I’m not a parent, and there are a few reasons for that…

…the most important being I’m not mentally, emotionally, or financially prepared (though as a senior in college, you can say that about most things in my life.) The other reason, though, is one I would assume all parents consider at some point: what if my child is not the way I thought they would be? That doubt exists on a spectrum that ranges from “what if they don’t like my favorite food?” to “what if they’ll be physically unable to feed themselves?”

It’s inevitable that your child will differ from the ideal you had in your head. With that in mind, here are 5 tips for accepting your kids for who they are and embracing how that is the same and different from you:

1. Secure your own mask first before helping others –

Simply put, you can’t accept others if you don’t accept yourself. Leon F Seltzer Ph.D. wrote a wonderful article about catalyzing self-acceptance, and how it differs from similar concepts like self-esteem and self-improvement. Once you’ve accepted yourself as you are, you’ll find it much easier to do the same with your children. He writes:

To take ourselves off the hook and gradually evolve to a state of unconditional self-acceptance, it’s crucial that we adopt an attitude of “self-pardon” for our transgressions. In the end, we may even come to realize that there’s nothing to forgive. For regardless of what we may have concluded earlier, we were, in a sense, always innocent–doing the best we could, given (1) what was innate in us, (2) how compelling our needs were at the time, and (3) what, back then, we believed about ourselves.

2. Find the strength behind the weakness –

Say, for example, that your child is stubborn. The unaccepting parent might try their best to change that. But the accepting parent will realize that behind stubbornness lies persistence, an invaluable trait that will serve them well all throughout life. All that’s happening is that their persistence has grown out of control, so the solution is modification, not eradication. Help your child control their persistence, and not let it control them. With this mindset, you’ll realize that all your child’s “weaknesses” are potential strengths.

3. Take a moment –

Your child isn’t what you expected. Understandably, that brings up feelings; frustration, anger, resentment, guilt, etc. Whatever they may be, you should take some time and let yourself feel them. Grieve. This can be a taxing, emotional process, but the result is a cleaner psyche that helps you make peace with the situation at hand. From there, you can embrace your actual child, not some idea of who they should be. And to do that, you need to…

4. Let go of your expectations and dreams –

I’ll let Sharon Harding, author of this blog post from Rediscovered Families explain:

We all have dreams and expectations for our children, but at some point we must let go of them and let our children live their own lives. I always assumed that all of my children would go onto university. As it happens two of them chose to go straight from high school into the work force. I was terribly disappointed and worried that they would not be able to get a good job.

For a while I pestered both boys about their choices and tried to persuade them to go to school. Eventually it dawned on me that I was pushing MY expectations on them and that wasn’t fair. Today both of my boys are making their way in the world just fine and in fact one of them just landed his dream job. I needed to get out of the way and respect their choices.

5. Learn to decode behavioral signals –

If your child is acting up, there is almost always a deeper reason behind it beyond whatever thing they may be upset about in the moment. Children are people after all, and people exhibit behavior based on external stimuli. Babies cry because they’re hungry or tired or scared. These reasons for behavior don’t go away when you get older, just more complex. Addressing the behavior instead of the reasons behind them is like fighting a fire by blowing away the smoke. If you don’t target the source, the problem won’t be solved.

These 5 tips will help you accept your kids for who they are: imperfect human beings who need your love and support to become the best versions of themselves. That is the core tenant of parenting, that is what makes it so terrifying, and that is what makes it so wonderful.

By Seth Gilbert