I recently stumbled across two posts I wrote in 2014 about parenting. I enjoyed reading those posts, which had been inspired by my eldest child’s graduation from college, and I am republishing some of that content today.
Parents need to be leaders: it’s leadership by example. Parents also need to recognize that no matter how many books, blogs, and other pieces of advice you get, most parenting training is from the on-the-job experience. That said, I learned a ton from books and advice I received, and have been thanked by other parents with whom I have shared my own experiences and advice.
Here are some suggestions and observations most meaningful to me. They are a bit all over the place, with thoughts for parents of kids of all ages.
1. 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.
2. When things get back to normal, 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, as evidenced by the many people working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 am not sure that’s true, but one thing is certain: those are your prime parenting years—because 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.
3. 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 me eldest 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 at soccer and reading his note made me realize 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.
4. Let your kids decide which activities to participate in. Expose them to lots, then let them decide. My twin 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.”
5. 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.
6. Teach your kids, 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.
7. 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% to charity, 25% short term (spending money), 25% medium term (saving for something big), and 25% 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 a similar system.
9. Protect your kids from internet dangers. I thought everyone was aware of the dos and don’ts, but I recently showed my cousin I could figure out his daughter’s school, what team she is on, her best friend’s name, and more from her unlocked Instagram account.
10. Read this important (and scary) book to learn how to protect your kids from other dangers.
11. Marital satisfaction goes down when you have kids and rises when they leave the house. Know that and use that information to put in the hard work to make your marriage work.
12. Be dedicated to making your marriage work. But if somehow it ends in divorce, make it amicable and DO NOT put the kids in the middle.
13. Your kids are not good or bad girls and boys. Their behavior will be good and bad at various times. Praise and criticize your kids’ behaviors, not the kids themselves.
14. Tell your kids you are proud of them as often as possible.
15. Make sure your kids know they can come to you for anything. During college, one of my daughters came to us with a problem. After I said, “I’m so glad you came to us. You always can.” She said, “I know. That why I did.”
16. Teach your kids, by example, and by your encouragement, the importance of exercise and physical fitness.
17. Same with healthy eating.
18. Teach your kids they may be better at certain things than other people, and others may be better than them at certain things, but that doesn’t make one a better person than another.
19. Drive your kids and their friends places. It’s amazing what you learn from the conversations in the back seat. Just listen. Don’t comment.
20. Never hit your kids. I got lucky. One day when my eldest was three, he purposely knocked over one of his sisters, who was six months old. I reacted by pushing him away from my daughter. It was done to protect her, but it was also done in anger. My brother happened to see what took place. He pulled me aside and said, “You don’t have to get physical with your kids.” And I never did again. I’m extremely grateful I stopped before I started. My brother was right. There is never a need for physical punishment.
21. Save money for college. We had three kids in college at the same time. Just before my twin daughters left for college, a light bulb went on for one of them. “Wait a minute,” she said, “how can you afford to send us all to college at the same time?” I answered, “We’ve known this day was coming for 18 years.”
22. When your kid says “I’ll never learn (fill in the blank),” tell them they once didn’t know how to talk, but they learned.
23. Say no if you are not comfortable with something they want to do.
24. But listen to their argument so they know you are open-minded and willing to have your opinion changed.
25. Apologize to your kids if you are wrong.
26. Teach your kids not to judge others by the color of their skin, or the color of their hair, or their hairstyle, or their tattoos, or their clothes, or their piercings, but by the content of their character.