I wrote this post a couple of years ago, for a friend who needed a guest post on her blog. She has since shut down her site, so I thought I’d post it here!
My husband Jim and I are successful parents. Really. If we were in Oprah’s magazine, our mad parenting skillz would be featured on her “What I Know For Sure” page. Of course we are not the only successful parents in the world, but we’re the only ones that matter…to our kids. I am happy to report that our boys are fine, upstanding young men–and it’s not only because we think so: that’s the general consensus from everybody who knows them. Whenever I write about our methods or tell people stories, I get responses that are positive and sometimes bordering on awestruck. The awe confuses me sometimes. We are NOT all that and a bag of chips. We are NOT doing anything that is magical. Want our “secrets”? Get a pencil and paper. (Or not, considering you have a keyboard and monitor at your disposal; pencil and paper is SO 20th Century!)
I can tell you the three major parenting secrets that we swear by: consistency, teamwork, and the ability to keep your eyes on the prize. The first two need very little explanation so I will cover them briefly and spend more time on the last one.
Really, you can’t have any kind of household rules that you expect everybody to follow without being consistent about consequences. If you say that your kid is going to be grounded for three days from playing outside because he locked his brother in the closet and wouldn’t let him out, don’t let him go outside on the second day because his behavior is especially good. If he does the crime, he has to do the time. Conversely, if you have promised some kind of reward for your kid if she achieves something special, you’d better make sure you follow through. Every time. You lose a little bit of credibility with your kids if you are inconsistent; they won’t take you seriously. And this starts when they’re toddlers.
For us, teamwork is twofold. First, Jim and I live by the Cliff and Claire Huxtable family model. It’s us against them. Period. We were there alone first, and we will be left there alone when the kids grow up and out. Sticking together is a must. If Jim and I disagree, we discuss it privately and come to a compromise. Period. Our kids know that there’s a bad storm a’comin if they ever try to play their parents against each other. They’ve known this since they were toddlers.
The other part of this teamwork thing is “Whole Family-based”. We’re in this together. We’re in it to win it. All for one and one for all. There’s no “I” in Family. Oh, I guess there is. What I mean is, there’s no “I” in Team. We expect our kids to help out around here at an age-appropriate level. Considering that they are now teens (and taller than Jim and me) with able bodies and mostly sound minds, we expect alot once the schoolwork is done. Though they get a microscopic allowance–I’m sure that we are probably paying them something along the lines of the average allowance from 1962–we don’t hook allowances to chores. Rather, we tell them that they must do their chores because they are part of the family, and we all have to do our part to keep the household from imploding. We started teaching this concept starting–guess when!–when they were toddlers.
Keeping Your Eyes on the Prize:
This is where parents (especially of our generation) fall short on a regular basis. This is the one that drives me insane; I regularly observe other parents who take the “easy way out” to get a desirable short term outcome on many situations, when they don’t consider what kind of child they are going to end up with in the end. This is the one that makes me want to pull my hair out and run screaming into the woods when I observe the disconnect. This is the one where I just can’t figure out why some parents seem to think it’s okay for their kids to do whatever the heck they want until about age five or six and then wonder why they can’t get their kid to behave. This is the one that is difficult to write about because I try my best not to judge people but I usually end up seeming very judgmental (sorry in advance!). This is the one where “This is hurting me more than it’s hurting you” is a very real, honest statement, because Parenting is Hard.
My sister and I were raised by great parents. I don’t think they were overly strict; rather they were just firm and consistent. We were taken out in public often from the very beginning, and we were taught how to behave. I vividly remember our Dad telling us after an evening out with their friends, “So and so thought you girls behaved so well. I’m so proud of you!” That stuck with me, for sure. If the subject ever comes up nowadays, he’ll say, “Oh yeah, you acted out in restaurants once. ONCE.”
Jim and I strive to parent in many of the same ways: and it’s not easy to be firm and consistent, especially these days. But you have to be. We are jokingly accused by friends on occasion of being “mean” or “really strict”. We’re not. Do we have high expectations? Yes. But not too high. Frankly, the results have been totally outstanding, and by “results” I mean our kids.
So, here’s the call to action; a peptalk for you Mommies (and Daddies) out there who are wavering in spirit!
Parenting is NOT easy. Parenting is HARD.
It’s easy to open up a package of grocery store food you haven’t paid for yet, to quiet your whiny toddler.
It is indeed harder to teach them that you have to pay for it first (and even listen to more whining or a full-blown tantrum*). But do it.
If you don’t teach the lesson, you’ll soon realize that it’s even harder to deal with a kid who knows that if she cries hard enough in front of other people (or even in private), you will give in to her every desire.
It’s easy to let your youngster run around the department store and hide under clothing racks, wreaking havoc along the way, while you pay for your purchases; at least he’s out of your way, right?
It is indeed harder to make them stand right next to you and–gasp!–if they really need the reinforcement, hold on to your elbow, shirttail, or shopping cart for those few moments. But do it.
If you don’t make your child mind your instructions (We always said “Stay where YOU can see ME” not “Stay where I can see YOU!”), you’ll soon realize that it’s even harder to deal with a kid who thinks it’s a-okay to leave your immediate area and possibly the store you’re in, in favor of seeking out a more exciting location. (Like the wide-open space of the mall…or the parking lot??)
It’s easy to purchase anything your kid wants, including the latest technology items, and then even replace them–no questions asked–when they are lost or destroyed.
It is indeed harder to teach your child the value of earning things–and taking care of them–and that instant gratification is not a good long-run strategy, though it may feel fabulous at first. But do it.
If you don’t teach your child that he won’t be handed everything his whole life, you’ll soon realize that not only will his demands keep getting bigger and more expensive in direct relation to his age (car? house? vacations? inheritance?), but he will never become self-sufficient, which is a self-esteem breaker.
It’s easy to not have meaningful conversations with your children–whether about really big things like the birds and the bees or drugs and alcohol or smaller topics like their school day or their favorite color.
It is indeed harder to make time for them; ask them about school in a format other than a “yes or no” question…make eye contact when they are sharing their fears with you…speak with them matter-of-factly and calmly about sex, drugs, alcohol, and peer pressure so that they feel comfortable coming to you about anything. But do it.
If you don’t keep the lines of communication open starting really, really early (probably earlier than you think), you’ll soon realize that you have no clue what your kid is up to, who his friends are, and that he would rather keep secrets than talk to you. (and it gets REALLY hard around age 13-14: DON’T GIVE UP!)
There is not one “correct” way to parent. I am not the Queen of Parenting, though I do own several tiaras. I am just a girl (Okay, woman. I’m almost 40. And hated typing that.) who gets annoyed when in the presence of wussy parents who let their kids run the show from such an early age, because our children are going to run the world someday, and I’d like to be able to enjoy my old age (again, it’s coming up fairly quickly) surrounded by unspoiled, thoughtful, dependable people who know what they’re doing.
Getting back to the people who are somehow amazed at how Jim and I parent: I don’t need validation from anybody. Yes, the blog comments are lovely and because I am just *that* vain, they totally make my day. When we take our kids out to socialize with other families and our friends marvel at how fabulous my kids are**, though I am thrilled to no end when I get to tell the boys, “So and so thought you guys behaved so well. I’m so proud of you!”, it’s merely to pass on the feedback and let them know how we feel…I personally don’t need parenting compliments from friends to feel good about what we do.
What validates me and how do I know that we parent well? I see it everyday, when I watch my boys grow before my very eyes. When they offer to help clean up without my having to ask. When they carry things for, ahem, older people. When they take care of everything they need to take care of. When they take care of things they want to take care of. When they get not only a soda from the refrigerator for themselves but also for everyone else in the room. When they see that I am tired and they tell me to sit down for a while; they’ll take care of whatever I happened to be doing. When they clean their rooms without prompting. When they ask about friends or family who haven’t been well. When they, after having an argument, sit and hash it out like mature people. When they apologize for a wrong in order to make it right. When they do or say something that lets me know that they realize they represent our Family, our Team, in their actions and words.
It didn’t happen overnight, it wasn’t easy, and our journey is not finished. I am excited to see what happens next!
*A note about public displays of mayhem and foolishness: Since when is it a bad thing for kids to have a tantrum in public? Seriously! My mother tells us the story of how she had a tantrum in the parking lot right in front of their grocery store and my Grandma just walked away. I think that’s awesome. (Obviously if you do this, you would make sure that the child is not in immediate danger and that you can still see him/her) I make it a point to smile at moms and dads whose little angel has temporarily sprouted horns in public. I send as much mental love and support to them as I can because if you’re a parent (as I am, remember?), you’ve been there. As the parent of a kid throwing a tantrum, it’s hard to stand there and not be able to quiet your screaming child and it’s hella-embarrassing, but it’s way harder to later retrain a spoiled brat who has learned to get what he/she wants by screaming. Support parents of Screamers, people! Let that kid scream! Smile and nod to let them know you’ve been there!
**Admittedly, Jim and I can’t take all of the credit for our sons’ fabulousness. They have learned well and have worked hard to become the outstanding young men that they are.