Recently I read the “20 Marriage Tips Everyone Needs To Know,” by Gerald Rogers and the response article “10 Marriage Tips Every Wife Needs To Hear,” by Karen Lodato. While both of these articles are excellent, I began to wonder about the children. Not everyone is destined to have children, but those who do will encounter some typical pitfalls. Here are some thoughts that parents and prospective parents should consider.
- What you learned as a child will have little to do with what you will teach your own children. The life experiences my grandfather taught my father were passed down with very few changes. Life had not changed that much from 1890 to 1920. The life experiences that my father taught me were passed down with several changes, but my father didn’t understand the changes that were happening in the 1960s. The life experiences I passed down to my children were fraught with the interpretations of the burgeoning information age. I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s; my children grew up in the 1990s and 2000s. Intellectual and inventive progress is happening so fast now that almost nothing works now the way it did when you grew up.
- Be consistent. Decide as a couple what the rules will be. You know, no cookies before dinner, homework before playtime, or limited TV time. The rules you agree on now will make a big difference later. If they are too strict, you may risk rebellion later on. If they are too permissive, you’ll have a spoiled child. Whatever you decide, be consistent with how you enforce them. Homework before playtime means just that, nothing else, no interpretations.
- Teach them, and give them, respect. You have these curious and inventive little minds in your charge. By their nature, they think they know more than you do. They think you don’t understand them. Respect their opinions and take the time to explain things to them. If you just brush them off, maybe they’re right, maybe you don’t understand them. Teenagers are complex beings that require extraordinary parental efforts. They have learned a lot of ‘what’ in school, but they are usually pretty slow on the ‘why’ and ‘the consequences of’ each issue. Respect them enough to take the time to explain what they need. While it may not seem like it, they will respect your efforts on their behalf.
- Be real. The chances that your child will invent the next social media craze or the first warp drive are extremely small. Just because your child won the 5th grade science fair in school doesn’t mean he/she is the next Stephen Hawking. Give them a chance to explore what interests them. That science fair may have been a fluke or it may be the beginning of something quite extraordinary. It’s not your job to decide who they should be or what they should do for a living. It’s your job to prepare them for their lives ahead, whatever that life may give them.
- Invest in trust. When your children are born, they will trust you implicitly. As they get older, that trust will start to erode. Don’t worry, it happens to everyone. They will watch your every move looking for some flaw in your logic or some chink in your armor. However, at the same time, you will watch their every move looking for mistakes as well. Talk to them. Explain to them that you’re not perfect and that they can expect to see you make mistakes. Explain to them that they will make many mistakes along the way and that you see your job as someone who can guide them through the minefields without too much damage along the way. You will regain their trust and they will gain your trust.
- Personality and individuality counts. It’s not your job to have your child follow in your footsteps. It’s not your job to have your child act out the sports successes that you never had. It’s your job to expose your children to as many different options as possible as they grow up. Some sports they’ll like, some they won’t. Some subjects in school they’ll like, some they won’t. Encourage them to be the best at whatever they choose to do, but don’t push them into something you wish you had done when you were their age. In the end, they’ll just resent you for it. It’s possible that they will latch onto something that they really love. Give them all the support and encouragement you have to help them achieve their goals.
- Teach your children to think. Don’t rely on your local school system to teach this. They have ‘No Child Left Behind’ and ‘Standards of Learning’ to worry about. Learning about the chronology of the Civil War is nice, but it doesn’t expose the reasons it happened or how it might have been prevented. Learning about the Great Depression is nice, but it won’t help them step up in the future to prevent the next one. Teach them to question accepted norms and dig for answers to their questions. These young minds will some day be ruling the world.
- Let them make their own mistakes. You can’t be there 100% of the time to keep them out of the minefields. You can, however teach them to respect others, to think things through and understand the consequence of their actions, to pursue their own path, and to trust in the truth. Yet, still they will make mistakes along the way. It’s how they learn. It’s how we all learned! You can hope that they will come to you before they make any big decisions, but in the end, the choices (and the consequences) will be theirs. With each decision comes maturity and beyond that, wisdom.
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