This week, our oldest, our son Jeremy, graduates from college. As my wife Marcie would say, we’ve done all we can and he’s fully cooked.
He was pretty well cooked in many ways before he headed off to college, yet while he’s much the same person he was at that time, he’s in many ways completely different, having coming into his own as an adult.
Marcie and I have been very lucky. We’ve got great kids. I know most parents think their kids are special, but my kids really are (haha). Seriously though, I do believe the harder you work at something, the luckier you are, and we worked very hard at raising good kids.
Parents need to be leaders: and it’s a leadership by example. Parents also need to recognize that most parenting training is from the actual on-the-job experience, no matter how many books, blogs, and other pieces of advice you get.
Here’s a list of suggestions and observations. It’s a bit all over the place, with thoughts for parents of kids of all ages.
1. Being a parent is the greatest thing ever. No matter how many times someone tells you that before you become a parent, it will be better than you can imagine. It’s not like when everyone says a movie is awesome and then it can’t possibly live up to the hype. No matter what anyone says, being a parent is even better.
2. Do not say to your stay-at-home spouse, “You should handle it when the baby wakes up in the middle of the night because you don’t have to get up early for work.” Share the responsibility.
3. Go to your kids’ games, school plays, etc. unless it’s absolutely impossible. It’s more possible than ever for many of us because of technology (and the blessing—and curse—of being able to work anywhere, at any time: work at home at night to make up for leaving early.) I didn’t invent this truism: “No one looks back on their lives and says ‘I wish I worked more’.” Your kids will be school age for a very small part of your life. You can work more later. “But those are my prime earning years,” you may say. I call B.S. One thing is certain: those are your prime parenting years—they are your only parenting years! Parents who go all the time can miss a game because the kid knows it must have been something important for mom or dad to have missed a game. Parents who always give excuses for not making it to those events are parents who feel guilty.
4. 99.99% of kids won’t be pro athletes. Don’t get carried away trying to make your kids into pros. My big lesson came when Jeremy was young and I read something he wrote for school. “I like soccer, but my dad thinks I’m not good at it.” I was shocked. I thought he was outstanding. I realized I was sending the wrong message. From that day forward, I never said anything at any of my kids’ games except words of encouragement: “good job”, “nice play”, etc. I stopped yelling instructions to them—those instructions didn’t help, plus I wasn’t the coach, plus they weren’t going pro—and it’s not fun to have dad yell instructions.
5. Let your kids decide what activities to participate in. Expose them to lots, then let them decide. My daughters didn’t want to go to a kindergarten soccer clinic. I said, “All your friends will be there.” “No they won’t,” they replied. After more back and forth, I said, “Come with me. If you don’t like it we’ll go home.” They loved it. One played soccer through eighth grade. The other played until an injury ended her “career” during her junior year of high school. Meanwhile, all three of my kids stopped playing my favorite sport (baseball/softball) after fifth grade. That was hard to swallow at first, but I told myself, “This is my favorite sport, not theirs, it’s up to them.”
6. Make sure your kids know their goal in life is to be happy and to help others be happy. Make sure to involve them in community service activities so they learn happiness and helping others go hand-in-hand.
7. Encourage your kids to pursue their passion not money.
8. Teach them, by your example, that spending money and time on experiences is better than spending on “stuff.” Everyone remembers experiences like family dinners, family traditions, and family vacations.
9. Teach your kids about money. From a book we read we gave our kids allowance and had them put it each month into categories: 25% each to charity, short term (spending money), medium term (saving for something big), and long term (saving for something really big like college or a house). When they got to be teens and started earning real money from babysitting and summer jobs, they chose to keep following the system.
I’ve got more to say on being a parent and I’ll continue next week. In the meantime, please join the conversation with your comments. I would love to hear your thoughts…