There are some immutable truths that you need to come to grips with if you are going to succeed with this job called parenting. Here are some of my favourite parenting truths:
1. There's no such thing as quality time
You have to put in the time with your kids if you are going to have a worthwhile relationship and if you want to influence them. There are no half measures. Rituals, one-on-one time and even downtime are good strategies to build relationships, and all of them take time.
2. You give birth twice
If you have a child in primary school you may be congratulating yourself for doing a great job. You may even be thinking, "What's all the fuss about? Parenting is easy." Be aware that your child will disappear some time soon and be replaced by an early adolescent. Yes, this birth will be just as painful as the first one!
3. You cut your parenting teeth with your first child
Remember when you held your first child in your arms for the very first time. It was at that point that you probably realised that your life had changed forever. You were also holding an experiment. Your first-born took you into new parenting ground and will continue to do so at every stage of development. You're stricter on your first; more fretful and more focused. Your expectations are high, which can be a heavy burden for first borns to bear.
4. Small children, smaller problems. Big children, bigger problems
It's easy to wish your parenting life away as young children can require so much of your attention and energy. But teenagers take even more of your attention and energy than young children, their issues and challenges are far bigger. Enjoy your children at every stage.
5. Someone has to be in charge
Families work well when someone is in charge and it's always best if it's the parents. You don't have to use the same dictatorial methods that past generations used, but you do need to be a leader who knows how to be firm and also how to be nurturing. Many couples play good cop, bad cop as it can be hard work being both. Single parents must juggle both these sides, which is why they need supporting.
6. You don't have to know everything
It's healthy for children to have some emotional space from their parents. The developmental imperative to grow up means that they will also grow away from you. It may be painful, but managing to NOT know every little detail of their lives can help in this process. Know they are happy at school but you don't need to know what they were doing at lunchtime and exactly who they were playing with.
7. Your house, your rules
These four words adorned a football team's pre-game banner recently, signifying that the home team ruled. And they did. The same applies to raising kids. When they are in your home visitors should live by your rules. When your kids go to other people's homes, including their grandparents', they should adapt to their rules. That way they learn to be flexible and fit in, which are both wonderful social skills. In fact, that is socialisation.
8. It's easier to raise other people's children
Ever noticed it's easy to raise everyone else's kids but you get stuck when it's your own? The emotional tie we have with our own children can sometimes blind us and mean we can make subjective rather than objective decisions about their upbringings. Also our parental aspirations can mean we put more pressure on our own offspring than we would if we were raising other people's children.
9. Raising toddlers prepares you for raising teenagers
When you held your baby in your arms all those years ago you were filled with love. It was soft love. That baby became a toddler -- all arms and legs and defiance -- and you needed to discover firm love. Yes, you needed to put some spine into your parenting. That backbone that you've newly discovered is needed when raising teenagers. In fact, if you want to understand a teenager then subtract a dozen years. A 14-year-old is not much different from a 2-year-old. They are both self-absorbed. They both suck up a lot of your energy. And they both have strong independent streaks that take careful parental management.
10. Build a strong food culture to build a strong family
It's no coincidence that those countries with strong food cultures, such as Italy and France, also have strong family cultures. There is something magical about a family sitting down to share a meal that's been lovingly prepared by a parent (or child), and that everyone has contributed to (whether setting the table, chopping the veggies or washing dishes). It's hard to build a strong family when everyone eats individually and there's no gathering of the tribe.
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