My daughter is fully grown, so I’m at that stage of motherhood where I know everything and never had any problems. Yup, my memories of those years are crystal clear, and there were never any melt-down tantrums in the grocery store at 6pm, no rude behavior in front of people, no problems. At all. Ever. For 18 years I spoke to my daughter in a friendly, helpful manner. There were never any fights and she wouldn’t even recognize what my voice sounds like if I was yelling. Umm… yeah. Not really.
Whether because of me, or in spite of me, she’s happy with herself, has a knack for choosing good friends, and leads a decent life. That’s a win in my book. Being as there really is no way to determine how much of her success is due to me and how much is just her, I’m planning on taking full credit for it; after all, it is Mother’s Day.
Here are my sure-fire rules for parenting. And, by the way, these are the same rules that my mom used on the three of us, so these aren’t just my made up ideas – they are from my mom. And you better not be saying anything bad about her, because I think she’s pretty great.
1. Perfection, schmerfection. One of the hopes we all have for our children is that they do better and be better than we were. It’s a kind of ongoing evolution. If you struggled with school, you hope your child will be a better student. If you grew up in a poor family, you want your kids to have more. Make this easier for your kids by not being perfect. Let them grow up knowing there’s at least one area where they can be better than you.
2. Don’t make home too comfortable. I’m a boomer. When I was in high school, my parents and I didn’t listen to the same music or enjoy the same activities. Living at home was not fun, and I couldn’t wait to leave. I was willing to live in dumpy, squalid apartments with roommates who came and went (often with my LPs) because it seemed to be an improvement over moving back home (note: I am not talking about people in financial straits, but those with a choice.) Make your kids anxious to leave at 18 and feel that they are willing to put up with substandard housing just for the chance of being on their own.
3. Failures are good. Remember when your kids were learning to walk? They were short, already close to the ground, and their bones were more pliant. It was the perfect design for gravity deficiencies. Most of the time, a toddler falls, looks surprised, and then starts right back up again. Imagine if you waited until your child was a full-grown adult to teach them to walk; how much more painful the falls would be. Let your kids learn from mistakes early, when the missteps are less harmful. If Junior didn’t turn in his work and isn’t being allowed to attend to the school’s movie day, that’s great! He’ll cry and be upset and feel sad – and learn that not finishing work has consequences.
4. Pick your battles. I am always amazed at how many parents of teenagers get into heated battles over minor issues like hair styles. If you turn yourself into a perceived enemy on small things, you’ll never know about the big things.
5. The ability to make good choices may be the most important lesson to give your children. Let your kids practice making choices, and then see what happens. Start early; toddlers can pick their own clothes from a pre-selected group. This one is tied closely with number 3, because part of learning how to make good choices is to find out what happens when you make bad choices.
6. Keep your eye on the prize. What’s the easiest kind of child to raise? The kid who dutifully does whatever he/she is asked to do, who never talks back, doesn’t question anything and can’t come up with an independent idea. Is that the kind of adult you want your child to become? If not, then let them practice early. On you. Yeah, it’s tough; but if you want your child to grow up and be the kind of person who is willing to stand up and point out when things are wrong, you can’t raise her/him to blindly accept authority. Even when that authority is yours.
7. Self-respect is earned, not given out on the end of a ribbon. Everyone knows when they are being patronized, even small children. If you want your little future adults to have a good sense of self-worth, then make sure they earn it. Constant praise for doing nothing just creates a sense of entitlement.
8. Ice cream is a fine dinner, once in a while. Look, being a kid is hard, and they have some horrible days just like you do, and sometimes it is good to break the rules. One of the best things about being an adult is that you get to choose a lot more. Sometimes do the crazy fun thing and take your kids out for banana splits instead of eating the balanced meal you were planning on making.
9. Teach your kids to think, and then respect their decisions. My Mom’s favorite saying as we grew up was that she was trying to teach us how to think. When we were older, she let us make a lot more decisions than many of my friends were allowed to make. By the time we were young adults, her mantra was “I tried to teach you how to think. I might not agree with your decision, but I respect how you got there”.
10. The days are endless, but the years go by in seconds. I was a single parent for most of my daughter’s childhood. It was grueling at times, and there were moments when I felt that I’d never have a chance to have time to myself. It seemed endless and exhausting and then, just like that, I was driving to a high school graduation. Somehow those long days of parenting were over, forever, and I had to say goodbye to that part of my life. My memories of small moments: looking out the window at 3am as I was nursing; waving goodbye on the first day of kindergarten; junior high dances;those harrowing driving lessons: all seem present and as clear as though they just happened; and yet, it was a generation ago.