Parenting is a big job, and can also be a rewarding one. Ultimately, it will most likely be a pleasure when the proper ground work has been done. Here are eight tips to help you lay that ground work so you can enjoy parenting your children in all their stages of growth.
#1: Minimize Choices
Yes, it’s important to develop independence in our children by letting them make choices: Red shirt or blue shirt? Ice cream or cookies? But if every decision becomes theirs, we raise kids who think they’re in charge. Let them make choices sometimes, but make sure most of the decisions are yours. As your children grow up, you can gradually cede control of more issues to them. But if your kids are under age 12, you should still be fully in charge. This keeps life uncomplicated and less stressful.
#2: Limit Activities
An overload of activities is a real problem for many families. Just because something is offered doesn’t mean your child has to do it. And the more children you have, the fewer activities should be packed into the hours after school and on weekends. Limit your children to one activity per semester and watch your stress level decrease. Be sure the activity each one attends is related to their interests, not yours. And be willing to let them switch if they discover something isn’t their thing. Be very selective with organized activities and watch your unstructured, relaxed family time grow and become more fun.
#3: Develop True Self Esteem with Chores
If your five-year-old doesn’t make her bed or set the table, or your twelve-year-old doesn’t do his own laundry, my question to you is: Why not? Kids are completely capable of doing chores around the house. More importantly, the self esteem they develop by being part of the household team is far more genuine that what develops when you tell them how special they are all the time. Put your kids to work around the house at age-appropriate tasks and you’ll relieve some of your own burden while building your child’s self-esteem in a logical and healthy way.
#4: Take a Child to Lunch
Alone, just with you. Or take one to a movie, a park, or to see Grandma. Build your relationship with your child while talking in the car en route, while laughing together and while just enjoying each other’s company. I didn’t do this enough with each of my four children, but when I did it do it, we always had a great time. (Note: the more children you have, the more important this tip is.)
#5: Limit Your Use of Technology
Children who are forced to interrupt their parents to express their needs because their parents are always on their phones (talking, texting or surfing) often become very demanding children. When your child is born, three umbilical cords need to be cut: his to his mother, and his parents’ to their devices. Limit your use of technology during your child’s waking hours and you’ll raise a happier child. Besides, there’s nothing sadder than seeing a parent pushing a child in a cart through the grocery and ignoring him because they’re on the phone.
#6: Keep your #1 Interest
Once we become parents, we find that we don’t have time to do all the things we like to do. This is natural, but be sure to make time for your favorite activity, whether it’s reading, playing basketball or making things by hand, like quilts or guitars. Even if you only get to do it once a month, it will help you relax and remember who you are, because in the parenting trenches, it’s easy to forget that you’re anyone but Mommy or Daddy. As your children grow and become more independent, you will get to do more of your favorite things, but for now, one thing is probably all you can squeeze in. Enjoy yourself when you can!
A regular (and reasonable) bedtime is extremely important. It produces rested kids and relaxed parents. If you start when your children are tiny, this habit will be easier to create and maintain. Studies show that today’s children are having learning difficulties because they’re not well-rested. Put them to bed at an age-appropriate time (always before 9 p.m.) and then go do something for yourself: surf Facebook or Pinterest, have a beer, spoon with your spouse… I’m sure you can think of something. Having that time at the end of each day is invaluable for managing stress and becoming a great parent.
#8: Don’t Expect Perfection
Just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, you find yourself or your child losing it. Don’t forget that there are no perfect parents; children can’t be perfect, either. Besides, children are constantly changing and growing, which brings new challenges. Expect change, expect imperfection, love your child (remember, love is a verb) and go easy on yourself.