Widening your Parental Influence

Many a mother (and father) has wished to be cloned.



In our moments of desperation, we’ve imagined some yet-to-be-invented machine that would magically make two (or three, or ten) of us so that we could get done all the things that need to get done (let alone the things that ought to be done) when it comes to parenting. Make no mistake, parenting is impossible hard. Especially if you want to do it right (mind you, many could care less). That’s why we have to find ways to widen our parental influence even when we can’t physically or emotionally be present for our kids (or when they don’t want us to be present).

I suggest the best way to widen your influence is to have good parents. In fact, if you’ve been raised in a loving, near-perfect environment then you should just stop reading. Now. No seriously, stop reading. Because you’ve been lucky enough to have been born into the sweet spot of life, and you will have an immeasurable advantage in raising your own little ones. So you shouldn’t get extra advice. The rest of us need to catch up.

Now, for the rest of us, who’ve had good parents who’ve done their best but still messed up, or who have had crappy parents who barely qualify for the title, let’s move on.

First, let’s go back in time for a moment. Say, a few generations ago. When families expanded exponentially and all lived within miles of one another (or even in the same house), for the rest of their lives. I, for one, cannot imagine. Still, something magical happened in those big families. Relationships. Kids were born into an extended web of influences from people they (hopefully) could trust and lean on. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, older nieces and/or nephews were just a shout away. And when you needed advice, you had an instant team of quasi-psychologists from which to turn to for sound direction.

Flash forward- your childhood. Can you remember having trusted adults in your young life that you had a relationship with and could turn to in a crisis? If not, don’t you wish you had? Do you remember being 16 and getting advice from your fellow 16 year olds (“Feeling tipsy? Oh, just take the back roads, and drive slow”)? Was their advice anymore valuable to you than taking monopoly money to Wal-Mart?

Flash forward. Present. Times they are a changing. Kids need good advice, more than ever. The world is upside down. But, many modern families would be hard pressed to name even 5 adults in their lives that could offer such assistance to their kids. Through divorces, job transfers, disagreements and just plain selfishness, families resemble anything but close-knit. They are more like diasporas, and parents are left to go it alone. Very alone. So when kids, teens especially, need solid advice, and parents aren’t around, where can they go? Awww, that’s right. Pretty Little Liars, Google, You Tube, or worse yet, their friends. This, I assure you, is a recipe for disaster.

So what can you do? When you’re divorced, working full time, juggling bills and trying to stay afloat? When you live miles from your own parents, and they’re off enjoying their retirement in Colorado anyway? You need to deliberately widen your parental influence, and do it early. Early as in before your child is 10 (see my previous post or/and read an excellent book called Parenting Beyond Your Capacity). In a world where phone contacts average in the hundreds and Facebook friend lists reach 1,000+ , you might think your child has plenty of people to turn to, right? Wrong! I mean, right…except they aren’t the people you want advising your child on important things like drinking, grades and boyfriend issues.

480202309_CHOSXPRT_xlargeSo, can you foster 5 meaningful, adult relationships for your child, before they are ten? 5 people that know your child’s dreams, know your child’s quirks, regularly attend your child’s events and mirror your values and beliefs? It’s not easy. Because many of us might not be able to name 5 trusted adults that we could even turn to for advice! But it’s absolutely necessary. And it’ll pay dividends later. Trust me.


Start with your own parents (your child’s grandparents). Hopefully, they are already willing participants in your child’s life. They take your child places and spend time with him/her. If not, find out why not and start making deliberate plans to change that situation, if it can and should be changed.

Next, think of people in your own life that might be willing to serve in this capacity. People from church? A good neighbor? A trusted friend? A coach? These relationships won’t just happen anymore, like days gone by. You have to be deliberate. Schedule some time with each of these trusted adults. Express your parenting wishes and values. Encourage them to make plans with your child, like fishing or a movie. Make those plans often. And remind your child of who these people are, and how much they can and should be trusted. Often.

And if when your child finds him/herself in a jam, a pickle, a genuine nightmare, something they just can’t possibly share with you (because they won’t share everything with you), hopefully they’ll call one of these people, instead of their best friend. Hopefully, they’ll confide in one of these people, instead of an all-call Twitter post. And, hopefully, one of these people will give them the same advice as you, if you were there. And you just might find that you have, indeed, cloned yourself.

3 thoughts on “Widening your Parental Influence

  1. Pingback: My kids are not my world….and they should know that. | backwardparentingbybrita

  2. Brita, I love your topic of widening our circle of influence. A Sorority sister and great woman told me soon after John died that her recipe for success as a single mom for the past four years was to take the “It takes a village” approach. I used to scoff at that statement as a Hilary Clinton brainchild, but if I think of it in another way I can find value in that statement. I knew immediately that I would need to identify men who would speak life into my son – men who would encourage him, know him, see good in him, and not be afraid to push him a bit to be the person God made him to be. I am so thankful that I have spent my life being connected because when I needed people they pulled through for me. I am eternally grateful. For John, who the counselor said was only half-baked at the young age of 10 to lose his father, he would need more role models. I have learned that he has some constants and some seasonal “fathers.” The constants relatives- are my father and John’s father, his Godfather John Ulsh and his Uncle Steve, and then the seasonal or temporaries are his Scout leaders Tim Racioppa and Charlie Hulse, his youth leader at church Ben Weinrich, each of his coaches by season for his sports, his best friend’s fathers, and our cousins in Spain and Cleveland who are always there for him. I am so thankful for these people in our lives. And I feel that God has a plan in breathing so much varied but good influence into John’s life. And as you have said, most important is choosing those men wisely. Praise God that he chose for me already great men to have in my life!


    • Ellen- Thank you for your reply! Have you ever read the book “Parenting Beyond Your Capacity?” It’s an easy read, but has lots of good advice on widening your parental influence on your kids. It sounds like you fostered those strong adult relationships for John even before he lost his dad, and it will help him immeasurably as he navigates the sometimes-murky years of teenagehood. I think of you often Ellen. We need to be resources for one another as we parent the best we can!


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