How To Raise A Great Kid-One Family's Way.
Raising a great kid is the aim of all good parents. If it were easy, the news would not be full of tragic stories of kids gone wrong. Countless parents would be spared the heartache of lost sleep and lost children.
So, is there a secret? I think there is. It is love. But, to a child, love is really spelled TIME. Don't tell your child you love them, and make them an afterthought.
I have dried too many tears of kids who waited for a parent to show up as promised only to wait in vain. It is better not to promise at all than to promise and be a no-show. Yes, stuff happens, but in today's world, there are few crises that happen very far from a cell-phone.
Too many of us put our own desires first. I am not saying don't care for yourself, nor am I saying one should give up following one's dreams in order to be a good parent. A child will learn to follow its dreams by seeing you follow yours. A child will enjoy and engage in life as they see you do the same. These are good foundations for children and do not mean you are neglecting them.
But children cut through the garbage of what we say to the substance of what we do very quickly. They will know if you really care about their lives or if you are too caught up in your own drama to nurture them.
Following is a case study of our home and the good kids being raised in it.
I am divorced with two children. Divorce was hell. I tried to be a good mom during those early times, but my best was hampered by the absolute soul-crushing emotions I was going through. I did a lot wrong, including allowing myself to tell my oldest too much about my heartache. She became, in her mind, MY caretaker. She should never have felt that. So in that respect, I failed.
But children have a great capacity to adapt and forgive, and asking forgiveness was something I had to do often. In hindsight, I believe that confessing to them my failures, (which they obviously already knew), was one of the biggest gifts I gave them. It allowed them to be human and err. It also allowed them to learn about forgiveness and restoration and renewal.
I did a lot right. I chose to spend a great deal of time with my kids. We cried together, grieving what should have been and wasn't. We spent a lot of time together, doing things like reading, walking, going to church, going to friend's homes. I went to as many of their school functions and awards ceremonies that I could. I went to their practices and stayed. I stayed up late making truffles and meringues for French class because they forgot to tell me until bedtime on the night before they were due to bring food. Somehow, the girls who are five years apart, both managed to get me on this one!
One of the best things I did was to get rid of the T.V.. I realize this is radically un-American, but it was a very good move. We could no longer numb ourselves into a stupor while wishing away the best hours of our lives. It forced us to fully engage. It was pretty bad at first. But after three weeks of severe television withdrawal, they began to see that life was good without it. We kept the ability to watch movies, but those are mostly used during sick times and sleepovers.
I emphasized that the kids were not responsible for our mistakes. Remember that children usually believe divorce is their fault. This was true at our house. It took 2 years before my youngest believed me when I told her she did not cause the divorce. The thought processes of young children go something like this "Mom and Dad are perfect. Therefore, since Mom and Dad are perfect, they could not have caused the divorce. That leaves me." Imagine what that does to kids. Nearly all of them will feel this-make sure you address it.
From the time they were born, I chose to make my home a child friendly place. We had tea parties with all the dolls in the house and all the bowls filled with M and M's and sunflower seeds-this one was setup by my three year-old while I was in my office. I picked up sunflower seeds and M and M's for weeks. But it was worth it. We climbed on the roof. As they got older, they learned to skate in the kitchen and then to ride their bikes.(We lived far away from sidewalks). When their cousins visited they learned how to jump off the roof of the car and flip on to the trampoline. They survived and so did I! They cooked the kitchen into oblivion, and piled the sink with every pot in the house.
I required chores and taught them to clean up messes, but did not browbeat them over spilled milk or other minor disasters. When the youngest was six a friend went home and told her parents they should give her chores so she could do all the cool stuff like my daughter did. Cool stuff like sweeping, dishes, folding clothes, making beds... I lowered my standards so they could feel competent to help mom, then directed them into doing things better as they were able.
My expectations were high for their education, but they also knew that there might be something more important to do if the opportunity arose-like a month in Africa with family instead of school.
My oldest daughter homeschooled herself two years and is making A's in college. She asked to homeschool, promised to be responsible, and in her Senior year chose to pay for it herself since I was unable.
I wan't afraid to snoop. Now before you jump on me, let me explain what the purpose of that snooping was. It was not to play gotcha. It was not to micromanage. It was rather like a checkup at the doctor. I was looking for trends that could lead to catastrophe. I told my kids that I would snoop, but I as long as I found no major disease they would not even know I had been checking.
I kept communication open and when they told me things I really did not want to think they even knew about, I kept my cool and asked them to tell me more. It helped them clarify the choices they wanted to make because they ultimately live or die by their choices.
I welcomed all their friends to our home. At times that was frightening, because some of those kids were tough cases. But I chose not to parent out of fear. The tough cases started to open their hearts. They saw that in this home they were accepted-even if at times they were not very loveable. Most of them chose different, healthier paths as a result of the care they received.
Our home became a place of little sleep, loud music and family fun. We insisted that all here treat each other with civility, even if they didn't like each other. Bonds were formed, and they became mentors of each other. They cried and encouraged and cooked and camped out. They performed plays and jumped on the trampoline, toasted marshmallows on the bonfires, snuggled the cats and hogged the bathroom. I never knew when I got home who would be there or what would be going on. It was terrific.
My kids became leaders of the group and sucessful in their own paths. So did most of my unofficial kids. And basically, all I did was love them enough to be present.
I am fortunate in being a person who likes young people and can tolerate a lot of noise and fuss. But anyone can do it. It means that you limit how much you buy the kids off with technology so you can tune them out and do your own thing. Of course, when they hit puberty, they will start tuning you out so they can do their own thing! It is bitter sweet-you get to have more time for yourself, but you realize how soon they will be gone.
If your work is too consuming, and you want to raise good kids, It may mean working at a different job-do you really need to be the top of the professional heap if that means leaving your kids on the ash heap?
It may be a smaller home, smaller car, fewer jewels and nice clothes. It may mean that you get counseling or get involved in a church or other community. It may mean that you defer some of the things you think want to do until the kids leave home- I believe in having it all, just not all at once.
So, what kind of arrogance do I have that thinks the above behaviours will produce great kids? It is not arrogance, but I and other's have stumbled on to a way that seems to work.
Both my kids are terrific. They are both high achievers, honest, caring and hard-working. The other kids who hung out here or at times lived here are doing good things with their lives also. I don't suggest that these kids will make it through perfectly or unscathed, mine haven't but they have learned how to pick up the pieces and become whole.
Others in my community who have practiced the same ideals have produced kids that are loveable and capable. I was incredibly gifted to have parents who practiced similar parenting. I have seen the opposite, where children's lives are wrecked because their parents abdicated. I have also seen a family in which one child turned out spectacularly and another crashed and burned. The child's parent told me that due to circumstances outside of his control, (which can't be shared here), there was an inability to be there for the second kid. The difference is earth-shattering.
A young girl in my daughter's class once told me she never saw her mom. I asked if mom lived far away. Turns out her mom lives in our town. She said that her mom told her it was too much effort so don't bother coming back. Is it any wonder that reports of this child are less than good.
One of my young friends told me that despite having a lovely home with educated, intelligent, hardworking parents, he felt like this was his home. Another girl told me that, she felt like I was a mom to her. A young college man blessed me by calling me mom and being a big brother to my girls for the year or two he was around us. Another one dated a niece and his love helped her heal her own hurts. They have both moved on but they will always be family. Some of the kids told me I was more of a parent than their parents. It doesn't boost my ego-it breaks my heart. Because if my small efforts for them are so important, what does that say about their own families.
So, how do you raise great kids? Twenty-four hours a day. And at the end of the day, at the end of a life, is there really anything more important? Not in this home.