Let me preface this with a few disclaimers, because I’m reeeeeally good with disclaimers, and when writing, you should always start with your strong point. My strongest points in life are self-deprecation and disclaimers. I know. I’m quite a catch.
Here we go…
I make parenting mistakes. Daily! Usually smaller ones, sometimes huge ones. I’m not the greatest parent ever. My kids are not the greatest kids ever. And don’t even get me started on our dogs.
Now that I’ve boosted your confidence in me, here are some of my thoughts on parenting.
My kids have a pretty fun life. Our house is full of humor. We’re goofy and dorky and ridiculous. I prank my kids. Often. We have dance parties. Sometimes at Target. My kids get dessert every single day. Occasionally this ends in me smearing cake all over their faces.
We celebrate half birthdays. We celebrate everything. We celebrate nothing. I’ve been known to throw my kids “We’re proud of you!” parties, just for fun. Not after a great report card or a perfectly cleaned room. For no reason at all. (Or actually, for the most important reason: because they’re thoughtful, compassionate human beings.) I’ve taken them out of school for a day because riding roller coasters is more important on a random Tuesday in March.
I don’t spank. Ever. Never have. Never will.
So are my kids brats? Hell no!
My kids have a pretty disciplined life. They have chores. The older two do their own laundry, they make most of their school lunches, they help with vacuuming and dusting, they’re in charge of cleaning their own bathroom. I’m a tyrant.
They don’t get paid for chores. They do chores because they’re part of the family and therefore part of a team that works together to make our home run smoothly. They don’t get an allowance either. Nothing. Not a single buck. Because I’m selfish. Or because I’m teaching them that in life you don’t get money just because you’re alive. Money is earned. If they want money, they do extra chores, which they are compensated for. Real life stuff. No babying them.
Whining? Not happening in my home. When they were younger, if one of them had a poor attitude, I made the offender step outside, shake off or spit out the bad attitude, and come back in when it was all left outside our house. There were times they were going back out every five minutes for an hour.
A few years ago, I started the “Yeah, but…” game with them. If someone complains, they’re free to express it, we talk about it, but then I say, ”Yeah, but…” and they have to follow their negative statement with something positive. It’s hard. Even for me. I hate it. But it’s important.
My children are not allowed to hurt each other, or anyone else, physically or emotionally. There are serious consequences for even the smallest insults. They don’t get away with crap. When I threaten something, I follow through. Even if it complicates my day, I follow through! They trust my word now. They know that when I say, “If you do this, such and such will happen,” then oh, such and such WILL happen, and they will hate such and such because I am really good at coming up with terrible such and suches.
So are my children perfectly behaved? Hell no!
Listen (and don’t mind me while I point out the obvious), I am no expert at parenting, and Lord knows I struggle through this incredible and exhausting job of being a mother every single day. Every day! No exaggeration. I do not have all the answers. I don’t always know what I’m doing. I’m constantly second guessing my rules and decisions. The feeling of guilt that I might be screwing up my children haunts me constantly. But after years and years of parenting, this is what I’ve discovered works for my family. Take or leave it, but here it is…
1. Find the right balance! The balance between fun and strict is the key. Balance is air. It is water. It is a gooey, warm chocolate brownie. It is something you should not live without.
I want to raise self-sufficient, intelligent, thoughtful, and compassionate adults who I actually enjoy hanging out with. That takes strictness, no empty threats, and following through every. single. time. I also want to raise creative, spontaneous, life-loving adults with a great sense of humor. That takes fun, spontaneity, and letting your inner kid come out to play. Find the balance between strict and fun. It will make you like your children more. I promise.
2. Treat each child as an individual. Coming up with different consequences or rewards for each child is more work. It’s exhausting and brain numbing at times, but it’s important! Each of your children is different. They have their own unique personalities, strengths and weaknesses, pet-peeves, and passions. Quick, generic punishments or rewards are way easier than custom-made ones to fit each child, but hear me and hear me clearly: Do not use the “it’s difficult” excuse when it comes to doing the right thing for your child.
3. Talk to your children about everything. Everything. They’re asking you about blow jobs? Talk about it! I mean it. I don’t care if they’re 5! If they actually bring it up, now is the time to talk about it. If you think dismissing them will make them stop asking you, you’re right. They’ll stop asking you and start asking someone else!
Our kids will hear about “touchy subjects” whether we like it or not. Even if I decided to homeschool my kids, didn’t own a TV, and kept them locked up, they would still hear about sex and drugs and violence.
Do I want them learning about important life issues from an 8-year-old who learned it from a teenage sibling, or do I want them to learn it from me? As my friend Jo once told her young daughter, “If you have questions about sex, ask me! I have many more years of experience in that department than any of your friends do.”
Talk to your kids about everything. Let them ask questions. Don’t shut them down. Don’t answer them with, “We’ll talk about it when you’re older.” Are you kidding me? If they’re asking you, the time is now. Talk now! And don’t talk at them; talk with them.
I don’t just talk with my kids about everything, everything, everything, I role play the conversations that will come up in their life. When my kids were toddlers, I didn’t just tell them not to go with strangers, I set up a dozen different scenarios and role played with them so they could practice and get confident with their words and actions.
We role play all types of conversations in our home, from how they will ask a teacher for help with an assignment, to how they will step in if they see someone being bullied, to how they will handle a kid showing them porn or offering them a beer. Simply lecturing my kids is a waste of my time. I give them scenarios they can react to in order to practice. Don’t just give your kids your words to say, empower them to find their own words and solutions.
4. Parent! Joking around, throwing silly parties, having a blast with my children, and telling them a million times a day how much I adore them doesn’t mean I’m their friend. I’m not their friend. I don’t want to be their friend. We are not on the same level. I am the parent. I am in charge. I am the authority. My job is not to be liked by my kid, and I don’t take it personally when my kid dislikes me. If my kid likes me 100 percent of the time, I’m sucking at parenting!
That’s it. That’s all I got. Parenting is complicated and difficult. It’s supposed to be! I mean, we’re raising human beings who have brains and emotions. We’re raising children who could grow up to better the world with new inventions or better just one life with their thoughtfulness and compassion. Or they could grow up to live in your basement at age 40, playing video games all day, and scratching their asses. How you parent can play a huge role in which path your kids end up taking.
This is a huge, often overwhelming task we’ve taken on when we decided it would be so cute to have a baby. Parenting is hard work! It’s really, really hard. And if it’s not, you’re doing it wrong and your kids are brats.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my youngest who just pooped himself up to his neck, my middle who is about to play the “Yeah, but…” game for the third time in the past hour, and my oldest who is suspiciously perfect today.
I will never be the best at this crazy, beautiful job of mothering, but I brought those three monkeys into the world and I will work my butt off (and hopefully some of my thighs) not to screw them up… too much.