Ten years ago this month I founded Parenting Pathways®. (This is my business through which I offer parents of children, toddlers through teens, a variety of services including private consultations, monthly parenting groups, and individual topical seminars.) Who knew I would reinvent myself? Who knew how much I would learn? Who knew how many times in a week I’d address the complaint, My kid doesn’t listen to me! I took a risk and made something from nothing. Voila! Parenting Pathways®, my fourth born child, now ten years old.
In celebration of my 10 year anniversary, I offer My Top 10 Pieces of Parenting Advice (in no particular order.)
1. There is no such thing as perfect. Striving for perfection is a road to nowhere. Stop! Turn left! Don’t go there! Expecting perfection from your child (or from yourself) is a mistake. Remove the word from your vocabulary. Perfection is relative, and it doesn’t really exist. One man’s perfect is another’s failure. Children need to be taught to strive for satisfaction. They need to think in terms of effort—about caring, about investment, about hard work. And parents need to believe that no one ever gives 100% all the time. Someone will always give more, do better, go beyond you. Sometimes enough is just enough….it isn’t perfect. But it’s good enough.
2. Prepare the child for the path and not the path for the child. You don’t get to craft a world that works for your child; you need to prepare your child for the world. Removing the stones from her way won’t enable your child to walk life’s path. Your child needs to learn how to ski the moguls! It is by allowing her to deal with pebbles and boulders, cracks, crevices, and sink holes in her way that you prepare her for life. And experience IS her best teacher.
3. “A child who has not been bandaged has not been well parented.” Dr. Benjamin Spock taught us many lessons, but this is my favorite. Children need to struggle, sometimes fall down. They need to get hurt, literally and figuratively. And they need to learn to pick themselves up… with the support of a loving parent. It is through such struggle and sometimes pain that children learn they can survive the bruises and how to do it differently or better next time.
4. You’re only as happy as your least happy child. There is nothing as powerful as the sinew that connects parent to child. It is said that having a child is like getting used to your heart walking around outside of your body. And so it is with the pain your child experiences, physical or emotional. Nothing hurts you as much as the pain your child experiences, the trouble your child is having. I only tell you this so you will be forewarned and know that the ache in your heart is supposed to be there. That’s one of the things that makes you the parent.
5. Nothing happens for no reason. (Yes, this is a double negative; that’s what makes you think about it!) All behavior is motivated. So often you are baffled by your child’s behavior. Maybe it seems to come out of left field. The truth is, there is a reason, and the tricky part is figuring out what it is. Focus on what might be the cause instead of just reacting to the behavior. And remember, so often the behaviors that come out of thin air are really a cry for attention.
6. One careless yes fuels a child through a thousand no’s. Especially with young children who have elephant-like memories, stick to your guns. If one Thursday, six months ago, you caved in to your child’s whining and gave him the cookie right before dinner, he will remember it and relentlessly ask you for a cookie every day before dinner! Don’t sabotage yourself. No means no!
7. Let your child hate you. I know, this one stings. I also know that some people cannot tolerate the word hate. That’s not the point. Part of growing up is being mad, sometimes fiercely mad at your parents. Do you think your child really hates you…forever and ever? Of course not. But at that moment, you are dirt. It won’t last. So don’t let it hurt your feelings. Your child is just expressing his. And, if you find the word intolerable, go back long after it’s over, an hour later, and discuss other ways for him to express his big, powerful feelings. But don’t guilt him or rob him of his right to feel what he feels.
8. “Trust your instincts” may not work. Actually, some people can…but if you haven’t spent time around babies or young children, if you’re a first time parent, or if babies and young children aren’t your thing, it’s hard to have instincts about what to do. And some people’s instincts are just plain off base, especially if your own parents weren’t shining examples of good parenting. We are blessed with resources a plenty, so take advantage. Ask! There are some of us whose lives are about helping people just like you.
9. Be the person you want your child to be. Even though you don’t believe it now, the apple really doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Your child is watching you all the time; he is absorbing what you say and what you don’t say, how you react, how you treat people, how you behave. Modeling is a powerful teacher.
10. The surest way to make life difficult for your child is to make it too easy for him. Need I say more?