Being a parent is hard work.
It's often said that parenting is the hardest job out there. While I tend to think farming or other labor intensive jobs might not always be a bundle of fun, I do tend to agree with this statement. While parenting doesn't always have the physically taxing piece, the mental exhaustion and the em otional part gets me every time. I've met parents who absolutely love being moms and dads, but I have never met anyone who has told me parenting is easy. I often tell people that my children are my greatest joy and my greatest challenge. Boys and girls aren't any different. They are just super fun and seriously maddening in different ways.
When I was doing some research and thinking about how to tie up this parenting series, I came across this amazing list on parents.com: "50 Easy Ways to be a Fantastic Parent." Upon reading the title, I almost chuckled somewhat out of disbelief and somewhat out of how easy it sounds. Sure, if I could just do these 50 things, I will be fantastic! YES! When I took time to review the list though, it became abundantly clear that the suggestions don't actually take a lot of time, and they don't need to be done daily. But, they do need to be done and done intentionally so we can continue raising up awesome humans. I've chosen my ten favorites and I want to share why I think they are the most important parenting tips to keep in mind.
1. Don't clip their wings.
If your child came home from school one day and asked if you would allow them to be a helicopter pilot or movie star, would you be okay with that? I am a huge supporter of my kids and I want them to choose professions that make them truly happy. If that means sending them to special schools or allowing them to participate in classes outside of school, I'm down with that. I will do anything in my power to enable them to be the best they can. I want to equip them with the skills they need to make their dreams come true. That's my job as their mama.
However, I'm also a realist. Not all of us have tremendous amounts of money or connections to money. Sometimes we can't afford intensive training for our kids. (I should know. I have a daughter who wants to be an Olympic gymnast.) While we can't always give them everything, we can give them praise and encouragement. We can cheer them on. It is huge. No, don't clip there wings to keep them close. Cheer them on every step of the way and watch them soar!
2. Pick your battles.
My nine year old girls and my seven boy know everything. I know it might be surprising, but somehow in their short lives, they have managed to learn more than I have in my entire lifetime. There is no reason for me to tell them anything because they already know it. Because they are such knowledgeable children, I choose to not argue with them unless it is something that makes them or someone else unsafe. For example, when I tell them to put on a coat and they don't listen, I don't argue. I simply let them get a little chilly. If I tell them to put their toys away and they don't listen causing parts to be lost or broken, I do not replace the toy. Had they obeyed, this wouldn't be a problem. Natural consequences are a beautiful thing. Before you dig into them and really start a battle, consider whether or not it is entirely necessary. Sometimes it is and sometimes it really isn't. Pick your battles and let nature run its course.
3. Play with them.
Spending time with our kids is super important. A fairly recent study by USA Today showed that on average moms spend about 104 minutes caring for their kids each day. Dads reportedly spend 56 minutes caring for their kids. This made me super sad. There are 1,440 minutes in each day. When you subtract sleeping hours, that leaves less than 900 minutes to spend with our kids. That means that only roughly 11% of our day is spent with our kiddos for mamas and less for dads. We need to put down our phones and work and play just for a little while. Strive for twelve or fifteen percent. Nurtured children who know they are loved become confident and strong adults. Show them how fun it is to be creative. Practice role playing so they learn how to deal with tough situations. Let them be kids. Soon enough they will be older and they will have to deal with things that older people deal with. Allow them the freedom to do the kid thing. It's a super important part of their lives.
4. Make memories.
This one is pretty self explanatory, but, hey, I like to write so here goes. Take time away from regular life and make some awesome memories. Put down your cell phone and/or camera and just live in the moment. Go to the park or go sledding or take a day trip for no good reason. Drink in the joy and laughter. Cherish them when they are little because you might blink and miss it. When your children are grown, these are the things that they will remember.
5. Trust you gut.
There will be things from time to time that don't go as planned. Your child might get invited over to a friend's house, but you don't know them well and you are feeling uneasy. Maybe your child is showing unusual symptoms and the doctor isn't quick to diagnose. Perhaps your child is struggling at school, but, like me, your child's teacher thinks you are crazy when you request that he be evaluated. (You can read this story in Special Needs: One Mother's Story.) There are these innate feelings that settle deep in our parental being. That is where your gut lies. If your gut instinct tells you something isn't right, trust it. Dig deeper. Ask questions. Research the situation until one of two things happen: you are proven right or you are proven wrong. We were created with these deep, intense mom and dad feelings for a reason. Use them because chances are...you are probably right. No one else can parent your children like you do so trust your instincts and do your thing.
6. Don't allow them to disrespect you.
Kids learn quick. The number of times I have heard people liken the brains of children to sponges is uncanny. While they learn how to read and write and play sports and so on, they can learn some not so good behaviors, too. If one of those behaviors is to show disrespect to you, call them out. Consistently bad behaviors turn into bad habits. Allowing your child to disrespect you once or twice may not seem like a big deal, but if it continues, it can cause serious problems with control.
When my children do something that I feel is disrespectful towards me, I will often ask them why they felt the need to address me that way. Additionally, I tell them that I cannot help them with what they are demanding until they ask me in a kind and respectful tone. It doesn't take long before this practice also turns into a habit. Then, those polite requests become habits, too. No, my advice isn't full proof, but it is a good place to start.
7. Don't spoil them.
Giving kids everything they want can be incredibly dangerous. Be empowered and use your authority as a parent wisely. It is okay to say no as long as you also say yes sometimes. Your yes's should always outweigh your no's. The word "no" can sometimes strike a chord with kiddos depending on what memories or situations are attached to it. Our newly adopted daughter struggles with the word "no." Because we know this, we have adjusted our parenting to use words such as "later" or "wait." Using these words can soften the blow a little and hopefully, your child can wait until later to have or do what it is that they wanted to do in the first place. Leave the spoiling for Christmas, birthdays, or other special occasions throughout the year.
8. Keep food interesting and have them try it again and again.
I always feel a little sad when I hear from other parents who say that they have to cook two meals each night. One meal for the family and chicken nuggets or mac and cheese for one or several kids who have a more "selective pallet." Friends, I am not a doctor, but through my previous work as a child care center director, I have counseled many parents on this topic. Make yummy food and offer it to the whole family. Ask your child to take one bite each time. If they eat more, fine. If they don't, fine. Here's the great thing about humans: when we are hungry, we eat. Kids are no different. No need to make more dishes. If they are hungry, they will eat.
9. Teach them to respect others.
This beautiful world that we live in is made up of all kinds of people. People might look different, do different jobs, have various beliefs, and make lots of decisions that affect others in one way or the other. Some have more money than others. Regardless of what makes us the same or different, we all have amazing traits, qualities, and gifts that set us apart. One person isn't any better than another. When I try to teach my children about race, I often talk about eggs. There are brown eggs, white eggs, light tan eggs, spotted eggs, and even green eggs. The outer shell of an egg might look different, but when you crack an eggs open, each one has a yoke and white. People might look different on the outside, but inside we are the same.
Teaching children to respect people who look and act different than they do is easy. Here is how you do it: BE NICE! That's all. Just be nice. We don't all have to agree. In fact, I tend to think that if we were all the same, the world would be quite boring. Be polite to people who aren't nice to you. Smile at everyone you see in your path. If someone looks pretty or does something kind, tell them. Before you know it, your kids will notice. You are their favorite role model. Give them something amazing to see.
10. Respect your spouse's parenting style.
For me, this is a toughy. Even though my husband and I have very similar beliefs and values, our parenting styles are quite different. My husband is an Army National Guard Veteran and much of his discipline was learned through his military training. Because of this, he doesn't have a lot of time for messing around. When he asks (or tells) our children to do something, he expects them to comply NOW. Not five minutes from now. Right now. He doesn't care what they are in the middle of. When he asks them to do something, they best get moving. I am much different and I tend to react in a more relaxed fashion. I like to give warnings and then I will remind my children to do something a couple times before I issue a consequence.
Does this sometimes cause tension in our house? Most definitely. When parents aren't on the same page, it can mean big problems in the home. Though my hubs and I don't always agree, we make it our personal mission to not fight in front of our kids. If we don't agree, we talk about it calmly or in private. Are we perfect? Mercy, no, but we try. I try to respect his style and he tries to respect mine. My way isn't always right. His way isn't always right. However, as a team, we can handle even the toughest parenting challenges.
Support one another. Appreciate your spouses differences. As long as they aren't harming your children, it is probably going to be alright. They are the only people on the planet who know what it means to love your little people as much as you do. Give him or her a chance to work at it with you.