Why Parenting Is About Process Not Outcome

29/08/2017 15:21

I'll get the mum gloat out there straight away: this year, my son qualified to row in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta. For those of you who aren't rowing parents, this is a really big deal. It was the culmination of a hard year of training.

Or, as my self-congratulatory Facebook post put it:

120 6am omelettes cooked; 200 rower's lunch boxes packed; 300 bowls of pasta made; 450 homemade protein flapjacks baked; 100 dashes to the supermarket because "we've got no food!".... One day in a silly hat at Henley. Very proud!

I can't take all the credit, of course. In addition to the sheer number of hours, sweat and tears my son put into it, he also had access to a brilliant Junior Rowing Coach. And his coach's mantra for success is to focus on processes not outcomes.

'Process not outcome' is an idea that you see everywhere in elite sport. Sprinters on the start line train their minds to focus not on what it will feel like to win (which is a distraction) but on each sequential movement they need to make between the start and finish lines.

And remember Johanna Konta's eerie calm under pressure at Wimbledon this year? She bounced that ball so carefully and rhythmically before every serve, bringing her mind fully onto the shot she was about to play.

Which got me thinking about parenting and about how often we tie ourselves in knots focussing on the outcomes we want for our children rather than the actual moment we are in.

Whether it's learning to read, GCSE results or just getting to the theme park on time, it is all too easy to focus on the end goal and to get frustrated when our children don't make progress towards the outcome quickly enough. We get annoyed because they can't identify a word they read just yesterday. We argue with them for not studying enough. We shout at them for being slow to put on their shoes and get in the car so we can beat the queues and have a fun family day out.

But focussing on the outcome, we often miss the point. Being shouted at is not fun. Learning to read well happens through lots and lots of enjoyable reading experiences (not by dreading each day's book in case you don't get it right enough).

And just like tennis players who hit the net when they think about winning, when parents focus on outcomes, we not only miss the moment but we often sabotage the outcome itself.

Parenting has an '-ing' on the end because it is something we are constantly doing. It is made up of a sequence of moments and decisions. And we never really know whether we've got it right because the point is the moments themselves. There is no finishing line.

My mantra, as a parenting coach, is to parent the child you have in front of you at that moment, not the child you wish you had. It's those moments when your child can't get the hang of something that really matter. Learning to get simple processes right - like reading, riding a bike, controlling one's emotions, remembering to lock the door - is how children learn to be successful in life.

And if learning those processes is enjoyable, for both you and them, you will have done everything you can to help them towards the ultimate outcomes of happiness and success. You will have taught them to find happiness in life's moments.

I look back over the last year and some of my most precious moments have been those early mornings sitting in the car with my son driving to rowing, chatting about training or nutrition or just about the state of the world in general. It's great when they win (and, no, they didn't win this year at Henley). But those moments are the real point.

You'll find more thoughts on managing the many dilemmas and pitfalls of modern parenting on my Thinking Parenting blog.

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