Being a parent is not hard. Being a good parent is by far one of the hardest jobs I have ever had. As much as I try to educate myself on how to be a good mom, there still seems to be a margin of gray of the unknown and the unpredictable where my children are concerned.
It takes a great deal of time, effort, soul-searching, and sacrifice to be a good, or better yet, a great mom or dad. I don't know that I am a great mom, but I do know that I work hard to be a good mom. Most of what I've learned about parenting has come from experience, or more accurately, trial and error. But also, a lot of what I have learned comes from my willingness (albeit uncomfortable and even downright painful) to take a good hard look deep within myself and change as deemed necessary. I commit myself to doing this not only for the sake of my own health and well-being, but also for the sake of the well-being of those I love. At the top off that list are my husband and my own two children.
When my children Zachary and Channing were little, I thought that nothing could possibly be more difficult than the enormity of loving them, protecting them, and teaching them basic life skills. I experienced gripping fear when they were hurt or sick. Indescribable anger would wash over me when they blatantly defied me. I had to learn to control and channel those emotions in constructive ways. I thought nothing could ever be more challenging or overwhelming. I thought that until now, when they are teenagers, and a whole new series of issues come into play. I can't just spank them or send them to time out when they disobey me. I can't hold them and rock them when they are hurt or sick.
As they become increasingly independent and autonomous, young adults who will soon launch out on their own, I am learning to modify my parenting approach. It is very important to me that I continue to be a positive influence in their lives. These are some guide rules that I have established from my own experience and introspection:
1. Strike a balance between maintaining control and authority as the parent and allowing your children increasing freedom. Assess their degree of responsibility, self-discipline, and honesty. Use these as benchmarks for how much or how little freedom you will allow. This will vary among your children as each are unique individuals. It is not necessary, helpful, or realistic to maintain the same standard for each child. You will hear "That's not fair!" which is fine.
2. Keep it real. Make sure that you are approachable. It is important that your children trust that they can come to you for advice and guidance. There will be issues that make you uncomfortable or that you're not ready to face. Experience has taught me that you will never be completely ready! If you are close-minded, your child will turn to someone else for advice. This will create distance between you and your child as well as risk him or her following advice that you may be completely against.
3. Grow with your child. Be aware of him or her as a unique, budding human who is constantly changing. Your children will grow up and become adults whether you like it or not. Be aware of the dangers in trying to keep them "little forever." As your child grows, the relationship is destined to change. Be open and willing to change right along with it.
4. Be friendly but not friends with your child as well as his or her friends. You are not their friend, but a parent. Be mindful of the boundaries you are establishing with them and their friends. It's wonderful to be a "fun" mom or dad that everyone wants to be around, but skewing those boundaries can create confusing messages as well as undermine your ultimate authority.
5. Set the example. Children, really people in general, are way more apt to be influenced by your own actions than your mere words. Show them how to be a good person. Teach them about core values, morals, priorities, and goals by living by these principles. If you are not a healthy, productive, well-rounded person, it will be more challenging for your children to be so as well.
6. It is inherent that you love your children unconditionally. However, it is important to set standards. While free expression is a critical part of developing identity and autonomy, there needs to be limits! Tattoos, body piercings, experimenting with drugs or alcohol (to name a few) will compromise your child's success in life. Beware of the pitfalls of trying to convince yourself that "S/he is just going through a phase!"
7. Don't belittle their problems or feelings. Listen to them, and help them work through it even if it seems trivial to you. Minimizing or dismissing whatever your child is struggling with will leave them feeling degraded and humiliated. They will be angry at themselves for going to you and angry at you for being so insensitive.
8. Get out of the "Comfort Zone." Teach your children how to take reasonable risks in life, so that they do not become complacent or fearful of that which is new or unknown. Learning and growth occur when one is willing to step outside of his or her own comfort zone. Practice this for yourself as a person and encourage this in your children as a parent.
Successful parenting is extremely challenging. New challenges arise as your children grow into young men and women. It can absolutely feel like it's just not worth all the pain and effort, especially when your teenagers wish you would just back off and leave them alone. But I encourage you to hang in there and see them through this rough patch between being a child and being an adult. Apply my tips above and join me in raising happy, healthy, productive people. As parents, we have the responsibility to do this. We also have the opportunity to make this world a better place by the power of our parenting. It's worth every single moment.