I don't believe that there is one right way to parent. We all make the choices that work for our children and families, so I only offer advice here in a "this is what worked for me" sort of way, and I encourage you to take what works for you, if anything, and leave the rest. My kids are now 16 and 10, and we've been through a lot together. These are simply things that I feel are pretty universal when it comes to parenting, and living.
1. Violence is never the answer.
My eldest was quiet, highly observant and simply a joy to be around the vast majority of the time. Then I had the second one, whose multiple nicknames include So Very Violent, Tiny Hellbeast and Chocolate Face. She is an absolute blast, but she's also crazy and incredibly obstinate. When she was around 3, I took the advice of a friend.
I had already decided after spanking my eldest on a couple of occasions and feeling that it was useless and unjust that I did not want to resort to spanking as a parenting tool. My friend confided that when her kids misbehaved or threw fits in public, she would pick them up and discreetly pinch their bottoms in order to get their attention.
It was some time later that I remembered this advice, on the day my youngest threw an epic tantrum in a grocery store, complete with melting to the floor like a limp doll. I was at my wit's end and picked her up and pinched her bottom. She did immediately stop crying, in total shock, then took a deep breath and yelled, "WHY DID YOU HURT ME, MOMMY? WHY? YOU HURT ME! MY MOMMY HURT ME!"
I was mortified, ashamed and scared that someone would call the police or CPS, so I left my cart where it stood and went home and cried. Needless to say, I also scratched pinching off my list of parenting tools that day. Her response may have been dramatic, but it was justified. I had hurt her, and without good reason, because there is never a good reason. I did what I like to have done to me when I've been hurt: I apologized.
That plays in to my next piece of advice:
2. They are humans, albeit small ones. Treat them with the same respect that you give humans of your own size.
"Would I do this to another adult?" is a great question to ask yourself when dealing with your children. Of course, there are certain things that it doesn't work with, like blowing raspberries on bellies. You should definitely do that to kiddos even though you wouldn't do it to an adult, at least not one you don't know well.
As a rule, though, it is sometimes easy to forget that kids are small people, especially when they are acting like tiny monsters. When I only had my first I probably would have said that no kids are tiny monsters, but my response after having the second one is: HAHAHAHAHA!!!!
The Golden Rule applies here as well. I try to put myself in my kids' shoes and think about how I would feel in their place, and as a result I try to give them as much control over their decisions as possible. I definitely have the final say and have resorted to "because I said so," but I try to reserve that for the big things.
3. Have fun!
So often when parenting struggles have come up, I have found that if I make things playful it makes a world of difference. For a toddler, this might mean making funny faces, turning things into song, and making up silly games that become a part of your family culture. For a teen, do the same thing. It may result in an eye roll, but there's always a little smile too.
This one comes with a warning, though -- be careful what you start, especially with toddlers. "AGAIN!" is their favorite word in the entire world. My youngest hated when the sun would shine brightly on her in the car, and I made the mistake of taking on the character of "Mr. Sun," who has a deep voice and way too much wisdom to impart. I had to play Mr. Sun for almost two years. I came to hate him, intensely.
Also included here is: PLAY. Like, actually play. Let yourself be transported to your own childhood and really be in the game, whatever it is. Your health and your children will thank you. This might not be possible all the time, but truly engaging in play has physical and emotional benefits for you and is an amazing bonding experience.
4. Be honest, and real.
Kids are smart and they will see right through your lies, so don't do it. Certainly I'm not advocating brutal honesty and telling kids things that they are unable to grasp or would be inappropriate for them to hear, but do tell them about the things that affect them in a straightforward and age appropriate way.
You and they are going to go through traumas. Some of ours have been the divorce of their dad and I, and more recently the deaths of their step-brother and great grandma in the space of three months. Life is hard, and it's OK for them to see you be real as you grapple with both the everyday struggles and the big stuff. Try not to sweat the small stuff, and don't try to hide the big stuff from them.
5. Most of all, love them. Love them so hard.
There will be phases that are so difficult, and you will be tearing out your hair and wandering around like a zombie because you haven't slept and your heart is full of worry and you haven't showered in days. You WILL get through it, and on the other side, believe it or not, you will miss it. You will miss the good times and you will even miss the hard times, because things do get easier, and then suddenly they are on the brink of adulthood and you won't know where the time went. So love them, and show them that love -- snuggles, hugs, carving out time that is just for each of them, play games, read together -- whatever it is that will bring you closer.
Never, and I repeat never, take a large group of 4-6-year-olds to the movie theater for a birthday party and tell parents they are welcome to either stay or go. They will pull up, push their kid(s) out of the car, give you the, "You are totally INSANE but I'm gonna take advantage of it" look, and roll out like a bat out of hell. You will look back on those three hours of insanity for the rest of your life, and never be able to answer the question, "What on earth was I thinking?"