Sunday, June 7, 2015

What I've Learned As A Parent

June 7, 2015

As my second child is readying to graduate from high school, I wanted to take a little time to reflect on some of the things I've learned over the years. As parents, we all have those days where we feel we have failed. We all have those moments where we say, "What am I doing wrong?"  But you know, as hard as it is to remember in those low and discouraging moments, most of us, if we are keeping our kids' hearts and minds at the forefront of our parenting choices, we're really doing okay.  Sometimes we have to just step back and look at the bigger picture. Part of our kids' job is to question authority-not to make our lives miserable, but to figure out who they are, what they believe, and who they are going to become.  They are learning to process how they are experiencing the world, instead of how their parents are processing it for them.  In the meantime, here's some advice on how to help support our children in those all-important formative years:

--Celebrate the awesome, unique individuality of your kids.  Encourage them. Sing their praises.  Lift them up as human beings. Teach them to look for the positivity in life.  Teach them to BE the positivity when the bright side is hard to find. Show them that feeling good about one's self NEVER has to be at the expense of someone else's esteem.

--Teach your kids what's important to you, but more importantly, teach them WHY those things are important to you.  "Because I said so" or "Because I'm the parent" doesn't teach values--it teaches expected blind obedience. You might not mind that when they're young, but if they don't understand the 'why', you might not like it when YOU aren't the one they are blindly following later in life.  We want our kids to learn to think for themselves and know why they believe what they believe.

--Make traditions with your kids.  Those will be some of the things your kids have fondest memories of, even if they grumble about them every now and again in the present.  Holiday traditions, of course, but also every day ones.  Family Dinner Night, or ice cream after awards ceremonies, or wishing a kid happy birthday on the exact moment of their birth every year.  Traditions and rituals-stuff you do as a family because THAT'S JUST WHAT YOUR FAMILY DOES.

--Take photos.  Lots of them.  The big stuff--braces off, dance recitals, robotics competitions.  The little stuff too. Quiet moments, goofy moments, with friends, with family, by themselves. They're all moments frozen in time that we can all look back on and share and reminisce and remember when.

--Don't forget to make sure you're in front of the camera often as well.  I don't care if you don't like how you look.  We're often really hard on ourselves at certain stages of our lives. We think, "I'll be in pictures with the kids when I've lost weight, or when I don't look so tired all the time", or whatever. Your kids don't think about that. For all its appearance, a photograph is not a 2-D object.  It's a tangible memory that evokes emotion, personality, and a piece of the story of one's life. You deserve to be part of your children's visual history. They deserve to have you in their photographic history.

--Try not to embarrass your kids on purpose.  You'll embarrass them plenty without even trying.

--Be the person your children need you to be.  That means taking care of yourself as much as it means taking care of them.  That means not only taking care of your physical self, but taking care of your emotional and intellectual health as well.  It's not selfish to take care of yourself; it's vital.

--Be the parent your children need you to be.  Who is that? The parent who loves their children for who they are.  It's astonishing to me to know parents are willing to disown their children for coming out to them. Love your children for who they are, not who you project them to be.

--Be the parent your children need even if they make choices you disagree with. Children dealing with teen pregnancies, alcohol or drug addiction, or even political or spiritual choices that differ from our own are still our children, deserving of love and guidance.  They may not always choose our guidance, but let that be their choice, not ours. Always give them the option.  It's our job and our life's work if we choose to have children to begin with.

--Apologize when you make a mistake.  Just like our kids, we all make mistakes.  Sometimes, in the heat of an argument, we just lose it, or we give bad advice.  Parents aren't perfect; we're not expected to be.  It's important to acknowledge that with your kids. We expect the same from them, do we not?

--Laugh with your kids often.  Sing and dance with them.  Read with them.  Travel with them.  Above all, TALK with them.  Not AT them--WITH them.  Ask open-ended questions and listen to listen, instead of listening to respond.

--Be mindful of 'no'. There are a lot of nos that are necessary in a child's life, but be sure you don't begin to say no out of habit, rather than actual reason. Find reasons for 'yes' when you can.

--Get to know their friends.  Become the extra mom or dad to those kids.  You know that old saying, "It takes a village to raise a child"? Be part of the village that helps to raise your children's friends.  Enlist other parents to be part of your village.  No one should be parenting alone.

--Don't be their friend. Your role is not the same as a friend. However, that DOESN'T mean don't be a person your kids want to hang out with. Just because you're the one who has to set the boundaries doesn't mean you and your kids can't have a great time together.

--Teach gratitude through example.  Teach them to express it freely and often.  No one succeeds alone.  We should always celebrate our accomplishments but be humble enough to recognize those who have helped us reach our goals.

--Tell your kids every day that you love them.  Yeah, they know it.  Tell them anyway--and mean it.

Yes, I have been a teacher to my children, but they have also been great teachers for me.  I hope we can continue sharing lessons for many, many years to come.

Words of Wisdom for My Seniors

June 7, 2015

I've never been a big fan of telling kids about how things are going to be in the 'real world'. Everyone's experience IS their real world, including students in high school.  Of course, as my students are getting ready to graduate and embark on a new 'real world', I have a few words of wisdom to share:

--There is a lot of positivity in the world. There is also a lot of negativity.  Be one who sends out positivity. The world already has enough negativity-you don't need to add to it. Tip the scales in the right direction.

--You will see what you look for in the world.  Look for good, and you'll find it.

--At the same time, don't bury your head in the sand.  There IS negative in the world. Learn to recognize it and change it if you can or walk away if you can't.

--We all have our gifts, and everyone has something to contribute. If you haven't found your gifts yet, keep looking.  Let those gifts lead you to your passion in life.

--Surround yourself with the people who will become your tribe.  Your tribe is the people who are your family for life--the ones who are there to celebrate your successes and who pick you up and dust you off when you hit the lows in your life.  Family means family of the heart--your chosen family.  No one is a solitary success. We are all supported by our tribe. Know who they are for you, and acknowledge their role in in your life--often and wholeheartedly.

--I don't care if you think you are the smartest person in the room.  Heck, I don't even care if you ARE the smartest person in the room. EVERYONE has more to learn, and you'll be amazed by the people you can learn something from if you don't let your ego get in the way of hearing others. Once you think you've learned all you can learn, you've really stopped learning to live.

--Make good choices.  Think about consequences. Everyone has freedom of choice, but you aren't free from the consequences of your actions. Consider carefully the trajectory of your behaviors.  Naturally, however, sometimes we DON'T make good choices--we all make mistakes.  Own your mistakes. Apologize for your mistakes. Learn from your mistakes. Then move on. When others make mistakes, allow the same for them.

--Thinking about consequences doesn't mean play it safe. It may sound counterintuitive, but take chances. Step outside your comfort zone. Try new things. Travel. Learn new skills. Meet new people. Those are experiences that can broaden your horizons and open new doors. They can help you become more of the YOU you will become.

--Be nice to people--even mean people.  The way you respond to others says way more about you than the way others treat you.  Don't give someone else the power to control your attitude.  That being said, don't enable someone to treat you poorly. If you haven't been able to show them how to treat you with respect through your attitude, walk away holding your head high. You are only responsible for your own behaviors, not anyone else's. Does everyone deserve 'nice' all the time? Perhaps not. But YOU deserve to expect that of yourself.

--To be respectful and to respect someone are not the same thing. There's a very important difference. You are in charge of being respectful to others; they are in charge of being worthy of respect. You do not have to respect everyone, but you should always be respectful. Respectful behavior need not be 'earned', as it is a commentary on you, not them.

--Be generous.  Be generous of time, of money, of spirit.  There are people who have less than you.  We should help others when we can because we SHOULD.  Our mission in life is to lift up others when possible because it makes us ALL better for it.

--Give others the benefit of a doubt.  We cannot know everyone's backstory. If someone's backstory has led them to negativity and ill will, how can it possibly benefit anyone to counter it with more of the same?

--Laugh. Love. Be silly. Find people who will do those things with you. Look for people who love you for who you are, and encourage you to be your best self.

--Above all, be open to all the possibilities your new 'real world' will bring.  I wish you all the love, experience, and opportunity you can find out in that world.

--Mama Lutjens