Before I had kids, I was absolutely positive that I knew the right way to raise children. Now that I have a two-year-old son and a two-month old daughter… I still think I know the right way to raise children, mostly because I haven’t had them long enough to completely ruin them yet.
Having kids is great, but it gets so hectic so fast that it’s important to go in with some kind of game plan already in mind. Below, I share with you, gentle reader, my game plan. I’m sure it will have to be tweaked and amended as we go along, but it’s what I’m going with for now.
When looking for parenting tips, it only makes sense to look to people with a record of success — parents who have raised happy, well-adjusted kids who have done great things like staying out of jail and using only health-department-approved tattoo parlors. Sadly, I can’t offer you a sterling pedigree like that yet. What I can offer is my own parenting philosophy which, though unproven, I have the utmost confidence in, and which seems to be kind of working so far.
1) Whatever else you do, it all has to be based on a foundation of love.
“Hey, brainiac,” you say, “I don’t need you to tell me to love my kids.” Well, yeah, that’s pretty easy advice to give. But what I’m saying here is not just to love them, but to make sure that they know you love them.
As time goes on, I’m going to be asking my kids to do some really unpopular things — work hard, delay gratification, don’t throw poop at cops, etc. My entreaties will mean more if I establish a relationship that shows how important they are to me. You can’t do that with children just by saying it, no matter how thoughtfully written your text messages are. The only way kids will know that they matter to you is if you show them.
When they ask you to play with them, stop what you’re doing, get down in the floor and play with them. Be concerned about their concerns and interested in their interests. Of course you can’t do this all the time, but do it as much as you can, especially at the very beginning, when they’re young and impressionable and still forming those bonds that will define your relationship. It may not seem to matter when they’re one or two or three years old, but it does, because…
2) Children, even very tiny ones, are people.
They’re not pets, and they’re not home decor. They are people. They have preferences; they get excited about some things and worried about others. And on top of that, they’re extremely perceptive people who soak up and internalize everything that comes into contact with them. Just keep that in mind.
3) Never make your children think that they are a burden to you.
See above comment about children being perceptive. So often, I hear parents complain about having to do things for their kids, while the kids are standing right there in front of them. Dude, they can hear you! Don’t treat your kids like you’re a bellboy and they’re a set of luggage you’ve been ordered to haul up to the 20th floor. They pick up on stuff like that.
I’m not saying you have to be happy, happy, joy, joy all the time. Parenting is tough on good days, and some days are tougher than others. But your kids are not the complaint department. Blow off steam somewhere else.
4) Pick your battles.
I know that I’m going to have to tell my kids “no” a lot. That’s just the way it is when you’re dealing with people who don’t yet understand the difference between water and toilet water. So, I try hard to do it as little as possible. If their intentions are good (and, yes, you can judge the intentions of very young children) and they’re not hurting themselves, destroying property, or ruining everyone else’s dinner, I try to let them go.
5) The battles you pick must be won as early, and as decisively, as possible.
When you do tell your kids “no,” make sure it really means “no.” Don’t drag it out, don’t turn it into a negotiation. There will be battles of wills. For the sake of your kids, you’ve got to win them.
I don’t blame kids for forcing showdowns with their parents. That’s kind of their job. Every morning they get up and check to see if they’re the boss. Because, who knows? They might be. It is your job as the parent to make it clear that they are not the boss. You are the boss.
Maybe you’re hesitant to try to win these battles because you’re not that confident in your opinions in the first place. Trust me, you would have to be wrong a lot to be a worse decision maker than a five- or ten- or fifteen-year-old. Be the boss.
6) Act like you want them to act.
Be kind when you don’t have to be. Be respectful to your elders. Don’t complain all the time. Stand up to bullies. You will do much more to shape them with your example then you ever will with your words. I know, terrifying, right?
7) Now, try to be consistent.
This is the impossible part. You’re never going to hit all the notes you want to hit all the time. Don’t let that discourage you. Even if you feel like you’ve screwed up in the past, you are still your kids’ best chance. Go back to that foundation of love part and build from there.