My name is Meg Meeker, and I’m a pediatrician, parenting expert and mother of four grown children. I’ve spent 30 years studying parenting, writing books and working with families across the country to help parents feel stronger and more in control. But I have a confession to make.
When I was a young parent, I was TERRIFIED of disciplining my kids. No one gives you a handbook when you become a parent. I remember being in the recovery room after giving birth while I was still in medical school. My doctor came in to check on me, and after I told him I was entering the medical field myself he said, “Oh, that’s great. You know what to do then. Best of luck!” and left the room.
I wanted to scream after him, “Wait! I’m not ready for this!” Medical school had taught me about children, but not how to parent them. I felt so alone.
Now, after years as a pediatrician and parent, I’m committed to tackling fear-based parenting for good. There might not be a handbook to parenting, but that doesn’t mean we have to do it alone. The first step to taking the fear out of parenting, is addressing our fears. So that’s exactly what I did.
Earlier this year, I released a survey to parents I’d worked with or who followed my work online: TEN THOUSAND parents. And after spending weeks poring through the responses, I discovered something amazing: we parents share a lot of the same fears.
And because we share the same fears, we can also share the solution to them. Take a look below at the three most common parenting struggles I discovered, and what you can do to feel stronger as a parent.
Fear #1: I’m afraid I’m hurting my child.
This is the most common fear, and for good reason. We don’t have a handbook to teach us how to parent the right way, and there’s no crystal ball to show us if we’re doing it wrong. We can’t see how our parenting choices affect our kids in the long term, and that can be terrifying.
One of the saddest responses I received was from a parent named Eric:
“I don’t want to miss out on happy experiences with my children because I am constantly disciplining. I am terrified I am overdoing it and making their life unhappy.”
But the truth is, discipline doesn’t mean being harsh and it doesn’t mean making your kids unhappy. This is one of the biggest misconceptions out there. Discipline does NOT mean losing the love; it’s actually a kindness to your kids. It teaches them positive character traits and gives them boundaries they crave, because the world is too scary for them to navigate alone.
When most parents hear the word “discipline”, they think of yelling, arguing and nagging. But real, effective discipline is finding the balance between being the drill sergeant and the pushover: being someone your kids can turn to for structure and for fun. (To learn more about your parenting style and how you can find middle ground, you can take my quick parenting style quiz here.)
Fear #2: I’m afraid my kids will hate me.
So many parents expressed fear that when their kids become adults they’ll remember the yelling and nagging, and not the message the parent was really trying to send. This happens because so often, parents react instead of respond.
Have your kids ever disobeyed you and in your anger, you blurt some punishment off the top of your head and later wish you’d said something different? Have you ever yelled out of fear or sadness, and felt terrible afterwards for the way you handled the situation?
That’s because there’s a disconnect— somewhere, the message is being lost.
When you yell or nag at your kids…
- What you think you’re saying: “You scared me! I just want to protect you from anything that could hurt you.
- ”What your child hears: “I’m angry and I’m not listening to you.”
When you let things slide…
- What you think you’re saying: “I want peace in our home so I’ll be easy on you because I love you.”
- What your child hears: “I don’t care enough to enforce rules or stick to what I say.”
See the problem? The solution here is being INTENTIONAL. Learning about effective discipline beforehand and giving yourself a moment to respond to your child instead of reacting to them, makes your child feel heard and makes your actions STICK. You’ll feel better prepared to handle anything that comes your way, and your child will better understand how much you really love them.
Fear #3: I’m afraid I’m repeating my parents’ mistakes.
This final fear is a very real one, and was echoed by hundreds of parents in the survey. The words of one mother named Janell really captures this frustration: “My parents practiced guilt and intimidation. I wish I knew how not to fall into that style when things aren’t going well.”
I know I’m not the only one who at times thought, “Ugh! I sounded exactly like my mother just now,” or did something I promised myself I’d never do to my own kids, like yelling. The truth is, we are affected by the way our parents raised us. This is part of something I call the “parenting preload”— the way we’re raised and our history with authority figures play a huge role in how we parent.
The parenting preload works in two different ways. In some cases, the parent takes on the exact same parenting styles from their childhood because they don’t know any other way. In the second case, parents who didn’t like the way they were raised go in the completely opposite direction.
The problem with both of these is that they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum. Effective parenting happens when you find middle ground, and I promise you this is possible. We are affected by our parents’ choices in raising us, both the good and the bad. But that doesn’t mean we have to be controlled by them.
The secret to tackling this fear, and the two fears before it, comes down to one thing: effective discipline. When you learn to discipline without fear…
- You become confident in the way your choices NOW affect your children’s success later in life.
- You teach your children that discipline is an act of LOVE, something they will really appreciate as adults.
- You parent with INTENTION and not out of habit or reaction.
Good parenting is hard and fear is natural. We want the very best for our children, after all. But you can learn to become a stronger parent and discipline more effectively IN SPITE of your fears.
I wish I had a handbook when I first became a mother, but I’m so grateful I can share my experiences and help other parents strengthen their families. That’s why I created the Discipline with Courage and Kindness course, completely online and self-paced, that tackles the principles and tactics of becoming a more intentional parent.
I created this course with the busy parent in mind (I had four young kids, you know!), so I used a combination of lectures, videos, podcasts, and downloadable worksheets for learning on the go. You can work through all the modules at once, or do a little a day— whatever works for you!
No matter how you choose to strengthen your family, I want you to remember this: It’s never too late to become a better parent. Our children are our greatest motivators, and they deserve the best. Your desire to become stronger and more intentional for your family is a beautiful one, and I wish you the best on your parenting journey.
If you’d like to learn more about the Discipline with Courage and Kindness course and all the topics we cover, feel free to learn more here.