“Before I married, I had three theories about raising children and no children. Now, I have three children and no theories.”
“You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.”
Franklin P. Jones
Today my goal is to be peaceful and joyful the entire day. That’s right, the entire day. That’s my goal.
That means that in everything I do, I need to be focused and present. I cannot be doing several things at once.
That means I can’t let my kids upset me if they start fighting and that I need to have logical consequences if they do.
It means that I need to be conscious of my physical state by eating well, drinking water and smiling.
It means I need to enjoy my children or whatever it is I am doing and not act as if they are a burden, a chore or an obligation. I love my girls. They are beautiful, smart, interesting and funny. They are good kids. But because they are kids, they are also loud, lazy, annoying and defiant. They fight and whine. They demand things constantly. There are times when they never seem happy. Honestly, there are times when they are hard to like.
Sometimes when I see other people’s kids and they seem so nice and polite, I think, “I wish my kids were like that.” Then I realize they are. But they don’t get that way by themselves. They take time and discipline and training. They need attention and love and fun. Also, I’ve learned very quickly that other people struggle with their kids as much as I struggle with mine. Being a parent isn’t easy. As they say, there’s no instruction manual on raising children. Most of us do the best we can with what we have.
Technically though there are instruction manuals, or more accurately, books to read on how to raise children. From Dr. Spock to Have a New Kid by Friday, there is a plethora of literature, ideas and opinions on child rearing. I admit, I probably haven’t done enough reading in this area, but here are some ideas that have worked for me when I apply them.
1. Stay calm. When I am calm with my kids, they stay calm or they get calm more quickly. If I escalate, they escalate. It’s that simple. This takes conscious presence. Every time I have an emotional response, there is this split second where I make a choice to stay calm or escalate. Eventually my choices become a habit.
2. Stay consistent. This is far easier said than done. I have a problem with this one, but when I am consistent everything feels better and there’s less argument. And despite the whining, my kids love this.
3. Spend time with them. That’s it. Time. Some of this time can (and should be) fun. Other times it involves chores or errands. Just be with them and let them be with you.
4. Get away from them. No one wants to or needs to be with their kids all day. And most kids don’t want to be with their parents all day. The older they are, the healthier it is for them to be with appropriate friends.
5. Stay close. By this I don’t mean only physical proximity, but observation. I really like knowing who my kids friends are, especially as they get older. I don’t mind if they aren’t home all the time, but I want to know where they are and who they’re with.
6. Read and learn. Like anything else, there are a lot of ideas out there and many of them are pretty good. Sometimes all we need is a little guidance.
7. Like your children. Listen to them and spend time with them as you would a friend. I am fortunate because I genuinely like my daughters (most of the time). I remember, very clearly, what it was like to be a child so I am able to empathize with them most of the time. I also enjoy playing softball with them and listening to them. I think they are interesting.
Last night I had fun playing softball with all three of them. We had a great time and I enjoyed watching them interact with each other and they enjoyed making fun of me when I didn’t catch the ball. As the sun was going down and the clouds were pink and blue, it was, I realize now, one of the nicest moments in my life.
Perhaps all the above makes me seem as if I’m an expert on raising children. I’m not. I feel like I’m incredibly bad at it most of the time, but I have one thing in my favor: I constantly remember that they will not always be children and I want them to be able to look back and know they were loved and liked. I do what Steven Covey says in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; I begin with the end in mind.
My hope is that I will earn their respect and will be able to teach them the things I have learned in life. I want them to learn to be productive, content and happy much sooner than I learned these things. I want to teach them to Get Started and Keep Going.