Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the tag “parental advice”

5 Basic and Valuable Lessons I’ve Learned about Parenting

As the younger of my two children closes in on his 18th birthday, I offer five basic parenting principles that I view as important in raising well-adjusted, self-sufficient, industrious and confident children.

I didn’t invent them, and by no means was I always exemplary in following these practices — I had to learn, and still am learning, from my own mistakes and bad habits — nor are Parentsmy 20-year-old daughter and high school graduate son perfect or devoid of flaws or insecurities. Neither are your classic All-Americans or stereotypical overachievers. But they are on good tracks in their lives, have done quite well for themselves, and, importantly for me, rarely caused me any worry, grief or stress that more troubled children can cause parents.

I also have realized these aspects of positive parenting in my counseling masters’ program and associated internship, where I saw the havoc wreaked by destructive or neglectful parenting.

  1. Express caring, love and pride often. Parental expression of the positive emotions toward their children can have a lifelong impact on their self-esteem, self-image, confidence, security, well-being and overall feelings about themselves. As long as these expressions of positive emotions are genuine and backed up by actions, I don’t think you can overdo it. On the flip side, parents who frequently express destructive emotions and feelings, such as anger and disappointment, or who excessively criticize children through mocking, condescension, belittlement or other abusive behaviors, cause their children great damage that they invariably will carry into adulthood and will have tremendous difficulty in undoing.
  2. Promote independence; let children make their own choices within reason and accept responsibility and consequences. A relatively new phenomenon in parenting is the “helicopter parent” – those parents who hover over their children and try to protect them from any wrong move or negative consequence and cushion or fix any disappointment, failure or mistake. Kids aren’t fragile; they’re resilient. But when you hover too much, they don’t use their resiliency muscles and they atrophy. As a result, it seems there’s a trend toward a large generation of young adults that has trouble breaking away from the safe cocoon of over-protective or over-indulgent parents. The sooner kids are given responsibility for their decisions, the more they will take ownership over their own lives and the less they will blame others or external forces for whatever doesn’t go their way.
  3. Show up…and be present. There is no better way to let kids know you care about them, and to help them feel attached, secure and loved, than to show up all the time, every day, unless circumstances absolutely prevent it. Show up to elementary school concerts, dance recitals, athletic events, birthdays, sleepovers (not to stay overnight, but when pickup is needed), and all other activities important to your kids. When you show up, provide encouragement and positive feedback, even if you find fault with their “performance” or “effort.” Separate the child from the action. In other words, don’t let a child feel unworthy because he didn’t perform well. You can offer constructive criticism or advice after the positive words, lending your wisdom and experience to aid learning, but not to tear down or damage confidence. And when you do show up, do your best to be truly “present,” not distracted or off in your own distant world. Kids will know when you’re paying attention.
  4. Model good behavior and caring, respectful relationships. Kids will model what they observe in the most important relationships in their life – those with their parents. Their behavior, manners, work ethic, diligence, emotional regulation and respect for others likely will pattern after their parents’. If they see their parents treating each other and other family members poorly or disrespectfully, they likely will display aspects of that behavior themselves within the family and with others.
  5. Live a disciplined life. As psychiatrist and well-known author Scott Peck wrote in The Road Less Traveled, undisciplined parents breed undisciplined children who carry bad habits and behaviors learned in childhood into adulthood. These problems stemming from a lack of discipline that are hard-wired during childhood often are extremely challenging to break and can dog individuals for a lifetime, causing dysfunction that can damage individuals’ self-functioning and ruin relationships. Undisciplined, out-of-control parents usually live chaotic lives in unstructured environments that rarely produce disciplined children.

Fatherly Words of Wisdom to a Son

PIC_0228With Father’s Day in three days and my son’s 17th birthday two days after that, I figured it was as good a time as any to dole out some fatherly wisdom. I gave my son a heads up that I was thinking of writing about my sage and hard-earned advice, and even offered him a few pearls as a preview to try to get his buy-in. I thought I’d blow him away with profundity, or at least cleverness, but it didn’t have that effect – more like, “Yeah, whatever.” At least he didn’t yawn, or if he did, only mentally. (I should add here, for the record, that my son is a great kid and I’m proud of him.)

Whether he wants it or not – and most teenagers don’t and I can’t blame them and I’m sure I also was that way at 17 — I’m going to give it to him. Because that’s my job, that’s what parents do. Here, eat your spinach, it’s good for you, and you’re going to like it, because I said so, and I know and you don’t!

In fairness, he’s heard some of this before. And admittedly, not all my insights are deeply profound. And some of these may be more, “Do as I say, not as I do.” But I believe when he is an adult, he will hearken back, and realize some of these nuggets actually were on target…and that’s why it will be required reading! Eat your spinach! (I actually have semi-required my kids to read certain newspaper articles about young people who have it tougher than them.)

The Top 25 Fatherly Words of Wisdom, with some overlap and in no particular order, except the first one, which is meant to be shocking so he’ll pay attention to the rest:

  1. Nobody gives a crap about you. Yes, this is harsh, overly dramatic, and for those who are even modestly lucky in life, not even true. But we all find out soon enough that the world can be cruel, so we might as well be ready for that.
  2. Cultivate your resilience – you’ll most likely need it
  3. Be the best friend you can be to your friends and the best relative to your family members
  4. Cherish your significant other/always have their back
  5. Focus on making your life fulfilling, meaningful and enjoyable, not on accumulating (live as Spartan as you can)
  6. Develop self-confidence/believe in yourself (and fake it until you make it)
  7. Be proactive/avoid passivity
  8. Lead
  9. Be courageous/have courage of your convictions
  10. Find a passion and pursue it
  11. Don’t procrastinate
  12. Drink socially, not to get drunk
  13. Eat healthily and exercise
  14. Practice self-reliance
  15. Strive for authenticity
  16. Be bold/take smart risks
  17. Find your own meaning of spirituality
  18. Be generous
  19. Be compassionate and seek to understand others
  20. Beware of your anger/deal with it when you know you have it
  21. Accept responsibility
  22. Invest your money early and often
  23. Invest in yourself and don’t shy away from self-promotion (Look out for Number One).  No one will do it for you.
  24. Give back to a cause that is close to your heart. You will benefit spiritually and emotionally as much as those to whom you have given.
  25. Embrace the mind-body connection and nurture both – you will need each in good shape for a long time.

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