Yesterday my oldest turned 26 and thus my 26th year of Parenthood is now compete. Here are a few things I’ve learned.
Just because they have your face your kid isn’t you: Both environment and heredity naturally will play a part in how your kids develop but he reality is your child isn’t you and even if you have the same face (as me and my oldest do) they are not you so don’t assume they will think and react like you automatically.
Children learn by example, not by command: Despite my reputation as “the hardest working man in the blogosphere” I can be both lazy and sloppy, particularly at home (I can hear my wife nodding even in her sleep right now) and both of my sons have picked that up. If there are things you want your kids to grow up being the best way to help that along is to be them. If there are things you don’t want them to be avoid being them yourself.
Choose your friends/relatives wisely: Who you associate with when your kids are young will make a difference. If you want your children to grow up to be respectful, sober, God fearing and honorable, don’t surround yourself with people who are not these things. I was blessed that my very devout Catholic mother retired just as our 2nd kid was born and she and her 3 devout sisters born from the 1910’s to 1921 spent a lot of time with my sons. That did a lot to shape them. Do you have an older relative who is pious and moral? Invite said relative to the house and visit them with your kids. Do you have one who can build things when you can’t? Visit them too. Is there a relative who is a libertine, a drunkard, a druggie? Keep them as far away as possible.
Time (and the culture) are against you…: You have a real short time to really influence your child before the culture and the internet grab them, make that time count so you are their go to choice for values. Teach them to be good God fearing honest and honorable men or women first and the rest 2nd. They can always learn new skills and trades but it’s hard to learn how to be good if you’re not.
…and is also the most valuable gift you have to give: The thing your kid wants the most from you is your time, presence and approval. Give them every moment of time you can spare (and even time you can’t). Even if you aren’t doing stuff with them being near or in the same room so they can see you means a lot. You can always earn more money but your time on earth is limited, make it count.
Make rules early…: If you want limits on your kids you need to set them right away make the rules when they are young and they are likely to keep them and make sure not only them but their friends know them. For example once my kids hit their pre-ten years and started having friends over I made the rules if I had to leave the house: No Booze, No Drugs No Sex and made them (and their friends) repeat the rules. Even after they turned all turned 21 and the booze part was dropped everyone knew that if there was drinking I had custody of everyone’s car keys on demand. If everyone knows the rules up front they may try to bend them but will rarely break them.
…and enforce them ruthlessly: It’s vital to make sure they know that if your rules are broken punishment will come and fast. I don’t care if said punishment is a whack on the ass (highly effective in the early years) a toy or game, broken, thrown out or sold (that will get their attention really fast) a disconnected internet password (not as effective as it once was with so many open networks out there) or even standing in a corner. You need to enforces those limits even if said rules punish you. Kids aren’t stupid, once they know they can get away with stuff, they will. Furthermore when they do right give them your approval.
YOU are the Parent act like one: Even now at age 26 my sons are only allowed to call me “Peter” in one specific instance (If separated in a crowd they can shout my name to get my attention since shouting “Dad” will make everyone look). You are not your kids friend, you are not your kids playmate, you are not your kids drinking buddy, you are your children’s authority figure and if you are going to have any chance to fight against a culture and a world that wants to use them for their own ends you need to keep that authority. Remember they are kids and no matter how much they protest otherwise or how much society tries to tell you otherwise they don’t know ANYTHING. They’re just as stupid as you were at their age.
Spoiled young likely spoiled forever:: As anybody know it’s much harder to build something than to break something and once broken it’s very hard to fix someone. If you spoil your child because it makes you feel better or because you don’t want to make hem cry or because you want them to just shut up, you and your child will pay for it for a very long time. Spoiling your child isn’t love, it’s a form of narcissism. Think of it this way are you better off with a doctor who tells you whats wrong so it can be fixed or one who says everything is fine so you don’t worry?
It’s not about YOU: Your kids is not your trophy to show off, or a prize to have, or something for your bucket list. From the moment your wife’s belly starts to grow your life isn’t about you, it’s about them. Your life, your budget and your behavior should reflect this and if it doesn’t you, your child, your descendants and even society itself will pay the price.
This is you primary job: Once you have children your job and your duty is keep them alive and well as you teach them how to be a good adult who can survive on their own and function in the world. It’s not going to be easy, all the norms of a dangerous world are working against you and it’s very possible that you will fail, but it you do make sure it’s not due to lack of effort or attention.
Finally Love your children: St. Paul defines love thus:
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
In other words seek the best for your children, even if it’s not what they want at that time and even if it risks their temporary anger.
Do these things to the best of your ability and in my experience, you’ll like the results more often than not.
Update: Stacy McCain has some do’s and don’t too, this one is basic:
Isn’t it just common sense that, if you’re looking for advice on how to raise successful kids, you should ask someone with experience as a parent?
Excuse me for bragging on my kids, but if “the personal is political” (to quote Carol Hanisch’s famous feminist slogan) then my experience as a parent of six children ought to count for something in such arguments. Even if you consider that my wife deserves nearly all the credit for our children’s success, at least I can testify as a witness to her motherhood methods.