The Powerful Parenting Question

0 comments Posted on May 1, 2018

by Allie Pleiter

As I look toward the college graduation of my youngest in a handful of weeks, I feel close to the finish line of parenting.

You’re never really finished, of course, but as you settle into the empty nest and watch your offspring leap into their adult lives, there is a sense of accomplishment. You think, as they are small and writing on the walls and refusing to stay in bed, that this day will never come. You can’t envision it.

And yet it comes, quick as a fingersnap.

I don’t know if it’s true, but if feels like successful young adults are rarer than they were when I was in my twenties. And so, having launched (my favorite term for this season of parenting) one daughter, who has settled herself splendidly into adult life, and preparing for the launch of my son, I ponder the truths of parenting. I’ve got the benefit of hindsight, after all.

What mattered?

One phrase consistently comes to mind. It is my best parenting advice, my strongest parenting tactic, the core of what I treasure in my children as they unfold into adults.

It is this question: “So what do you think you want to do about that?”

Parenting often feels like a continual whack-a-mole of problem-solving. We solve one issue only to have another arise. What works for child number one falls flat with child number two. But life is problem-solving. It is, in my view, the essential survival skill.

After all, we have all met people who have overcome incredible obstacles—they endured and problem-solved. We have also met people who seem to let their problems consume them, unable or unwilling to problem-solve.

What creates that difference? What nurtures that essential resiliency?

I believe it is this question: “So what do you think you want to do about that?”

As a parent, asking that question teaches problem-solving:

“Mom, I’m hungry!”

“What do you think you want to do about that?”

“I need a snack.”

This short exchange—simple as it is—encourages the search for solutions. Fast-forward a few years:

“Dad, I hate my room!”

“What do you think you want to do about that?”

“I want to move.” Or “I want to live on Mars.” Or “Can I paint it purple?” Or “Can I move the furniture around?”

Sometimes we need to sort through possibilities to come up with something everyone can live with. But isn’t that the basic building block of the life-skill of problem-solving?

Now, I’m not saying this is easy parenting. Eventually you hear things like:

“Mom, I want to move to California.”

Gulp. Deep breath. Cringe. Worry. “What do you think you want to do about that?”

“Quit my job, sublease my apartment, sell most of my stuff, and buy a plane ticket.”

Bang head against wall. Worry. Pray. Beg oversight from every friend in California. Bite fingernails. Try not to call daily.

In fact, while that decision made us nuts as parents, in the long run it ended up being a very good decision. A brave decision, one friend reminded me. One that enabled my daughter to be the person she is today.

She faced—and solved—dozens of problems to move herself to California. But life doesn’t come any other way, despite what our social media feeds may try to tell us. Even those who look as if they live golden lives have had their share of challenges. My children have certainly faced scores of them.

By asking, “What do you think you want to do about that?”—first in small ways and then in larger ways—I believe I have taught them that the first step in solving a problem is to begin looking at possible solutions.

Be it snacks or book reports or college majors or cross-country moves—where can you coach your children toward a search for solutions by asking this question?

Bestselling fiction and non-fiction author Allie Pleiter is widely known for her novels about love, faith and families for Love Inspired. Her newest release, His Surprise Son, is out May 22 wherever books are sold.

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