I have been thinking recently about what it means to be a parent. This could be, perhaps, because I am surrounded by pictures of my children (now adults) at work and at home. Or because another Mother’s Day has come and gone.
My thinking about parenting could also have something to do with the way it has been in the news lately. Everything from the college admissions scandal to a recent New York Times article on the “Relentlessness of Modern Parenting” seems to indicate that parents across all races and socio-economic categories are very focused on their kids’ success, working hard to assure that their children will have better lives than they had. Not a bad thing until it goes overboard. There is even a name for it, “the snowplow parent” who tries to remove every obstacle from their child’s path.
Finding the balance between active support and encouraging independence is challenging, so in the interest of putting my two cents into the conversation, here are some things I’ve learned, often the hard way, in nearly 30 years of parenting.
- Tell your kids that you love them. Tell them a lot, and then tell them some more. Eventually, when they start to roll their eyes and say “I know, I know – you love me!” then you’ll know that they are beginning to hear you.
- Help your kids understand that while in many ways your world revolves around them, the world in general does not. This means they will learn to share with others, take their turn, and come to the challenging but important realization that life is not always fair and in the immortal words of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want.”
- Find ways to enable and encourage your kids to give back to the community through volunteer projects or the sharing of their talents. It will help them learn how to be part of a community as an adult.
- When you lose your cool, or make a mistake, apologize to your kids. It really is OK to say “I’m sorry.” It will make them respect you more, not less, and it helps them learn how and when to apologize.
- Let your kids see you laugh at yourself when you do something goofy. Again, it models a useful skill they will need later in life.
- Model for them healthy adult relationships – with spouses, friends, extended family and others. If that isn’t always possible, at least model civility.
- Learn to let your children go when it’s time. Let them try new things, explore new territory, and eventually leave the nest. Trust that the values they’ve watched you live will stay with them as they grow and mature. This is tough one because it never feels like they are ready, but really, it is more likely you who is not ready for them to go.
Whoever said that being a parent was not for the faint of heart had it exactly right and most of us learn as we go, pray a lot and keep our fingers crossed. If our kids grow up to make (mostly) good decisions and be people of honesty and integrity then I guess we’ll know it worked.