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.