If only we knew exactly how to become perfect parents—but we don’t. We procreate, become accountable to the children we have, and do our best for responsible parenthood. Sometimes we learn, but sometimes we are at a loss. Especially when our child develops from being a toddler to a teenager, the journey never ceases to be even more challenging.
I have two teenage sons, and have had the privilege of watching them grow from cute tots into the handsome gentle giants they are now. It has been a wonderful ride all those years, so I am sharing with you some lessons I’ve learned from being with my two boys.
Mark and Joshua have grown from being totally dependent to being individuals wanting some form of independence. This is normal, and part of their human nature. I understand that they, too, want to feel in control, and I do not mistake this need as defiance. They never ask for much, but there are times when I find it difficult to explain to them how to distinguish what they want from what they need.
How can you possibly read their minds and counter the questions they ask? It is hard to face such puzzles, and to try to go back to which page of the book you read it from. And yet, we cannot be totally reliant on books and other people’s opinions on parenting.
As social creatures, we sometimes allow society to fully dictate what a good parent is. Some of us have grown into the habit of disciplining our kids according to the books we read, programs we watch and people we talk with. Not that these are bad, but we parents should also focus on our innate skills, knowing that no one knows our child more than we do—if we will it. Just like the concept of addition, these can all work as guides to give you some perspective, and then to see how they apply to your child’s behavior and habits before you act on them.
Speaking of habits, I realized, too, that your child will create most habits based on yours. I see it in how Mark walks like me, and how Joshua has copied my facial expressions. Both of them are very diplomatic with their friends and the people they meet. So, if you’re a single mom, dad or a couple, be careful in the way you conduct yourself in and out of the house, the way you manage your time and money, and your lifestyle choices. Words that you use toward relatives, friends and others should also be chosen well. Speaking harshly is not a good idea. Sure, you might feel better after speaking negatively, but keep in mind that our kids can absorb whatever comes out of our mouth. They also see and feel the probable lack of respect, hidden anger and resentment. I know, it’s difficult for us to keep our mouths shut at times, but being accountable for your children’s mindset is vital.
If you want your child to learn affection, empathy and respect, then you should show it, and not just expect and demand it from them, even if they’ve received a good education. Our children’s hearts and minds are like banks that accept anything of value, but sometimes, bad stuff, too. And we know how it feels when we hear about children being described as apples that don’t fall far from the tree. It’s about them and what they get out of the behavior you have shown them.
Don’t let your past get in the way of being a good parent. If it was riddled with fear, sorrow, bitterness, uncertainty and lack of self-trust, it is for us to resolve it ourselves. Their world has evolved into something different from what we grew up with. Yes, life was somehow simpler to navigate then, and we can only wish that our kids could live with those thoughts. But it’s different nowadays, and even more complicated. Can you even imagine what is going through their minds right now? They think about their need for independence, but ask themselves how they can take on the challenges it brings. They think about how they can build their self-confidence in an environment that has grown into an ultra-competitive arena. They have to learn and relearn the concepts of trust, loyalty and love, probably over and over again.
Now, I ask you, is there anything in those last three sentences that has anything to do with your past? Nothing, but they need our guidance now more than ever. So maybe we can rethink how we communicate with our children. Before we lose our temper trying to change the way they think, we could ask ourselves, are we doing this because we really want to help, or simply because they don’t think the same way we do? I had caught myself telling my son, Mark, to not do things, “because I know it won’t do him any good.” I had to finally stop myself from saying that phrase since it only confused him more. I decided instead to refocus on what he had to say, and discern along with him the situation at hand. It is more taxing to do, but definitely, more fruitful.
I remember the time when my children started asking why they did not feel the presence of their father in their lives. I answered them as honestly as I could without saying anything negative, but I used to worry so much about how they would take my answers, knowing they were growing up with a single parent. I took on both roles for most of their lives, and along with the joy of nurturing them, showed them the significance of fostering individuality, the value of peace and strength of character. I chose to show them how hard work and persistence are great values to cultivate. Remember, what you do matters. And we only get the chance to live our lives with them one day at a time.
Believe in your children more. Sometimes it’s better to take a step back and allow them to do what they want. As long as there is no threat or sign of trouble, permit them to experience life themselves, with solid rules which you both agree upon. This goes for the extracurricular activities, their friends, going out on dates and spending their own money. You can show them that you care by asking them about updates on how they’re doing so far, talking about the pros and cons of specific choices. It’s much better than us cramming so much information in their heads without them realizing the various degrees of emotion and inner investment that is part of their maturity.
Most importantly, believe in yourself more. I used to doubt my parenting skills and felt the need for affirmation because of the stress, pressure and hidden insecurities I had. But I also knew that as long as I took the high road and did what I could for my children and me to survive, it would all be worth it in the future. To say that what I had to go through was difficult is an understatement, but I would not have had it any other way. Giving up was not an option. I remember accepting life’s challenges just so that my kids can see that it is possible to overcome dire straits. I hadn’t realized that in the end, it was I who would benefit the most from such experiences. I was able to go through various work environments and learn from people I met, down the line. I learned to mentally adjust the way I communicated and understood different personalities, depending on who I was talking to. It also raised my self-confidence and level of knowledge, giving me more hope for longevity in what I do.
I have faith that with the start of this new year, we can all be the best parents we can be to our children. We are not built to give up so easily and we definitely deserve to be happy, knowing that what we do will leave a beautiful, lasting impression on our children. There is always room for improvement, no matter how perfect or imperfect things may seem. And now is the right time to start. Let us all be blessings to our children, so in turn, our legacy of unconditional love and responsible parenthood will live on when they themselves become parents.