As a parenting educator of over 25 years experience and a parent with even more miles on the board I’ve learned that there are some immutable truths that you need to come to grips with if you are going to succeed with this job we call parenting.
Here are some of my favourite parenting truths:
1. There’s no such thing as quality time
No matter how you cut you it you have to put in the time with your kids if you are going to have a worthwhile relationship and it you want to influence them. There are no half measures. Rituals, one-on-one time and down-time are good strategies to build relationships, which all take……….. time.
2. You give birth twice
If you have a child in the early primary school years you may be congratulating yourself for doing a great job. You may even be thinking, “What’s all the fuss about? Parenting is easy.” Be aware that your child will disappear some time soon and will be replaced by an early adolescent. Yes, this birth will be just as painful as the first one!
3. You cut your parenting teeth on your first child
Remember when you held your first child in your arms for the first time. It was at that point that you probably realised that your life had changed for ever. You were also holding an experiment! Your first born took you into new parenting ground and will continue to do so at every stage of development. You’re stricter on your first; more fretful and more focussed. And your expectations are high, which can be a heavy burden for first borns to bear.
4. Small children, smaller problems. Big children, bigger problems
It’s easy to wish your parenting life away as young children can require so much your attention and energy. But teenagers take more of your energy and attention than young children and their issues and challenges are far bigger. Enjoy your children at every stage.
5. Kids live in two worlds
Today’s children inhabit a real world and an online world. Children as young as two are using online devices, although they may not always be online. This means you need to prepare kids keep be safe and be smart in both the real and online worlds.
6. Someone has to be in charge
Families work well when someone is in charge and it’s always best if it’s parents! You don’t have to use the same dictatorial methods that past generations of parents used, but you do need to be a leader who knows how to be firm and also how to be nurturant. Many couples play good cop, bad cop as it can be hard work being both. Single parents must juggle both these sides, which is why they need supporting.
7. You don’t have to know everything
It’s healthy for children to have some emotional space from their parents. The developmental imperative to grow up means that they will also grow away from you. One way to allow this is to NOT know every little detail of their lives. Know they are happy at school but you don’t need to know what they were doing at lunchtime and exactly who they were playing with. Sheesh! Give me space already!
8. Your house, your rules.
These four words adorned a football team’s pre game banner recently, signifying that the home team ruled! And they did. The same applies to raising kids. When they are in your place visitors should live by your rules. When your kids go to other people’s places including to their grandparents’ they should adapt to their rules. That way they learn to be flexible and fit in, which are wonderful social skills. In fact, that is socialisation.
9. You can’t hold back gender influence
Try all you like to raise your child in a gender neutral way and you’ll find that girls will tend to act, dress and behave in certain ways while boys will adopt their own patterns. Don’t blame the socialisation process. Blame genetics. Boys’ brains are wired differently to those of girls’. They have different maturation clocks too. Those are just two of many genetic differences.
10.Mums and dads parent differently
Have you noticed that mothers are usually nurturant and fathers easily miss the fine detail of their children’s lives? Have you noticed that the language of fathering is physical, while the language of mothering is well….. verbal. That’s because genetics makes us different and we parent or, should that be mother and father, in our own ways. Don’t fight it. Utilise it. Want your daughter to be more confident? Then my first instinct would be to let her spend more time with her dad. His physicality and propensity for activity will hopefully help her to be less fearful. And yes, research tells us that girls grow up with more fears than boys.
11. It’s easier to raise other people’s children
Ever noticed it’s easy to raise everyone else’s kids but you get stuck when it’s your own? The emotional tie we have with our own children can sometimes blind us and also mean we can make subjective rather than objective decisions about their upbringings. Also our parental aspirations can mean we put more pressure on our own offspring than we would if we were raising other people’s children.
12. Raising toddlers prepares you for raising teenagers
When you held your baby in your arms all those years ago you were filled with love. It was soft love. That baby became a toddler – all arms and legs and defiance – and you needed to discover firm love. Yes, you needed to put some spine into your parenting. That backbone that you’ve newly discovered is needed when raising teenagers. In fact, if you want to understand a teenager then subtract a dozen years. A 14 year old is not much different than a 2 year old. They are both self-absorbed. They both suck up a lot of your energy. And they both have strong independent streaks that take careful parental management.
13. Kids take their cues from their parents
One of the easiest ways to encourage your child to take learning risks is to overtly take learning risks yourself. Kids take most of their significant behavioural and attitudinal cues about how they should see and act in the world from their parents. Next time you make a big fuss about your child going to the dentist, stop and think about the message you’re giving your child about the dentist.
14. Build a strong food culture to build a strong family
It’s no coincidence that those countries with strong food cultures such as Italy and France also have strong family cultures. There is something magical about a family sitting down to share a meal that’s been lovingly prepared by a parent (or child), and that everyone has contributed to (whether setting the table, chopping the vegies or washing dishes). It’s hard to build a strong family when everyone eats individually and there’s no gathering of the tribe.
15. Child-rearing is at its best when it’s shared
Parents don’t parent well in isolation. Never have. Never will. Open yourself up to being influenced by others and don’t see parenting as an individual endeavour. Help others. Support others who are raising kids and be open to them helping and supporting you. The village starts with you.
Parenting is not so hard when you get with the program and understand its basic truths. Sometimes we over complicate it with theories, thoughts and ambitions. Build your skills and knowledge by all means. Good parenting demands it. But it also demands that we don’t ignore basic common sense concepts and ideas that have guided parents well before parenting experts were invented.
You probably have no doubt discovered your own parenting truths. We’d love to hear yours – add them in the comments below.
A popular presenter, Michael Grose speaks to parents, teachers and principals on a regular basis.Michael comes from an education background, and has conducted post-graduate research into what makes healthy families tick.He's given over 1500 parenting presentations, including the first parenting seminar in Parliament House, Canberra.Michael is married with three adult children who have all successfully flown the parent nest.