While in the midst of active parenting – the terrible twos and threes, adolescence, the dreaded teen years – it can be difficult to gain perspective as we are simply trying to make it through each and every day. We do our best and hope it’s good enough. Along the way we kick ourselves for mistakes made, opportunities missed, and all-the-things-we-shoulda-done. And we cross our fingers and hope for the best.
So it’s encouraging to talk to parents who have been-there-done-that and have lived to tell the tale. They have the perspective that we do not yet have, and we can learn from their shared experiences. They provide not only wisdom, but support as we struggle through the trying times.
Christie Rose is one of these parents. She is the mother of a friend that I met many years ago – back in elementary school! I always admired the relationship that my friend had with her mother. They were close, and she could talk to her about seemingly anything. My friend’s mother was a true advocate for her, while at the same time providing guidance and helping her to experience life safely for herself. Even today, my friend and her mother remain very close as my friend raises a beautiful son of her own. It is truly inspiring to see how their relationship has continued to blossom through the years.
Today’s guest post is written by Christie, a writer and published author who taught writing for 14 years while raising a strong, independent, and capable daughter.
Being a parent is so hard! Here are a few things I wish I’d learned earlier. For the record, these are in no particular order.
The parent is in charge, not the child. More later.
Love: show don’t just tell. We all know actions speak louder than words so smile, hug, giggle, do belly noogies.
The power of No. When it comes to discipline the parent is the only one with the power of no. Kids can say no or no thank you to extra helpings or what toy to play with but only adults can tell a child no, not the other way around. That is not an acceptable response to an order to stop pulling the cat’s tail.
It takes twice as long to correct a bad behavior as it does to corral it from the outset. This is a tough one. If you find yourself having to tell your child “no” or “come here” more than once or twice, it’s time to take control. If they know they can wear you down saying “please” after the third “please,” next time they’ll say it four times – and the time after that it will take five times. Trust me.
Don’t sign your kids up for everything out there. Kids need “me” time too. They don’t need or even want to be entertained all the time. They develop independence through solitary activity, even if that just means zoning out to cartoons.
Teach them how to pick their spots. What to be upset over, what to be angry about, what’s worth fighting for. If they’re being bullied, they should tell you. If somebody calls them a nerd, that ain’t no big thang.
Show them the joy of giving. Donate clothes and toys they’ve outgrown – with them in tow. Help a neighbor carry their groceries or serve meals at a local shelter. They will understand that helping others makes them feel good.
Allow them to make small decisions so bigger decisions are easier later on. A friend was ordering food for a daughter who was 13 years-old. I asked my friend if she wanted her daughter’s first decision to be who she slept with and when. (Yes, we’re still friends.)
If you want to get them talking, ask for their opinion. Very few can resist the temptation to be heard. This can be as simple as asking what tie you should wear to where the family should go on vacation, to do they think the drinking age should be lowered. It’s a confidence builder; an adult is asking their opinion. Just make sure not to mock them for it. Just lead them to the next logical step by asking if lowering the drinking age would make them safer. If they say yes, ask them how it would improve safety.
They feel what they feel. You do. So show them how to channel their feelings. Are they sad? Lonely? Bored? Angry? Kids watch how you handle these emotions, but you can also tell them about alternatives to kicking people or things when they’re upset.
Introduce them to new foods with a “no thank you” helping. Just tell them it’s tasty and afterwards let them know that it’s OK if they didn’t like it. Otherwise, they will be eating the same 5 foods. All. The. Time. Keep trying it as they grow. Tastes change.
Discipline. All kids need it. Obviously, they don’t always love it. But if you talk to teenagers who constantly get into trouble at school or with the law, they will often say, “My parents don’t care about me.” Dig deeper and you find that the reason they feel that way is because their parents didn’t seem to love them or care enough to make them mind the rules.
“Because I said so.” Yup. That’s okay too.
Put down your cell phone. Kids need more than just love and discipline, they need your attention. Even in the days before cell phones it was easy to fall into the trap of not giving them our undivided attention. That said, be careful not to monitor everything they eat, say and do.
Allow them to experience disappointment. If you don’t tell your child you’re taking them to Disneyland on Saturday, you deprive them of the joy of anticipation. And if you don’t tell them about it in case it doesn’t work out, you cheat them of the lesson on how to handle their disappointment.
Let them learn how to handle money. Small lessons such as letting them put two toys in the cart but telling them they’ll have to choose only one to take home gives them some power. In the tween years, making them pay a small fine for a soda they leave half full (on a regular basis), works wonders. As teenagers have them pretend they’re ready to leave the nest. This includes: building a resume, “searching” for a decent paying job, finding an apartment they can afford on that salary, and don’t forget to have them include the cost of transportation, insurance, household necessities, and of course food.
Teach them goofy. Goofy is important. We live in a weird world; sometimes a sad world. Kids need goofy. We all do. Fun doesn’t cost money. Funny faces, goofy hair, “swimming” in the bathtub, upside- down ice cream cones, frosting on the end of your nose. There is nothing more charming than a giggle.
Admit when you’re wrong. Hey, it’s no big deal. People are wrong. Often. By admitting you’re wrong you’re teaching them it’s okay to be wrong; that nobody gets it right all the time. You’re also teaching them they can respect themselves even if they got it wrong.
Act as if. Assume they had fun at preschool. Act as if they’ll do well on a test. Take it for granted they can work out a disagreement with a friend. Assume they’re going to college; the only question is which one. Act as if they will be successful most of the time.
If they’ve earned your trust, give it. It’s hard but necessary. Why should they be a trustworthy person if they don’t get credit for it?
Consistency is not all that important. Life is not consistent. So give yourself a break on this one.
The parent is in charge, not the child. Yes, I repeated that one.
And remember. They’ll love you no matter what.
Christie Rose is a writer, author, fundraiser and parent. She has written articles on parenting and health issues for Inland Empire Magazine in Riverside, California. Her novel, The Hunt, published by Oak Tree Press, is about an average woman who is forced to hunt down an assassin who is out to kill her. Ms. Rose was a writing instructor for 14 years through Cal-State San Bernardino and the City of Rancho Cucamonga. She has scripted and directed videos for business and fundraising projects and provided copywriting for several magazines. Ms. Rose also won an award from the Direct Marketing Association for a direct mail appeal and earned 1st place in Fundraising Success Magazine’s Gold Award/2007 for Acquisition Under 50,000 direct mail piece. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.