10 Rules for Raising Amazing Children
Above all else, love. Love, love, love. We, as a family, are each others' best friends. At the end of the day, after friends come and go, boyfriends/girlfriends break our hearts, for all of our lives we have one another. Be our best best friends. Love and nurture your relationship with your family. Truly be best friends, and absolutely shower your children with love because one day they'll be gone and you can't give them a hug whenever you want.
Kindness to Animals
We've had many pets...old dogs who have now crossed the bridge, puppies that are still frolicking, turtles, hermit crabs, you name it. Teaching children to care for animals instills empathy, a gentleness of nature, and unconditional love like nothing other.
Love reading. Love education. Love school. You get nowhere in life, no matter how big your dreams and ambition, without a solid education. Read together. Make school a fun experience, not a dreaded end-of-summer-bummer. Let your kids see you read. Don't wait until after they're in bed...read, all the time, in front of them so they see it's a viable and fun activity for adults, too. Turn off the TV, throw a bunch of books in the living room floor, and have family reading time. Encourage older siblings to read to younger ones. They love that...they eat it up. Encourage them to read above their level...read the paper, magazines, etc.
Love Nature. No planet...no life. No nature...no life. Make sure your kids are out in nature, enjoying it, but also understanding how important it is to respect it and treat the earth well. Volunteer to pick up trash together. Recycle, garden, hike, get out and enjoy nature as often as possible.
Love and respect ART. In all forms. Painting, writing, singing, dancing....enjoy art. Take your kids to art museums (and don't giggle or act weird at the nudes). Take them to live art demonstrations. Give them easels, paints, paper, typewriters, instruments, whatever they need to flourish in the arts. Growing the right side of the brain is just as important as growing the left.
Beauty in the Unique
Maybe this should be first....LOVE YOURSELF. LOVE UNIQUENESS. Love and adore your children's quirks and teach them to do the same. We are all so gloriously different...let them be as weird, funny, goofy, as they want and never EVER, EVER try to stifle that and put them in some social-conforming box. Never crush a kids' spirit like that. If they're a boy and want long hair, let them. If they want to paint their nails, let them. If they typically behave as goofy as early-career Jim Carrey, let them. If they want to pick out Rubix-cube sneaks for the first day of school, how rad is that? If they want to sing and dance on the sidewalk in the rain in front of rush hour traffic, LET THEM. Let them rise their faces to the sun, eyes closed, absorbing everything. Let your children live their lives to the fullest, because when they are adults, society may tamp down on that. Let them be as free as possible for as long as possible.
Forget Gender Rules
If a boy wants to paint his nails, play with dolls, grow his hair, let him. If a girl wants to pay ball, get dirty in the yard, and not wear dresses, let her. Why on earth would you not? How would you like it if you hated wearing corduroy (as I do) and some jerk made you wear corduroy every single day? What a horrible way to live! Don't press gender roles on your kids...let their spirits develop naturally. Society, school, and friends will be along soon enough to press gender assignments on your kids, but hopefully they'll be strong enough from an early childhood without those pressures to be secure in who they naturally are without the pink or blue airbrushing of society.
My son recently became frustrated and lashed out, hitting his younger brother. When I talked to him, I could tell he was struggling not to cry, saying, "Coach said boys don't cry and words don't hurt...but words do hurt me, just on the inside and not on the outside." While I can't blame his coach for repeating what he's been taught, inside our home, boys can cry, words do hurt, and physical lashing out is never appropriate.
Get them involved in politics. Yeah, I'm serious. They need to be informed on how their democracy works. Use age-appropriate language, of course (don't go talking at a six year old about sequester), but take them along to political events (and yes, this includes protests and rallies, provided they are peaceful, safe places for kids). Kids need to see democracy in action. They're already learning about people like Martin Luther King, Jr. in school; they should understand that being an activist for social change is not limited to "celebrity" figures but is a duty and responsibility of all citizens in a democratic society.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Embrace exposure to all walks of life. When I worked at the AIDS agency and the LGBT center, my kids dropped by about 2-3 times a week. They would sit and talk, hang out, while I finished up, made copies, etc. My home is an open environment...I have friends over all the time, and many times those friends are gay, transgender, bi, whatever. The thing is, my kids don't know that, they just know that they are cool people.
Teach your kids to love people, not their labels or what box they fit in. This is advice a lot of adults should heed, as well. When your children become adults, they are going to encounter people from all walks of life- they should be prepared to behave professionally and kindly to anyone they meet.
Nobody gets a free ride in life. You have to work. Teach them early...chores are a mom's best friend. You have absolutely no obligation, once they can walk and comprehend basic instruction, to pick up after them. Teach them to take care of their own space, clean up their own messes, and take care of common spaces as a team. Trust me, their future roommates and partners will thank you.
I had a reward system that worked great (a "chore chart" with raffle tickets that went towards the purchase of ice cream, toys, etc), and now we don't even have this poster anymore but the kids remember their basic chores. Sometimes, if we're doing something extra like spring cleaning, I'll work out a system, "OK, I'll give you each five bucks to pitch in on your closet, pack up these summer clothes, and put everything away." They get five bucks, I get a check on my cleaning list. Win/win.
Again, the root of all good parenting comes from love. Even if your parenting style differs from mine, if you approach all parenting decisions from a place of love and compassion, your kids will be amazing. Don't hesitate to grow and learn with your children, and accept the fact that all parents make mistakes. Learn from those mistakes, grow, and continually evolve to be the parent your children need you to be.