Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Things I've Learned as a Parent

As we do our best to raise a large family in a society that is anything but family friendly, I often find myself looking outside our own family for ideas on how to do so effectively.  I've spent tons of time watching other families, particularly those that seem to have a quality or closeness that I hope to achieve in our own family.  I've learned lots of helpful tips this way.  Most people are more than welcome to share with you what works for them.  And it is always a good thing to ask the same questions of the kids and not just the adults.  You have to remember that adults aren't the only ones living in a family and everyone will likely have an opinion on things.  So I just thought I would share a few of my favorite tips that I have gleaned over the past few years.  Each one has changed the way I parent in some way and has hopefully helped improve things around here.

1.  Never, ever use humiliation as a discipline technique.  This seems self-explanatory.  As an adult, you would never tolerate someone attempting to use humiliation to get you to as they wish, why would it be ok to degrade our children in such a manner?

2. Never harbor hatred or disdain for one of your children.  Kind of like playing favorites but on a greater level.  This is incredibly damaging to the child and chances are pretty darn good that whatever the adult thinks the child did, the child had no control over to begin with.  It just breaks my heart when you can see a parent who treats one of their children with open disdain.  The child pretty much always knows and will go back and forth between trying to avoid their parent at all costs and trying desperately to do anything they can to gain some measure of approval.  Even worse, this child learns they simply can't trust anyone since their own parent treats them so badly.

3. Trust your instincts.  We are given them for a reason.  Don't ignore that feeling that tells you an activity or show or book or relationship is bad for your child.  Don't leave your children in the care of someone you don't trust completely simply because of who they are or what someone else thinks you should do.  Yup, this is one we've learned the hard way.  It doesn't matter if a person is related to you or just a friend. If they don't respect you as a parent or don't really care for your kids, you shouldn't leave your kids with them. And if your child comes to you and says they aren't comfortable around someone, listen to their instincts as well.

4. Don't take yourself or your kids too seriously.  And always treat your own children as nicely as you treat other people's kids.  I remember learning very early to detect that different, almost fake voice and attitude that adults reserved for times when they felt they were being watched.  The different way we treat those outside of our own home is often heartbreaking for those who live in our homes.  "Don't be a street angel and a house devil" is something to try to remember.

5. Remember to always put the people in your life above your possessions.  A 2-year-old has no concept of how much a television or car costs.  Accept that these things will get damaged on occasion and deal with it.  The people in your life are more important than the stuff.

6. Find small simple ways to start family traditions.  Your kids need these things to ground them in your family.  I'm not talking about anything elaborate or putting off spending time together for big vacations.  I'm talking having a special dinner on Sundays, having a family game night, special birthday traditions, seasonal/holiday routines.  The things that stay the same year after year so that even your youngest kids will have some of the same memories as your oldest children.

7. Never, ever assume that once your kids are teenagers that they don't want you involved.  Or that you somehow now have an excuse for not knowing them or being involved in their life.  Teens need adult influence and involvement even more than the 3-year-old does.  I've heard adults tell a teen that they were no longer welcome to attend a family function because they were teens.  Or that the adult could not be expected to know anything about the child now that they were a teen when the truth is the adult made no effort to begin with.  I've watched the faces on those kids fall when they realized they were being pushed aside and ignored for something they had no control over.  Draw the teens in your life close to you and keep talking to them. Otherwise when they head off to college and stop sharing with you, you have no one to blame but yourself.

8. Be open to what your kids have to say.  I've often thought that children see things a bit more clearly than adults.  That God often speaks to us through our children because we've hardened our hearts to his message.  Listen to your kids even if their beliefs are different than your own.  They have something to teach you.

9. Don't spend so much time on making your house look perfect that your kids are afraid to live there and just be kids.  Or that they have no memories of you other than seeing you cleaning.  Or no memories of playing together because they weren't allowed to play anywhere other than their rooms.  Yes, kids come with messes.  Don't be so afraid of the mess that you miss out on the fun.

10. Don't make your older kids responsible for the younger kids all the time.  Yes, everyone should help but don't rely too heavily on them or forget to allow the older kids to be kids because you would like help with the younger ones. It is a fine line but it is easy for resentment to build up between siblings when this one is not carefully watched.

11.  Love your kids without reservation.  And tell them that every day.  Don't wait until they are living out of the house to suddenly start telling them that.  Don't assume that you can put off developing a relationship with your children until they are adults.  You need to build on the relationship when they are younger or there won't be one when they are older.

12.  Speaking of older children.  Adult children.  Never talk down to them as if they were 5 still.  I'm not quite sure why this is considered acceptable or how this is supposed to help a relationship.  If you would not treat your friend that way, you should not treat your child that way.

Nope, I'm not successful at living all of these things every day.  But I am trying and doing everything I can to improve things while I can.  I know I only get one chance to raise my kids and once they are out of the house, that chance will be gone. If I don't build a solid relationship with them now, I will have to start over as something other than a parent when they are older.  These are just things that I have witnessed damage a child or a relationship in the past.  Things that I often think we all need reminding of from time to time. Reminders I need from time to time.

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