I hadn't been a parent for long at all before I realized that it's impossible to do the parenting thing perfectly. No matter how hard we try, we screw up often enough to have a few regrets. So I started telling my children that I would be happy to pay for half their therapy, figuring that I was at least covering my own damage.
Yet somehow, my children have turned into strong, interesting, ethical, grateful, accountable people with big hearts. And as I reflect on all these years of parenting - and now grandparenting - I can take a few lessons from where I did do a good job of trimming the sail. So here are a few questions I will continue to ask myself in the grandparenting years of my life - questions that I believe help me be more conscious of the parenting choices I make and the likely results of those choices.
"Will this choice, behavior, comment, etc."
- Teach my child about the importance of gratitude?
- Help my child develop confidence in his decision-making skills?
- Teach my child to be accountable?
- Model for my child that the feelings, needs, and concerns of others are equal to her own?
- Demonstrate for my child the joy of working hard to achieve something?
- Show my child how to handle failure and loss with grace and optimism?
- Affirm for my child that she is perfect the way she is, completely accepted now and forever?
- Allow my child to take risks and remain fearless?
Of course, at all times we should be asking, "does this action demonstrate to my child that he is loved?" But many times, the things we do to demonstrate our love to our children don't feel like love to them at the time. Our acts of love will often feel more like parenting to them, and children often do not feel like being parented. This leads us to two more questions we must regularly ask of ourselves, which are:
- Am I more concerned with being loved by my children or loving my children? The former will get in the way of living up to our responsibilities. The latter will sometimes earn us the silent treatment, a roll of the eyes, or a slammed door, but produces more mature adults.
- Am I more concerned with controlling the situation, or with teaching my child about choices, consequences and sound decision-making? The former will lead to unnecessary conflict and lack of skills development. The latter is harder for us as parents in so many ways, but produces better-prepared adults.
Children don't come with an instruction manual because they are the instruction manual. I would never have dreamt of offering this advice 30 years ago. Back then I was just starting to flail around and figure things out for myself, and it's hard enough to be fully conscious about our own lives, let alone fully conscious about the effects we are having on the lives of others. So now I keep these ten questions handy, and when I am unsure of how to respond to any parenting situation, I refer to these first. Who knows, maybe I will have added three or four more questions to the list in the next 30 years. One thing is for sure though - I wish I'd had the list when I started out!
Be careful out there! Parenting is definitely a contact sport.