My favorite thing in the world to be is a parent. There is nothing else that comes close, no other job that I prefer. Job? Yes, I said job. Being a parent is not all about fun and games; it’s real work (for those of you who are not parents yet). The funny thing about being a parent is that there are a lot of bad ones out there. Now, I am not a professional parent, nor am I a professional parent trainer, but I have some confidence in my ability as a parent. Partially because of my pal, Snax, who typically keeps me in check by saying (and more than once, I may add), “You’re a suspect human being, but a spectacular father.” This might sound wrong, but I can live with that statement. Joking aside, I know Patricia and I have done a nice job with the kids so far. I feel I have been more successful in parenting than in anything else I have done.
My son is off on a five day trip with his classmates to further enhance his ability to become an independent learner. It’s the first time he will be away from us for this long and not be with family. Although we know he will be fine and learn a lot, this is still pretty unsettling for Patricia and me. We have been through this once before with his big sister, so it’s not as traumatic as when she went with her 5th grade class, but still, I am not looking forward to the next four nights. His departure has me thinking about parenting and things I have noticed that we have done right, and other things we are not so good at. Mostly, the “not so good” stuff has to do with letting go. Now, he’s only 10, and she’s going on 13, so there is still some time for mom and dad to hold on tight, but we don’t want to smother them, either. It’s an unbelievable balancing act. Being a parent is all about providing great balance.
Here are a few things I have learned over the past 13 years of parenting that I would like to share. Please remember, I’m not a certified expert; this is solely my opinion, but I do think the results, thus far, speak for themselves. There are more, but here are my five unscientific rules of balance for being a parent (in no particular order):
1) You cannot be your child’s friend. I wish that it could be possible, and maybe it can once they are an adult, but while your child is growing up, your job is not to be a friend. Your job is to provide a balance of love and discipline to make sure they know they are important, yet not above the rules and regulations.
2) Once you make a statement, you have to stick to it – even when it kills you. In order for your kids to listen to you, they have to know you mean business. How is that possible if you are wishy-washy? They need to have the confidence and belief that when you say something, it is the law. Now, it might not actually be the law and you could possibly change your mind, but when you take away your child’s video games, TV, and all electronics for two weeks, you’ve got to stick to it. In retrospect, you may later feel taking them away for two weeks was a bit rash for the infraction, but you need to stay true to your word, otherwise they will walk all over you. We have all seen and heard it before, “Timmy, one more time and you will lose your privileges, I mean it this time, Timmy… Timmy…” Yeah, you think Timmy thinks his mother means business? No chance. So when you make statements, be sure to stick to them. Be very careful of your statements, and make sure you can implement the words that come out of your mouth; saying that you are taking things away for the rest of their life is not helping your cause.
3) Do what you say you are going to do. Very similar to #2, but let’s look at it less in the disciplinary form and more in the promises area. If you make a promise to your child and you break it, you are eroding the relationship you have with her or him. Don’t do it. At all costs, keep your promises. A good pal of mine, Matt Ryan, once told me, “Put your kids’ events in your calendar just as if they were a business meeting.” Build your schedule around those events, and you will attend more than you ever imagined you could. He was right, and it was great advice. Once they are in your schedule, make damn sure you can make the event before promising your kid. Every broken promise is another broken piece to the relationship. Be ultra careful and responsible when you are making promises.
4) Communicate with your kids. Explain the boundaries to your children, and stick to them. Put rules into place to keep them safe, happy, and respectful, and make sure there are consequences if they are broken. If you do, in fact, communicate with your children and talk and listen each and every day, you will find that they break the rules much less frequently. I know life is busy and that when you get home from work after being nagged at by your boss and customers, you just want to relax and not deal. Well, too bad. As a parent, you have to be on all the time, and your state of existence has to be put aside for theirs. I also recommend eating dinner together as many nights of the week as possible. I know every night can be tough, but make sure you sit at the dinner table with your family and discuss the day and what happened. Listen, tell stories, and advise; make sure your kids know you’re there and that you care. The more time you spend together as a family, the better.
5) Tell them you love them often. You cannot tell your children that you love them enough. When you see them, give them big hugs. Let them know they are the most important part of your life. Tell them they are wonderful and that you are proud of them. Instill confidence in them. You can’t just be a disciplinarian; you have to balance all of that out with love. Be real to your kids; let them know who you are and that you, too, have made mistakes. If you show them love and respect, they will give it to others. If you show them fun and laughter, they will do the same. Don’t let the drudgery of your own life interfere with loving your child and making them know that you love them.
I realize these are not unearthed parenting secrets, and by no means do they stop with these points. The reality is that you have to pay attention to your kids and always provide the right balance of love and discipline. There are no guarantees, but if you do so, the likelihood is that they will turn out to be well-rounded, happy kids who will become well-adjusted, happy adults. And as a parent, that is your job.