The Kid Whisperer

We babysat our grandkids last night. It’s one of our favorite things to do, because we get to spend time with little people that we adore.

Usually it’s fun and games. But sometimes issues that come up requiring discipline.

And I’m always amazed that I rarely know what to do.

I’ve been a parent for 35 years, a spouse for 38 and a grandparent for almost 10. I’ve written three books on communication, and have two more on the way. I should have this figured out. But more often than not, I don’t have a clue.

It was a little thing last night. The youngest grabbed a paper that was important to the oldest. A tug-of-war started over it. I told him to let go. He didn’t and the paper ripped.

I thought, “OK, what do I do?” I helped the oldest tape the paper back together, but wasn’t sure in the moment how to handle the infraction from the youngest.

So I did nothing. He escaped without consequence, and I didn’t talk to the oldest about what she was feeling.

Not a huge issue in the scheme of things, but it got me thinking about “The Horse Whisperer,” “The Dog Whisperer,” and “Super Nanny.”

Redford horse“The Horse Whisperer” was a late ‘90’s movie where Robert Redford calmly and patiently won the trust of a wild horse and turned it into a strong but compliant animal. He started by simply sitting nearby and watching it for days at a time, connecting quietly until he built trust.

I remember thinking, “How could someone simply sit and stare at a horse for hours at a time?” (At the time, my wife suggested it was the same reason she could sit through a movie and stare at Robert Redford for hours at a time . . .)

“The Dog Whisperer” was a TV show where Cesar Millan would enter homes where undisciplined canines had destroyed any sense of order and serenity. The owners had given up. But he would walk through the door, looked the dog in the eyes, make a simple gesture with his hands and gain instant compliance.

“Super Nanny” was a British woman named Jo Frost who tamed kids who were totally out of control. She would come into a home when parents had given up hope, and provide logical, effective discipline that produced angels.

I’m not sure of the exact statistics, but I estimate that I have no idea what to do about 90% of the time. Even when I’m just having coffee with a friend and they tell me about some family situation they’re facing, I have nothing to tell them. I’d like to be profound, but I often draw a blank.

The thing that’s attractive about the three people mentioned above is that they always have answers. They’re confident. They write books about their techniques, suggesting that if we follow their advice, everything will be perfect.

They never say, “Wow . . . I’m stumped on this one. Good luck!”

Sometimes, that makes the rest of us feel like schmucks – especially when it comes to kids. We’re loving parents and grandparents, and would give our lives for these little people. In many ways, we do.

But in real life, scripted answers don’t always work. Kids are fluid. Just when we think we have them figured out and know what to do, they come up with another angle that catches us off guard.

I’m here to celebrate the majority.

We don’t have to be perfect parents. These kids don’t come home from the hospital with instructions and a warranty. We figure it out as we go, feeling inadequate and wondering if we’re ruining our kids.

Our kids won’t turn out perfect, no matter what we do. If we expect that, we’ll be disappointed.

We need to accept our imperfections, admitting them while striving to grow. We need to “be there.” We need to love unconditionally. Our kids need to see how we negotiate life when it’s uncertain.

We need to give ourselves grace.

The Super Nanny was 33 years old when she started the show – and she’s never had kids of her own. I read today that nine years later, she’s thinking of starting a family.

Please, please make it a reality show where we get to see the real moments where her kids don’t know her reputation. We need to see how she handles the moments where she’s out of resources, low on energy, high on frustration and simply at her wit’s end. We need to see her handle a toddler who strips naked in the grocery store, asks “why?” for the hundredth time or washes his dad’s cell phone in the toilet.

If it’s true reality, she won’t be perfect – and we’ll be OK with that.

In fact, it might become our favorite show – because we’ll have a genuine look at what to do when life happens.

How about you . . . ever feel inadequate at your parenting skills?

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Speaker, Author of 5 books – including “People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys,” “I Wish He Had Come With Instructions,” and “Dealing With the Elephant in the Room.” (See Book page)

  • Lynn Erickson-Simonson

    Mike – reminds me of the time I was headed into the commissary on base and this child whooshes past me wearing a superman cape. I thought to myself, “well what kind of mother would allow their child to dress that way in public AND run in the parking lot…ON A MILITARY BASE NO LESS…” Then I get past security only to realize that I was said mother and that was, in fact, my child. Oh the horror…..clearly this was prior to the super nanny! On the upside – that child now proudly serves in the US Navy- on the same base where this infraction occurred – and to my knowledge, there is no plaque posted marking of such an auspicious occasion! (Of course I remind him of that little incident whenever I can!)