Intentionality and Parenting: Interview with Michele Borba

By: Rodaina Ibrahim

Scrolling through your favorite parenting website or blog, you probably have come across multiple posts about parenting styles. In fact, you will find a blog post about them on Precious Mini as well. Your reaction may have been mixed reading these. Maybe they reassured you of your methods, or maybe they made you feel like you are not doing enough. These divisions are helpful in figuring out your overall approach to parenting, but it does not truly cover the nuances of parenting, as well as the different styles that every situation entails.

“I think what we have done is make parenting too structured,” said Michele Borba, Ed.D, internationally renowned parenting child expert, educator, international speaker, and author of 24 books including her latest book, Thrivers.

According to Borba, the parenting style can change from situation to situation, and from moment to moment, “Sometimes you're a little more permissive, sometimes you're a little more authoritative, sometimes it's no, this is the way it's gonna go.” This can depend on different things, like the current situation, the current culture you are living in, and most importantly, what your child needs and what is best for them.

This requires a level of intentionality with your parenting, sometimes parents are not “intentional enough because [they’re]so exhausted,” Broba said. “Trying to do it all that we don't sort of sit down and go, hmm, where am I going with this and how is my current behavior and parenting helping or hurting the child develop?”

Intentionality is key. As already mentioned, parents are now expected to do it all, making intentionality difficult to achieve with parenting. According to Borba, a good first step to parenting more intentionally is to simply realize something that we all probably know already: your children will grow up in a culture very different from the one you grew up in.

Based on her experience working with organizations and children across the world, Borba recognizes that the future is “far more uncertain. It's more accelerated and it's digitally driven.” This is happening all over the world, and not just in the United States where she is based. This, according to her observations and research, has a negative effect on children as they grow up.

“What happens is that we begin to see changes that are filtering down to kids in every country that I'm working in across the world. I'm seeing an upsurge in anxiety disorders, stress levels, mental health problems, and even filtering down to the youngest children.”

As a parent, you might have noticed what Borba is talking about. According to the CDC, depression and anxiety have been on the rise among children from 3-17 years old. The 2022 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities corroborates this, where “20% of children and young people ages 3-17 in the United States have a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder.” It also states that “suicidal behaviors among high school students increased more than 40% in the decade before 2019.” All of this has been exacerbated after COVID-19 as well.

If you think about it, there is so much that has changed in the world in just the past couple of years, and things will continue to change. Instead of lamenting and worrying, the focus, according to Borba, should be for parents to ask themselves: what will help our child thrive now and in the future? What will help them become more resilient?

Yes, resilience is something that can be taught. No one is just born resilient, and no one can learn resilience through a simple lesson. Borba found that it is a process, and this one skill consists of many different skills that ultimately lead to resilience. Although there are multiple strengths that can fall under resilience, Michele Borba identified 7 in her book, Thrivers. “It is rare for a kid to have all seven, so relax,” she joked.

These seven strengths are: confidence, empathy, self-control, integrity, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism. It takes time and effort to teach these seven strengths, so it's not an overnight fix. Each strength is made up of different skills that take both time and effort. To discover more, head to the Thrivers website to buy the book or to listen to the videos about these strengths.

My child is already a teenager, you might be thinking. It's too late. It might become harder the older the child is, but it is never too late. “It's a womb to tomb scenario, and it's never too late for an adult.” The best time to start is now.

I know, this seems like just another thing added to your already spilling plate as a parent. Borba’s advice here is to focus on what is truly important.

Ask yourself, how do you want your child to turn out in terms of their character? And once you fine tune that, you'll be able to day-to-day. - Michele Borba

In addition, you might want to set some ground rules. As mentioned already, we are in a digitally-driven world. Children use phones and ipads at a much younger age now. Noticing how long your child is plugged in will help you put some limit to it. Borba believes that some time off screen and interacting with people face to face will help foster empathy, the “social glue that holds the civilized world together.”

“The gateway to empathy is emotional literacy. Look at somebody's face, hear their voice, hear their tone, and begin to see them to understand he's different or she's different or she needs support or she needs help.”

The first step in this is to make sure your child has actual human and social contact away from phones, even if it is for some time per day. Maybe dedicating a no phone period in the house, or no phones during dinner rule. Whatever will work best in your household. Something you might need to look into is how much you are plugged in as a parent. “Kids say we're the ones who plugged in. Not them. You go out to dinner and who's the one that really plugged in? The parents. So put down the phones.” What you can do to improve empathy is include more reading, especially diverse reading, according to Borba. Have boys read about girls and vice versa. Have children read more works by BIPOC and Indigenous authors. Also, it will create some fond memories for your child.

During the end of the interview with Michele Borba, she wanted to emphasize two important things for parents. First, don’t try to do too much at once, “instead zero in on maybe one skill a month.” She mentioned a study that showed that people who focus on doing one thing that helps them for 2-3 minutes per day show improvement in their overall mental health.

Second, become a talent scout for your child. Try to find what your child is passionate about and include more of that in their life. If your child’s schedule is so full, maybe its time to revise your priorities. “Is there one little thing you can get rid of? I mean, really, we put so much stuff on our kids.” So take a minute and see what you have your child enrolled in, and whether this matches their passion. A good indicator is to watch your child’s behaviour. Borba says “Watch who's pulling who to go to the lesson. Hey, Mom, can we go to soccer and the kid is pulling you as opposed to that case, we need soccer time, and you're pushing the kid out the door because he hates it.”

If you don’t know where to begin, Borba suggests a method called sampling. Get your child involved in different activities with low commitment. Maybe send them to a weekend camp for photography, or enroll them into two or three art classes and see how they react. “Just exposing kids to different experiences and watch what they crave and what they enjoy. Ask them on the calendar. Which of these things do these activities really turn you on and which ones are just like you really hate to do?” What is important is to pay attention to what your child wants and what his or her strengths are.

As you may have noticed, a lot of the advice Borba is giving focuses on providing the environment for your child to thrive. This will require a lot of intentionality and focus from you as a parent, as mentioned above already. This will be overwhelming and you might feel alone in this journey. “I think parenting is very lonely. And very often we compare ourselves to each other and think that we're not doing it right because she's doing that or he's doing that,” Borba said.

The coolest question I ask parents is think about your child at age 40, he's grown up, he's happy and successful. That's what you want. Let's just pretend. Now, what are the traits that you want to see in him or her? What are the most important ones? What you'll then begin to see is you'll begin to actually adopt and identify the values that you want to see, and you'll be able to pinpoint those. - Michele Borba

She tells me of an amazing thing she saw in Montreal, Canada. In the beginning of the school year, the school puts parents with similar age children in parlour groups. At the first meeting, someone from the school is present to set some ground rules, but other than that the meetings are strictly for parents. As Borba mentions, this is meant to be a support group for parents, to share worries, ideas, and concerns not only about school, but about parenting in general. “You start to realize that you've got similar problems and you're not alone. You start to see that other members of the group know resources that you may not have,” she said.

This is a system that exists all over the world, especially in religious institutions and groups. These kinds of groups provide the support parents need and mostly don’t receive. Parenting is already difficult as it is, and parents should “stop bad mouthing each other as moms and dads.” Instead, Borba encourages parents to “support each other.”

Parenting a child is a one time opportunity. “Yeah, this is a one time opportunity to parent a child what matters more,” Borba said. This is the best place to leave this article, I find. Even though you only get one shot at being a parent to a child, I hope the tips and advice Michele Borba shared will be helpful. Remember, it is never too late to start now, and a new year is a good time to start.