I recently shared my list of what I worried about too much as a parent that turned out to be utterly irrelevant. Stuff like my excessive yelling and lack of patience when my three kids acted up in public.
Now it’s time to share what, in hindsight, are the big things I did right. Just like the crazy stuff I worried about too much, I also had no clue when my kids were toddlers how important these practices would turn out to be now:
- As my kids grew, so did the number of our pets. Each of my three kids has their own cat, plus one for me, one outside cat, one dog, and a horse. Along the way, there were several goldfish and hermit crabs too. Having pets taught my kids how to give love and kindness like nobody’s business. Pets may not work for every family, due to allergies, apartment size, shift schedules, etc. But the point remains: every family can do SOMETHING that develops kindness in kids. So lesson one was: Teach kids empathy.
- Zero tolerance for violence. My kids never watched violence on any kind of screen, whether it was a video game, TV set, or movie theater. Sex, sure – my daughter watched Juno when she was nine and 40 Year Old Virgin when she was 11. But violence? Taboo. This has worked nicely.
- Physical safety comes first. My one justifiable 24/7 worry was keeping my kids alive. From the moment each child slid into the world, my job was to make sure each one survived childhood. I mandated seatbelts, lifejackets, helmets, and constant adult supervision until the day I was certain no child would swallow a toothpick, stick their head in the toilet, jump into a neighbor’s fish pond, or bike into traffic when no one was looking. Someone was always looking – and that someone was always me, because no one had momma radar that rivaled mine. These days, the safety focus has shifted to birth control, safe driving, healthy relationships, and honesty about alcohol and drugs. In retrospect, safety may be the one thing I never worried about too much.
- I didn’t ban technology – kids today need it to survive – but I used common sense to limit the tech tools that struck me as most destructive to my kids. Limits may vary for each family, and every individual child. In my house, no kid could have a Facebook page until age 15. This made me distinctly unpopular. But by 15, kids seem to learn not to cyber bully others. FB became a communication tool, not a weapon of psychological destruction.
- Back off and let kids develop their own confidence. From age 5 or 6 my children ran errands to the corner store alone. They slept at friends’ and relatives’ houses solo with no check-in phone call from me. They packed their suitcases for trips. They learned to cook frozen pizza and spaghetti. They did their homework unaided. My 17-year-old basketball-crazed son got himself to and from multiple tournaments in Vegas and Florida alone. Part of my reasoning was pure selfishness — independent children are easier to parent – but bit by bit, my kids learned they could handle the big bad world on their own.
- Laugh. When I wasn’t yelling at my kids, I was laughing with them – at them, at myself, at the absurdity of parenthood, at the hilarious and heartrending things my kids said and did. Family life is a comedy. We are our only audience. A good belly laugh was almost always on its way, no matter how frustrated or exhausted or angry I was.
- Love. I told my kids, and still tell them, “I love you” daily. Sometimes, many times a day. Nowadays, I often hear them telling me, each other, their dad, and their close friends “I love you” back. This makes me a very happy mom.
Your list may be totally, utterly different from mine, and from all other parents including your spouse. No matter. Because my last piece of advice is: make sure your “I did this right” list is longer than your “I worried too much” list. Raising kids is a blast, as long as we don’t let worry ruin the fun.
What have you done right?