I am a member of a number of online parenting communities. The other day, a mom on one of them commented that it breaks her heart to read about relationships between parents and kids that do not live up to expectations. She asked that those who posted about idyllic relationships share one piece of advice they had relied on in raising wonderful adult children.
As I culled through people’s responses, I noticed that while there were many nods to the fact that there is no perfect recipe for raising successful, well-adjusted adults, most answers coalesced around eight main suggestions about how to be a good parent.
Eight Ways to Be A Good Parent
1) Be Communicative
Listen, listen and listen some more to your kids. Parents need to do whatever it takes to keep the lines of communication open including listening in a thoughtful, non-judgmental way. Some suggested that when kids are struggling with an issue, be willing to either be a sounding board or to offer constructive advice, following the child’s lead as to what type of approach they are looking for. Just keep talking.
2) Be Honest
Tell your children the truth about yourself and let them see you struggle. They need to know that you are truthful with them so that they can trust you with their issues. They do not need you to candy coat reality for them. We all struggle with certain things but we all have many blessings as well.
3) Be Themselves
There was wide consensus that parents need to let kids be their authentic selves (although you can and should insist on manners and decency.) One mom wrote that when her daughter was born she was excited to dress her in frilly dresses and bows. It turns out that her daughter liked simple styles and hated pink. At some point you need to replace the picture of who you think your children should be with who they actually are and trust they are “solid at the core.”
4) Be Involved
Many parents attribute their positive relationships with their teens or young adult children to a history of being involved in their lives. Involved parents coached sports, went to games, let their home be the hangout house and attended recitals and shows. Parents suggested getting to know what is important to your children so that you can support those interests.
5) Be Present
Many said that being present and in the moment with their children was very important, which means turn off the phone when you are doing something with your family. Some recommended finding something that you all can enjoy doing together including sitting down at the table every night for dinner, even if it’s takeout and even if it’s only for 15 minutes. Quantity time it turns out is important, but so is quality time.
6) Be an Example
Parents said that they tried to model kindness for their children and to explain to them that they are more interested in the people they become than in what they accomplish. Tell your children what you expect and then model it. For instance, if you put your marriage first your children see how to treat a spouse with respect. Model volunteerism by doing service activities with them.
7) Be a Parent
You are their parent not their friend so be comfortable with not always being liked. Set boundaries but give them the freedom to suffer the natural consequences of their behavior. If your 15-year old insists on going coat less on a frigid day, she will be cold and eventually learn to wear a coat. Punishment is to help them learn to do better next time and not to be punitive for the sake of being punitive. Do not hold back affection because of their behavior but discipline with love and consistency.
8) Love, Love, Love
The thread running through all the answers was that the most important thing we can do for our children is to love them. Love them as they are, and let them know that you love them. Love them even when you don’t like them. Love them prodigiously, unconditionally and unequivocally.
And, I would simply add that no matter how perfectly you parent, you also need to get lucky.