Anyone can become a parent; there are no tests or interviews to pass. Children can become parents, mentally disabled people, it’s even possible to become a parent while in a coma!
When my mother, who is a truly great parent still, became a mom the first time, she was 19 and had very little experience with children. The hospital gave her 1 piece of paper with instructions and sent her on her way. Dolls come with more instructions than that!
We sometimes take for granted all the information at our fingertips today that didn’t exist as recently as 30 years ago. When I was a baby, if it wasn’t in Dr. Spock’s book, Mom was on her own. Today, parents are overwhelmed with information, often conflicting, and are often, as my mother was, on their own, but with more opportunities to make an informed decision.
I have been approached many times for advice on parenting by not only parents, but also prospective parents thinking ahead. The advise I always give is: Pay Attention.
As our children grow from the highly tactical stages into more strategic years, paying attention becomes more critical. Pay attention to who their friends are, starting at an early age. You can learn a lot about your own child by getting to know their friends. You may also want to limit exposure to some kids, you’re allowed to do that. (I’ve been known to say that I didn’t want a child at my house, but always give a reasonable reason why.)
Also, talk with your children. The subject matter isn’t always important during the younger ages, but keeping those lines of communication open will become more critical as they grow. When they have a problem with another child, role play with them. You be your child and have them play the part of the ‘perpetrator’. You’ll be teaching them how to handle their own problems as well as good communication skills. Keep in mind that a 7-year-old doesn’t always have the vocabulary they need to express themselves you need to teach them.
Pay attention to what your child reads and the language she uses. Get to know her teachers and principal. Talk with other parents about their experiences for comparison. Pay attention to what your children wear, what their friends wear and current fashion. Keep it weather appropriate and pick your battles. Too much belly showing may be inappropriate for a 10 year old. Watch for gang-type clothing or accessories. These choices in our young children can be indicative of a problem requiring your intervention, so pay attention.
As your children grow older, they still need you to demonstrate that you care by setting strong boundaries on their behavior. My mother never needed to enforce much of a curfew on me since all my friends had them and there wasn’t much going on late in Rapid City, SD. She insisted, however, on knowing where I was and who I was with AT ALL TIMES even after I had my own car.
Pay attention to how your children spend their money start young. Teaching fiscal responsibility is one of the most important items on your job description. Modeling irresponsibility and debt acquisition will not help your kids grow into fiscally responsible adults. Teach your boys and girls how to save, shop for the best price, budget, work, balance a checkbook, invest, etc.
Along those same lines, teach your children to cook and clean, and require some of these jobs as their contribution to the family team and start early here, too. My 8 year old began cooking this year canned soup and Kraft macaroni and cheese! Model good eating habits and teach them to do menu planning and grocery shopping. When they leave home, you will want them to do their own laundry trust me!
The bottom line is: You are preparing human beings for adulthood. If your offspring are happy during the process, that’s wonderful, but not the primary directive. Being happy all the time is simply not realistic anyway. When they leave you around age 18, they need to know how to get along with people, get and hold a job, manage their money and their time, be responsible for their behavior and potentially lead others.