O My God. My children are 36, 38 and 40 and they’re still speaking to me. It’s a miracle. I used to dream that it would be like this, but how often do dreams come true?
Where did I go right? Being a parent got easier when I laughed more and demanded perfection less. Raising children is like crossing the street: Stop, Look and Listen. Parents get a do-over every day. Tomorrow is filled with chances to be more patient, more present, and more creative than you were today.
Our kids are our best teachers and our biggest fans. They want us to succeed. They don’t want loser parents. They need to feel like they’re in the hands of an expert. They’re rooting for us.
They don’t need to live in a big house or a fancy house but they deserve to live in a clean home. They need healthy food and decent clothes. You’ll never run out of toilet paper, paper, pencils, batteries and food. They have to go to museums, get exercise, make friends, read books and be loved by you, forever. You can give your kids too much stuff, too much candy, too many parties, presents and promises, but you can never give a child too much love.
“No” is the most important word in the English language. “No” is the parent secret handshake. A child needs to learn that “No” means “No.” If they don’t learn it when they’re little, they will grow-up and go to prison. “No.” Say it firmly, lovingly and once. Or say, “I don’t think so.” “Not-so-much.” “What’s Plan B?” “Not gonna happen.” “In your dreams.” “That’s a joke, right?” “Maybe next time.” “Who do you think I am? – Grandma?” The great thing is that after they grow-up you get to say “Yes” to everything.
Our children are not ours to keep. If you’re lucky like me – you still have a front row seat, after forty years, to watch them navigate the world, have professions and make a living and a life for themselves. And you can exhale because you did it! You kept them alive and thriving for all these years. You taught them how to eat with a fork, you potty trained them (eventually) and put them through school, and taught them how to drive and play the piano and draw and paint and do laundry and respect women and wear natural fibers and cook! You raised good men who are funny and smart and loving and kind and tall, who buy you presents and call to say “hi” and ask how you’re feeling and tell you about their day and crack you up.
There are a million books on parenting. There are thousands of experts. But there is no instruction manual on how to raise your children. Today, as a M.O.M. (Mom of Men) I continue to evolve. My sons are my family jewels. When I think I could not love them more, I do. And when I think I could not be more proud of them, I am.
Here are my Top 10 Parenting Tips.
1. You’re Their Mom, Not Their Friend
I wanted to be a mother. I never wanted to be friends with a baby. I had my own friends. What did we have in common besides DNA, a bunch of relatives and the same last name? There’s a difference between “friend” and “friendly” and the minute your child suspects that you need to be the cool, popular parent – you are Dead Mom Walking. They can smell your fear and will use it against you. Accept your authority. Embrace it. A family is a benign dictatorship. A self-sacrificing Madonna Martyr Mother inspires guilt, not independence. Children need to feel safe – in your uterus, in your car, in their lives. They need to know that you are their Safe Place; that they can count on you – no matter what. Act your age, dress your age, be authentic. Earn respect by respecting yourself and your children. You’re the grown-up. You’re driving the bus. You’re large and in charge.
2. Just Listen
Be an active listener. Listening is the most powerful skill in any relationship. My children taught me the difference between being a Sounding Board vs. a Suggestion Box. “Just listen.” It’s simple to say and hard to do. It’s difficult to resist the urge to give advice. Listen. Turn-off your freakin’ phone. Ten minutes of quality communication is better than an hour cluttered with interruptions. Give your child the gift of your full attention. You will teach him to communicate and problem-solve by allowing him to express himself. Nothing is more important than what your child is telling you. Texting, cellphones, e-mails, smoke signals, sky writing – nothing compares to focused listening and be heard is an act of Love.
3. You’re Their Role Super Model
Your actions speak louder than your words. How you act and what you do set an example for your kids. They are little human sponges. Like a baby chimp, your child will mimic you – good behavior and bad. Pick “good.” If you’re going to go to all the trouble to give them Life, why not give them one more gift: a happy parent. They will face enough stress – don’t add to it by making them worry about you. Children of manipulative, insecure, emotionally insatiable parents become mistrustful, neurotic adults. A mother who doesn’t love and take care herself can’t love or take care of her child. The way you treat yourself and other people is the model you show your children. Feed your family food as well as fun, culture, love, time and attention.
4. Calm Down
A calm, confident and happy mother has calm, confident and happy children. Excluding colic, exhaustion or a fever, cranky babies usually have nervous mothers. Kids are psychic. They have Babydar. They were anatomically connected to you for nine months, or in the case of mine
, 9 ½. Decades after the cord is cut, they remain connected to you, intuitively. We’ve all watched the powerless parent begging their terrible two-year-old to “Stop that this minute!” When you want your child to be still, be still. If you want your child to be a screamer, scream. Rational children have sane parents who know how to behave. 19th century writer, Josiah Gilbert Holland, said: “Calmness is the Cradle of Power.” Rock your baby’s cradle, serenely. Chill out. Be rational and reasonable. Children wouldn’t be children if they didn’t make a mess, spill, act-out, break stuff. I’ve used the Lamaze relaxation breathing technique more since they were born, than I did during labor and delivery. Give yourself a break. Relax.
5. Home Sweet (Smelling) Home
Create a warm, comfortable home. You are the (house)keeper of the castle. Make your home the happiest place on earth. Don’t be a slob and live like a pig. Your home is a metaphor. The way you take care of it reflects the way you take care of yourself and your family. Your cooking, laundry, bathroom, pets and yard can make or break your home’s appeal. You could live in a mansion, apartment or an Airstream trailer. Just remember to clean the litter box. Change the paper in the bottom of the birdcage. Scoop the poop. A cozy condo can be a comfortable, uncluttered cocoon. And never underestimate the power of The Nose. Aromatic sense memories like cookies, flowers and laundry fresh from the dryer, or sewage, mildew and mold – are etched in the olfactory cortex, forever. Make your house the place your children want to live, spend time in and bring their friends.
6. Your Home is a Gallery
Display your child’s art like it’s museum quality – because it is. Frame it. Hang it. Show it. Beautifully. Every finger painting doesn’t have to be stuck on the door of the ‘fridge, under a magnet, but once in a while, your child will create something breathtaking. You will be proud to show their work. Out of all your pricey art and fancy designer stuff, your ChildArt will be the most meaningful and will get the biggest compliments. What it does for your gifted child’s confidence is priceless.
7. In You They Trust
“In Mom We Trust.” Earn their trust by trusting them. Earn their respect by respecting them. To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That basic principle of physics is the basic law of parenting. To win your approval, your children will validate your opinion of them – good or bad. Don’t be a snoop. Butt OUT. Respect their privacy; don’t betray their trust. Be grateful when they confide in you. Worry is an empty gesture; an unproductive, ego-driven pastime. Worry, like money and stuff, is not a substitute for Love and Trust. A parent who is constantly worrying about everything is a cliché. Worry erodes a child’s self-worth. Worry diminishes, trust empowers.
8. Your Children Are the Funniest People You’ll Ever Meet
Your kids are hilarious because all kids are hilarious. Laugh with them, not at them. Nobody you will ever meet will be as entertaining as your children are to you. There’s a high probability that people, who aren’t you, will not share your opinion of your children. When your child becomes and Rhodes Scholar or wins a MacArthur Genius Grant, the world will be notified of the fact that your child is a genius. Until then, keep your opinion to yourself.
Nothing is more validating than the kick your child gets out of making you laugh. It’s meaningful because 1. You’re Listening. 2. You’re connecting through laughter 3. You’re giving praise. Keep a journal of their best quips, dialogue and escapades. When he’s 25 years old that journal will mean more than the Atari you got him on his 9th birthday. When your kid can laugh at himself, he will be able to appreciate the absurdity of the world. This isn’t something they’ll learn in school. A sense of humor is the best gift you can give your kids – besides yourself.
9. Your Children Are the Most Fascinating People You’ll Ever Meet
They’re complex, talented and curious – because they’re yours. They are smarter than you. It’s a fact. Every generation out-smarts the one before. Be interested in what they do, what they think and what they say. They are not your mini-me-clones. Your children expand your universe in ways that didn’t exist when you were their age; when t.v. was in Black & White. When phones were rotary and had cords and fast food was a Swanson’s t.v. dinner and we watched “The Jetsons” to see what the future would be like. These are the iMac, iPhone, iPod, iPad, iiiiiiiKids. The few, old fashioned things we’ve mastered are obsolete and quaint to them. Be a good sport. Celebrate their intelligence. They will leave you in the iDust before they’re in double-digits.
10. Your Child is Like a Snowflake
Each child is unique. Even twins, triplets, octuplets. You’ve got to customize your parenting style for each one. You gave them different names for a reason. Acknowledge their individuality. They’re different in a million ways: age, birth order, looks, gender, talent, temperament, IQ, EQ, hobbies, dreams, attention span, favorite color, music, movies, taste buds. One hates tuna, but loves sardines, another wants cheesecake, not carrot cake, but everybody (but me) loves lamb chops. They need different lunch boxes, toys, clothes, and terms of endearment. Make each one feel special. Respect their individuality. It’s a family, not a cult. Speak their language and never, ever forget to say “I love you” no matter how old they are. And they will grow-up, they always do — if you’re lucky, like me.