There is no handbook to parenting. Rather, since there are many books and articles on the topic, I should say that there is no one specific, definitive book on parenting and raising outstanding individuals who will improve society and the world around them by existing. Through these past few years, I’ve gathered advice from family and friends about what to do and what to avoid. However, it wasn’t until recently that I wondered: How do I want to raise my kids?
It’s funny, these kids of mine are the future, yet I would describe my parenting style recently as auto-pilot.
When my first kid was born, it was quite different. We would listen to The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. I would teach him fluent French. In my daydreams, we would speak French to each other when we didn’t want people to know what we were saying. (Because, in my part of the country, few people speak French.)
Now that I have two kids, I mostly just try to have an enjoyable day. If everyone can have a good day, it’s like watching a rainbow without having to sit through the storm. And, while good days are important, it’s not a parenting style.
So, I started thinking, What do I want to teach my kids? What value and substance can they get from me to help make this world better?
- Pop songs and movie quotes. Those who know me will not be surprised that this is the top of my list, as I love pop songs and movie quotes. The reason this is my #1 is because words matter. What you say and how you say it can make the difference between something forgettable and something so memorable and empowering that people will quote it for hundreds of years. The thing about pop culture is that, as the 1980s get further and further away, you really get to see which songs and quotes stick. What words will stand the test of time and still be meaningful 50 years from now?
- What you put in is what you get out. Most things that hold value will require effort. Studying will bring you good grades. Working on relationships with friends and family will bring you happy memories. Practicing a sport, instrument, or special skill will make you more proficient in that area. Frequently, things that come easily do not feel as rewarding because you didn’t have to put forth that much effort. Try. In everything you do, try.
- It’s okay to not know the answer. The universe is evolving. Information is gathered and, even as it is collected and analyzed, changes happen to make that data relatively obsolete. Maybe all questions will be answered some day, but it’s not your responsibility to have all of the answers today. When you don’t know the answer to something, it’s okay to admit that.
- Think for yourself. Through school, it will be easier and will get you better grades to memorize what your book and teachers say and think. You will take tests and regurgitate other people’s thoughts. If you do this with enough skill, you will get good grades. However, while you’re learning and memorizing what other people think about something, take time and ask yourself what you think. While sharing other people’s thoughts will get you through school, sharing your own thoughts will get you through life.
- People’s differences are what make them fun. It’s natural that we connect with people who have similarities to ourselves. However, it’s just as important to celebrate our differences. Each person is unique and has their own story to tell. Seek out friends who have had different life experiences from you and get their perspective. By really hearing someone else’s experiences, you will broaden your mind. You don’t have to go far to find people with differences. For many people, you can look within your own family. Which leads me to:
- Family is amazing! I married in to a large family. Out of the 35 or so of us, no two are the same. (Although, we do have one set of people with the same birth date and year.) Constantly, I am amazed by what my family does in the short amount of time when I don’t see them. (Many of us live in the same town.) They are an invaluable network of individuals who provide so much joy, laughter, help, insight, compassion and support. Okay, not everyone has such a great family. You can just read the word “amazing” with a different tone. Or, and I like this option better, think about the family that you create with your loved ones and friends. Genetics doesn’t make you family; love does.
- Kindness, empathy, sympathy. You will have bad days. When you do, notice the things people do for you to help lift you and make you feel better. Then, when the people around you have bad days, do your best to show them the kindness that you have received from others. Sometimes you will understand what they’re going through; sometimes you won’t. Be kind and be there to help.
- Please. Thank you. They are simple words, yet they convey such gratitude and respect for others. They should always be said with sincerity, appreciation, and eye contact.
- Eye contact. A huge pet peeve of mine is when people avoid eye contact. This can mean that they don’t look you in the eyes when you’re standing in front of them, but it can also mean that they do things electronically that should be done in person. Some conversations need to be had face to face. And nothing indicates sincerity in your words like direct eye contact.
- Generosity. Be generous with yourself. Give your time, energy, effort, smiles and kind words. Don’t wait for when you think people need it most; always give. Give to friends and strangers evenly. As any parent can tell you, giving is an important part of the day to day routine. Give from your heart and you will be happy.
Obviously, since my kids are still young, I have no idea what sort of adults they’re going to become. I can only hope that I’m making wise choices as a parent and emphasizing the right thoughts and skills.
What do you hope you’re teaching your kids? Or if you don’t have kids, what do you hope parents are teaching their kids? Let us know in the comments below.
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