My daughter and son-in-law just had their first baby. His name is James, and he’s one week old.
Inspired by our new grandson, I thought I’d give some advice about parenting. Trust me when I say that I’m no expert. Then again, I don’t think anyone is truly an expert in this, the oldest of callings. With that in mind, here’s my Top 9:
1. No child is perfect. Precious, yes. The center of your universe, yes. Perfect, no. They will make mistakes, just like you. They will have difficult challenges (real and imagined) in their life, just like you. They will need someone to support them in good times and bad, just like you. They will occasionally need someone to point them in a new direction, just like you.
2. Children learn what you teach them. This sounds obvious, but I think some parents forget this truism. You should always have an eye on what you are teaching through your words and actions. Everything you do, say, and value, are always on display for your kids. The way you handle challenges, approach new ideas, enjoy your day, place value on accomplishment, and take the time (or not) to notice the small pleasures in life, are all teaching your child how to approach life. Kids have a voracious thirst for new knowledge. Have fun helping them chase down new things to learn.
3. Enjoy sharing the things you do with your child. If you’re doing yard work, get your child involved, even if it’s only to hold the bag while you dump leaves into it. Building the latest piece of your Ikea collection? Get them in there with you. Their “help” may double the amount of time the project takes, but your child will learn what it’s like to work on projects and see them through to completion. Are you thinking about flying a kite? Don’t just show them the flying part. Get them involved in picking out the kite, assembling it, and figuring out which way to point it into the wind.
4. Child development is similar to sculpting clay. When clay is new, it’s pliable, easily shaped, and flexible. You start with the big sweeping parts of the shape, and then hone-in on the finer details. As you work the clay, it begins to dry. It becomes less pliable. It starts to stand on its own. As the clay continues to dry, even slight adjustments are difficult.
What you do to shape your child’s view of the world, their understanding of right and wrong, the importance of serving others, understanding how their decisions impact themselves and others, needs to happen as early as possible. The foundational shaping of a productive and independent adult happens very early.
Shaping the clay is only half the challenge. To fully mature and keep its shape, clay needs to be fired in a kiln and heated to extremely high temperatures…a true trial by fire. Your child will face many trials by fire. Many will be theirs alone, while some will be shared with their parents. Give your child (and yourself) the freedom to succeed and fail in the various trials of life. Always remember the main goal is to help your child become the greatest version of themselves they can, have lasting values, and be someone who can stand the heat and come out better for it.
5. Laugh with each other, and at each other…a lot.
6. Parenting isn’t a democracy. Parents make the rules. Your child needs the structure that comes from a well-disciplined environment that you create.
7. If you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to tell your child about it. They can learn just as much from your mistakes as they can from their own. In fact, they will probably learn more from how you handle your mistake than the actual mistake.
8. Kids need balance as much as adults. Adults often talk about trying to achieve an optimal life-work balance. The same thing should apply to kids. This may mean that they can’t play on the club soccer team, take sailing lessons, and have a lead part in the school play all at the same time. Help your kids make trade-off’s to achieve an optimal balance of activities, school, work, etc. Some of the most valuable time in a kid’s life is the “down time” relaxing with their parents. As much as people talk about “quality time” with their kids, I think there is also a lot of value in “quantity time” that shouldn’t be forgotten in the hustle to do more with each day.
9. The greatest gift a mom and dad can give to their child is to love each other. Take the time to ensure that your child gets to see the love between their parents grow each day. A loving family is a delight to behold, and your child will revel in such a nurturing environment.
9 ¾. Your goal should be to help your child become a productive and independent adult, who adds value to their community. Nothing more, nothing less.