that’s hard, it doesn’t feel natural. It’s why the flight attendant stops and looks you in the eye when you’re traveling with kids and reminds you that if the oxygen masks drop down, you need to put on yours first, because what we’ll probably do is all of a sudden we see our kids struggling to breathe. We’re going to put it on them first. Of course we will, and we do that every day, and we miscalculate the importance of staying oxygenated ourselves so we can take care of them. 



And then we run the risk of passing out while we’re trying to take care of them, and figuratively we do. I kind of feel like we do pass out. We get so tired and we’re now and I know you’re probably not going to literally pass out, but think about how often we feel that way. We pass out of being present and we disconnect because we’re burned out or we lose it with our kids, our tempers, our patience. It can render us ineffective in how we’re trying to lead. So there’s two priorities Share the top spot Taking care of them, the kids, and taking care of you. And then we add in our marriages, and I guess that’s a whole other episode. 



But this is why, in order to be child focused, we need to be centered ourselves, meeting our own needs and that’s a big job Big job for us. And if it’s a big job for us individually to meet our own needs, can you imagine how big of a job it is for our children to meet our needs? We are interconnected and when the leader is struggling, kids sense it and try to compensate, either by acting out and demanding more leadership or by stepping into the parenting role and trying to take care of us in order to stabilize the family, and neither of these work out well for the child. So our goal is to be child focused after we are centered. Okay, these are my terms, how I’m going to be describing this in a way that I think is an ideal situation for parenting. So don’t try to Google it, because you’re going to get all sorts of variations and uses of these words, which kind of speaks to the original question from our listener. 



How confusing it could be to try to get a name and a concept that we can adopt that makes sense to us and is all encompassing. I’m hoping to give you this phrasing and the correlated meanings so you can create a kind of map in your mind of what you’re going to do for yourself and for your children For that win-win. You’re going to be centered. That’s your job. It’s your job Even if you don’t have children or if you’ll never have children. It’s your right and a gift to learn how to be well emotionally on a fundamental level. And when parenting, it becomes your sturdy foundation from which you will make your parenting decisions. And our goal is also then, eventually, to help our children learn how to be centered on their own so they can become the leader in meeting their own needs as an adult. And we’re going to perpetuate health that way and pass that down in the generations. And I think this is what it means to raise a good human, to be a good human ourselves and take good care of ourselves, and to raise a good human who knows how to take good care of themselves. 



So being child focused is thinking about the bigger picture for your child’s development, not making them the center of power in your home. You need to hold the power as the adult. You want your focus to be on doing what is best for your child. Your role is truly the more powerful one. So if you hear about child-centered parenting, where you allow your child to make all the decisions about what they do, when they do it what they eat, how you do things. That’s not what I’m talking about here by sheer definition of the word leader. In being a leader parent, your responsibility is to make the hard decisions and hold the boundaries so your kids can grow up without too much power. 



Too much power is awful for kids. It’s like a big mountain of cake. A little power, appropriately given as they grow, tastes good and does no harm. But too much cake, too soon, makes kids sick. It’s too much, in fact. We see higher rates of anxiety in children who have too much power, too much freedom and not enough parental guidance. Kids will take it, they’ll eat it, they’ll often even reach for it and be mad if you don’t give it to them. But it’s too much control, it’s overwhelming and it doesn’t let them be a kid. So, please, when I say to be child focused, I’m not saying that your child calls the shots in your family. That wouldn’t be good for them. You retain parental power and with great power comes great responsibility. You want to be focused on using your power then to center yourself so you can make decisions that are good for your kids and good for your family. 



So we talk a lot about taking care of yourself, learning to be centered in your life my words, my way of describing your own self-care and wellness and your resilience. It’s worthwhile to do this work. As a parent, you’re literally tasked with two distinct jobs to take good care of yourself and to take good care of your children. If it sounds like too much, I get it, but I also know that it isn’t. It isn’t too much, so don’t let thought stop you from going after this. You need it and your kids really do need you to be able to feel good and they need you to know and understand what they need in order to get there themselves. Thankfully, there’s a roadmap. I’ve been discovering it as I’ve learned and practiced these skills with my clients, and I used it myself as I raised my children. It’s not complicated. It is very doable. This is why we’re here, why you listen, hopefully, why you try on some of these concepts, so you can make life easier for you and really give your kids what they need. 



So I invite you to take some time to think about these concepts, the continuum of parenting styles. Maybe look at what style your parents had when they raised you, maybe what style your grandparents used. Go up your family tree a bit and observe it, don’t judge it. We’re not looking at making things good or bad. We’re just trying to understand how our history impacts our parenting today. We don’t want to get caught up in all the different words to describe things. 



I chose these words child focused to help us remember that our focus needs to be on meeting the developmental needs of our kids, which involve really understanding what those are. And I chose parent centered to help us remember that you are ultimately responsible for your own wellness and happiness and that when you are off center, everything kind of goes wonky. You need to know what keeps you centered and how to get back to center when you get knocked out. That’s why we’re learning resiliency skills. As you’re more centered, you can more powerfully be child focused Once you get connected to you, your values, your feelings, your internal safety and then you turn your focus onto your children’s needs. Because when you’re child, no matter what their age a baby who’s crying in the middle of the night or a teenager who’s stomping up the stairs in anger you’ll need to remain calm and centered to handle those challenges. 



So big discussion today Be gentle with yourself, because this is your parenting journey, these are your kids and this is your life and I want so much for you to feel like you’re enjoying it specifically that you have the tools you need to feel competent and capable as you raise your beautiful children. You could totally do this. You’ll find your balance of child focus and parent centered, and I’m so happy to help you with ideas and ways to practice these skills that will help you be successful at this. If you want some more help in learning to be more centered, you can watch my workshop on how to be centered and grounded, where I talk about the specific things you can do on a daily basis to be centered and how you can use grounding to help you through the more difficult times. You can find a link to that workshop in the show notes found at leegermancom. Ultimately, I truly believe that you can trust the wisdom that’s inside of you to guide you as we go after this parenting win-win where both you and your child get just what you need to be well. 



Thank you for this very thoughtful question that really opens up a dialogue for us to take a good look at our parenting styles and what we want to work best in our own lives with our kids. I hope I answered that question in a way that was helpful. I’m so grateful for my time with you all. Please take good care of yourselves and I’ll see you next week. Thanks for listening. To catch all of the details from our show today, you can go to my website, leegermancom. That’s L-E-I-G-H-G-E-R-M-A-N-Ncom. The Leadership Parenting Podcast is for general information purposes only. It is not therapy and should not take the place of meeting with a qualified mental health professional. The information on this podcast is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition, illness or disease. It’s also not intended to be legal, medical or therapeutic advice. Please consult your doctor or mental health professional for your individual circumstances. Thanks again and take care.

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