What makes an excellent parent? Hell if I know...No really. Hell if I know. I do know that I'm most likely not one of them, but I like to think that in certain lights, and at certain times, it's possible to see that I might be doing ok, at least, so far.
Parenting is an exhausting job; one that never ends, gets much easier or lets you settle into bed feeling secure. It does and can, however, reap tremendous rewards, and give you life's greatest pleasure. But to get there requires work...Lots of work.
I know I've failed more times than I can count. I know I've said the wrong thing, I've most definitely done the wrong thing, and probably, at least one of my kids will spend hours as an adult on some therapist's couch recalling just how badly I've screwed them up.
Through the years, and as my own have gotten older, I've noticed that the kids that turn out to be adults I'd like to spend time with, had parents that had a certain philosophy about raising their kids. Since I really like their kids, I figured I'd share the magic of their parenting:
10 Things Excellent Parents Have In Common:
1. They say no even when it's really hard: I don't know about you, but saying no can be exhausting. "Please, please, please let me go to Ashley's New Year's Eve party. I swear no one will be drinking and her parents will be home." But, here's the thing, you know damn well Ashley's mother is in rehab, her dad left 6 months ago, and more than likely, Ashley will end up working at the local bar and living in a trailer the rest of her life.
BUT...you have New Year's Eve plans that include exactly what you don't want your kid to be doing. It would be sooooo much easier for everyone involved if you just said, "Sure, honey, go to Ashley's. It sounds fun. Be safe" and called it a night. But, I can't forget my mom saying to me, "Do you have any idea how much easier it would be for me just to let you go and say yes? But unfortunately for you, I love you." Sucks to be raised so well.
2. They let their kids fail: (Yes, you read that correctly.) For me, this may be the toughest one to actually put into practice. Let's face it, we want our kids to be happy, to be successful and to be better than other kids. (Yes, you read that correctly too) So, when we can see disaster on the horizon, we jump in. We call the teacher, we rewrite the conclusion, we make a few calls to ensure he gets on the "right" team etc.
But think back to your own childhood. Weren't your parents much further out of the loop? My parents didn't know every assignment I had at school, they didn't drive me to private ball bouncing classes an hour away from home on a Friday night when I was 8 so that I'd have a leg up when trying out for the travel team that would cost them outrageous amounts of money to say nothing of family togetherness. If a teacher called home, I was in trouble...period. My parents didn't ask to have a conference so that they could show the teacher that she really just misunderstood my intentions.
Letting kids fail teaches them to appreciate the victories. It is actually great for their self-esteem! Life is going to smack them pretty hard eventually, and if they've never had to turn the other cheek, you have done them no favors. So let them fail. Protect them from the big stuff, fine; but allowing a series of little failures will result in big successes for all. Go ahead...you can do it.
3. They know the difference between adults and kids: Ever have that kid that comes over for a playdate with your kid but instead of running around or building legos spends the whole time following you around trying to engage you in a discussion about the changing trends in modern economic theory? If you have, you know exactly what I mean here. Some parent has made the crucial mistake of making his kid think that everything that comes out of his mouth is a priceless little nugget. The poor kid has been done a terrible disservice. His parents have made the mistake of making him believe that he is an adult, and that the grownups value what he has to say and what he thinks. Unfortunately for him, as a grownup, I'm here to say, I don't care what he/she thinks.
I don't mean that I believe kids should be seen and not heard...but I kinda do....almost. We should listen to our kids and take what they say seriously, but to allow them to think that they are equal, is to invite disaster and deny them the most fun day in any adult's life. You know, the one where you FINALLY get to say, "Because I said so" or, "Someday when you are an adult, you can make your own decisions," and my personal favorite, "Because I'm your mother, that's why." No further explanation necessary.
Trust me; no one wants to have the kid that needs the 10 minute explanation for everything you do and no one wants him for a playdate. Let them be kids!
4. They communicate, communicate, and communicate some more: I think that it's possible that this is the most important factors in raising kids. You must talk to them all the time. You need to repeat, re-teach, and review. If you want to be sure your kids know what you mean, then you must tell them; a simple concept, but it's amazing how many parents assume kids know something, when they actually have no idea. You must put it out there and speak the words directly and repeatedly.
If a topic is uncomfortable for you to discuss, get over it and get into it, because if you don't, how does your child know they way you feel about it? If you don't want your child to drink alcohol or take drugs or have sex before adulthood or marriage, then you must say those things. As a kid walks out the door at age 16 to go to a party, your saying, "be careful, don't do anything stupid," says nothing. Keeping the lines of communication open at all ages is imperative. Parents who talk to their kids are more successful parents. Duh.
5. They give their kids CLEAR boundaries and high expectations: If you are communicating well already, setting your boundaries and expectations will be easier and more effective. Most kids want to rise to the occasion and aim to please. So talk, talk, talk about what you expect and set clear, high expectations. If kids believe you believe in them, they will try to achieve. Really!
The problems occur because a lot of parents believe that kids don't want boundaries. This is just not true. Believe it or not, their sense of security and well being comes, in part, from knowing that it is the adult in charge and in control, not them. Teens will still test that boundary and your authority over it over and over again and if the line constantly shifts, so will their behavior. The constant shifting is scary for kids, so define the boundary and discuss the consequences for crossing it.
Then if and, more likely, when they cross, you need to enforce those consequences. Draw the line, guard the line, enforce the line. And make it a high line. Don't be surprised when they reach and exceed all of your expectations.
6. They act as a team and are consistent: Kids smell weakness. It's a gift, really. If you and your spouse are on different pages, or disagree, they will exploit it and kill you slowly and painfully. Get together, get serious, and get firm. Decide ahead of time what you both expect and how you will proceed when rules are broken and lines are crossed. If you don't, trust me, it gets ugly for everyone involved.
7. They teach and expect independence: This is really hard. The bottom line is that your job is to prepare your kids to leave you and be able to live independently. Sob, sob, sob. It's brutal. You give them the best years of your life, and then, off they go with barely a glance back. That is, if you did it right. IF you didn't they are living in your basement at age 25 with 2 dogs, possibly Ashley from the old neighborhood and a toddler or two.
As a parent, the hardest thing is to let go. But you must. Take moments as they grow up to instill independence and make them feel capable. Let them find their way through a city on the subway. Let them drive on the highways and go on the camping trip with their friends. You will chew all of your fingernails, imagine the phone call from the state police and prepare your outfit for the ER, but it will all be worth it because they will become independent, self assured, successful adults. And they won't be living in your basement.
8. They demonstrate love and respect: This seems so simple, but again, it's often not. Tell your kids that you love them. Tell them that there is nothing they can do that would make you not love them. I tell my kids that there are times when I may not like them, but I will always love them. Hug them, show them that you love your spouse. Demonstrate what a loving relationship looks like and form strong familial bonds. Simple, but oh so important.
9. They aren't their kids' best friends: For some, this is one of the greatest challenges. Repeat this mantra: "You are their parent, not their friend." Your kid has friends and doesn't need you to be one of them. If you try to be, I promise you, your kid is laughing behind your back at your ridiculous attempts.
Your child needs a parent. If you do your job well, then you will end up with an adult that you will be happy to call friend. But in the meantime, stop being afraid to make them mad at you. They don't need to like you. They need to love and respect you, but they should not be counting you among their buddies. Buzz off, mom and dad...you've got your own peeps.
10. They admit when they are wrong: I know I get it wrong a fair amount of the time. Failure is ok, remember? Tell your kids that you made a mistake; that perhaps you misjudged a situation or two. Explain to them that there are times when you are unsure and that you might have a bit of a learning curve or two to deal with yourself. Admitting when you are wrong, and that you don't always have all the answers says a lot to your kid about who you are and how much you value them. A great deal of trust must exist in a relationship for that discussion to take place, and your child will recognize and respect that.
The bottom line is that parenting is a job that is not for the weak, or the lazy, or the quitters.
So hang in, eventually and in some interesting ways, it all pays off. Until then, be strong!
Do you know any excellent parents? If so, how do they do it?
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