It's so much easier to be a parent before you actually have kids.
BK, otherwise known as "before kids," you have all the answers. You see things clearly, as only an outsider looking in can. It's easy to believe that parenting is black and white, divided into things that should be done and shouldn't be done.
That works fine... until you have kids, are sleep-deprived and have more on your plate than you can handle. That's when you realize that the only truly important rule that can't be broken is to love your child as much as humanly possible.
Not that that stops you from feeling guilty about not being the most perfect, even-tempered, calm, fair and wise parent around. It seems like every time you turn around, you say something or do something you wish you hadn't and there's no taking it back.
I love my kids, yet I also know that there are quite a few things that I should be working on that would make me a better parent. What I mean by being a better parent is being the right combination of supportive, empathetic, encouraging, responsibility-building, good habit-forming, connection-building... all in all, a positive role model.
So here are 10 rules that I think would make me a better parent:
1. Don't disagree on parenting issues in front of your kids.
Whether or not parents agree with other, disagreeing with your spouse about a parenting issue in front of your kids is one of the easiest ways to undermine parental authority. Bite your tongue and take it up with your spouse privately, when no kids are around.
2. Encourage, don't compliment.
There is a world of difference between encouraging a child and complimenting them. When you compliment your child with comments such as "You look so pretty," or "You're so smart," the child has to figure out for themselves how to duplicate their success so that next time they will get the same response. The reason you think they look pretty and the reason they think that you think they look pretty may not be the same.
When you encourage, you point out specific things. "You used so many different colors in that picture and it makes it so bright and happy." "That is quite an accomplishment to get a 95 on that test. It seemed like it was a very difficult test." "The dress color brings out the color in your eyes."
Encouraging is specific, compliments are general. Encouraging helps the child build on his success in a way compliments can't.
3. Set house rules and enforce them
Kids need rules and limits in their lives. They need the structure. They need to learn how to delay their own gratification, especially in this instant-gratification, right-now world we live in. Do, however, choose your battles wisely, because too many rules can cause rebellion.
In case some of us have forgotten, the word parent is not synonymous with the world slave. Just because you are the parents doesn't mean that you have to shoulder the whole burden of the household on your backs. Your kids live in the house, they enjoy the benefits of living there and they need to chip in and help out.
The trap most parents fall into is not delegating properly. The key is to delegate in a way that certain chores are the responsibility of certain kids. It's not your responsibility, it's theirs. If for some reason one of your children can't do their chore that day, they need to find someone who will do it for them. The minute it's their responsibility and they know they are responsible for getting it done, no excuses accepted, there's no need for repeated nagging.
5. Encourage routines from a young age.
Help your children build routines and good habits from a young age. When kids are younger, it's easier to set down certain "rules" that turn into routines, such as brushing teeth, reading a bedtime story, preparing clothing and schoolbags the night before. Not only will these routines be helpful later in life but I believe that they also give children a sense of security and accomplishment.
6. Set specific days for family meals.
With the crazy schedules of some families these days, it might be hard to pin down the whole family for a sit-down meal around the table. Try to make a certain night or nights designated family meal nights. On other nights, try to sit down to meals with whomever is home. In this day and age of the virtual, there is something very grounding and connecting about face-to-face contact.
7. Limit electronic time, both theirs and yours.
If you're anything like my family you can have the whole family in one room, each staring at their own screen. It's important to make rules about screen-free times, such as at meals or on family outings. Committing to certain screen-free times teaches your kids that the person in front of them is more important than someone on the other end of a device.
8. Get to know your kids' friends.
Whether you like it or not, the friends your child hangs out with will have a good deal of influence on them, which is precisely why it's so important to get to know their friends. Even if you like peace and quiet, make sure to offer your house to your child for friend get togethers. Just being around when a group of kids are talking and eating in the kitchen is also a good way to see the dynamics and get an idea of who your child's friends are.
9. Request, don't complain.
When we complain about something, in essence what we really want is for something to change. If your kids left a sink full of dishes, you want that never to happen again because it's frustrating and annoying to leave a clean sink and come back to a pig stye.
So why do we complain instead of putting out a request for the future? Instead of "I can't believe you left the sink full of dirty dishes again," try "In the future, if you use dishes, I would really appreciate it if you washed them. Thanks."
Careful listening has turned into a rarity. Most of the time while we're listening, we are already formulating our answers and in doing so, missing out on a lot of the conversation. Listen with curiosity and no agenda. Ask a lot of questions. You might be surprised by what you learn about your child.
Every parent has their one or two golden rules that they work hard on and that are non-negotiable. What I realized while writing this is that in order to be a better parent you first and foremost need to work on yourself and commit to walking the walk. Kids learn from what they see you doing, not from what you tell them.
What do you think makes someone a good parent? What do you struggle with?