I've spent nearly 23 years being a parent, and if there's anything I know for sure, it's this: children learn what they live. You can talk until you're blue in the face, but if you don't act as you speak, your kids won't take to heart the things that you say.
Among many others, here are 10 things I taught my now-grown children, guidelines that work for me and that I follow nearly all the time. It's not easy figuring out grown-up life, but hopefully these things help them as often as possible.
- Never go anywhere empty-handed. No matter what type of event you're invited to at someone's home -- from a dinner for two to a party for dozens, always bring a little something for the host or hostess. Whether it's an inexpensive bottle of wine or a pretty pad of paper and pen, a gift is mandatory.
- Along those lines, go when you're invited. Unless it's something completely out of your comfort zone -- say, a wife-swapping party or a marathon viewing of Cameron Diaz films -- always accept an invitation. You never know who you'll meet or what will happen. This is especially true during the transition from college to young adulthood, when those built-in social networks may fall away.
- Be patient and take your time. These are lessons I'm still trying to learn, but I've come a long way.
- Be nice to the outcasts. I was adamant about this when they were growing up -- having moved from school to school many times as a child, I remembered vividly how lonely it can be to feel like you don't belong. Combine that with the horrors of Columbine and other school shootings and the lesson was obvious. No one ever looked back on being mean and felt proud of it.
- When you meet someone new, ask questions. This is a no-fail approach. If you ask questions and are interested in someone when you meet them, they'll like you and remember you.
- Write thank-you notes.
- If something fits you really well, buy it in two colors.
- Leave a nice tip. Many would disagree with me on this, but unless the service is really bad, a nice tip is the kind thing to do.
- Brownies are appropriate for nearly anything. For us, no matter what happens -- good or bad -- brownies are always a good choice.
- My most important rule, the one that I believe in more than anything, is What goes around, comes around. Both of my kids have come to me over and over to share moments in their lives when they've witnessed the absolute truth of this statement -- both positive and negative.
What guidelines do you live by that you've tried to teach your children?