I waited almost six years to become a mom. I had a picture in my mind of what it would be like to be a mom, to be a parent. Boy, did my picture and reality look like something you would find on Pinterest “nailed it.” Not quite what I had in mind. Partially because I hadn’t really thought past the baby-snuggling stage. I had forgotten that this sweet baby boy of mine would need to grow up and mature into a young man. How can I be a better parent then? Is there a manual for that? Is there a book I can read? Some magic pill I can take?
First, every single child, whether born to you naturally or adopted, is unique. No two are the same. They can be born to the same parents, raised in the same house and still be different. That is one of the really cool things about life, nobody’s like you either. So, parenting one way might work for one of your children, but it doesn’t work for the other. It is not one-size-fits-all. Overall, there are some things we can focus on to just be better parents.
My top ten list is as follows, in no particular order!
Like I said, every child is different. Embrace your child’s uniqueness, don’t judge it or try to change it. Our son is funny, loves music, and loves to dance. So we let him listen to the chicken dance, even at 7:00 a.m. And thanks to Alexa, it can be played all day every day! Does it get overly obnoxious to his parents? You bet it does! But it can also be fun. Your children need to know you can be fun too. So embrace their uniqueness and find a way to celebrate it!
Be their teacher
You are, in fact, their first teacher. You teach them to walk, talk, eat, sit up, crawl, and everything in between. But more than that, you are teaching them to grow into responsible, mature, caring, smart young men and women. This is no small task, I know! Teach them to look a person in the eye. I just read a really interesting article where they encouraged their children to always remember a person’s eye color. I don’t want to blame things on technology, but a lot of children and young adults have a hard time looking someone in the eyes when they talk. Teach your children the importance of looking people in the eyes when they talk to them. Teach them how to shake someone’s hands. Embrace the person with a firm handshake. It shows them not only strength but confidence. Teach them the importance of being a good friend. Teach them how to be grateful. Teach them to be respectful.
Let your child make mistakes
This has also taken a lot of getting used to for me. It is hard to see your child make mistakes or do something wrong, especially when you know you could have stepped in and fixed it before it even became a mistake. However, you are there to teach your children how to be better at life, not just at building towers or getting dressed. These seem to be the areas I always want to step in and “fix” before a meltdown occurs. But those mistakes teach our children how to problem solve and how to face challenges head-on. I would rather have my child grow up to be able to face the bigger challenges that lie ahead than worry about him going to school with his shirt on backwards because he got dressed himself. Getting to school dressed is a success, and whether backwards or the right way, I will take it!
Let your child do it
This has taken me a lot of time getting used to this one. When our son was learning to walk or do things on his own, I just wanted to do it for him. Take his hand and guide him all the time. And if he just couldn’t figure it out, I would do it for him. Apparently, not a good idea! Letting your child do things on their own is one of the most crucial parts of being a parent. Is it always easy for us as parents to do? No, absolutely not. But we aren’t parenting to make our lives easier. Any parent knows that is probably the opposite because our lives got harder when we had children. Letting your children do things on their own teaches independence, which is one of the more important lessons in life if you ask me.
I mean actively present. Not on your phone. Not on your computer. Not having conversations with other people instead of your children. I mean give them your full undivided attention. No, not all the time, you need time to yourself too. But when you are engaging with your children, be there. Be with them. Be in the moment. You are making memories that you cannot remake or relive. Make sure your children remember you as being a parent who is around, engaged, and connected with them, not one that was only on their phone, always on their computer, or reading a book. You are not only giving them your undivided attention, you are teaching them to do the same thing, give you their undivided attention
Along the same lines as being present, I mean be active in your child’s life. I mean this in two ways. One, be active. Get up and get moving. Run with them. Chase them on the playground. Go for a walk with them. Ride bikes together. Simply be active. It not only is good for you to get physically active as well as your child, but it too is helping create a healthy lifestyle. Secondly, be active in their lives. I don’t mean be a helicopter parent, but I do mean you should know what is going on in your children’s lives: what things are they interested in, who their friends are, and what is going on in school. If your children are anything like mine, they might not tell you all of those things, which may require you to find the answers out on your own. Talk to your child’s teacher. Talk to the parents of your children’s friends. Be an active participant in their lives.
Be positive. Give praise.
Children feed off our emotions more than I think we ever give them credit for. Try to have a positive uplifting attitude toward your children. Is it possible to do that all the time? Well for me, it is not. But I try my best to use positive and uplifting words towards our son. I don’t know about any of you, but my attitude can flip on a dime if someone says something nice about me. Think about what that does to our children. Give them the praise they deserve. Be specific about what you are giving them praise for. Our son had a really good day at school the other day and his teacher told us, “You would be so proud of him for how hard he worked this afternoon.” I then gave him praise by saying “I am so proud of how hard you worked today at school.” And don’t forget to praise others around you. Give your spouse a compliment or praise in front of your children. This is teaching them that they too, can give praise to others.
Be a role model
Kids love to look up to their parents. I don’t know how much I always love this fact, but it is so crucial to their upbringing. I love fitness, especially running. Actually, our family is a big fitness family. We all like to work out and a lot of us run races. Naturally, our son also loves to run. As a side note, our son is adopted, which is why I am a firm believer in nurture vs. nature! In any event, I love that the example we are setting for him by simply doing what we love is also encouraging him to live a healthier lifestyle. I don’t know if y’all know this or not, but we can’t be perfect parents all the time! So fess up when you mess up. I can’t tell you how many times I have already had to tell my son sorry that I didn’t respond the way that I should. Or sorry for the way I acted when that happened. I think it shows them first that we are human and we make mistakes too. Secondly, I think it shows them how to confess when they have messed up as well. I am pretty convinced that most of what we do as parents is living by example. If we can’t live up to what we expect our children to live up to, how can we expect it out of them? Be the person you want them to be first, and they will naturally follow.
Read, and then read some more. I cannot express how important I think reading is, with and in front of your children. We started reading to our son pretty much the day he was born. He probably didn’t have a clue what we were talking about or even the significance of it at the time, but it was important for us to instill a love for reading even at a young age. Our son recently celebrated national reading week at school, and his teacher was telling me she could not believe the number of parents who do not read with their children at night. I was shocked. It is part of our daily routine. Do we miss it some nights when we get home late or there is something else going on? Of course, like I said we are human. For the other 90% of the time, we read with our son every night. He has developed a love for reading, creativity, and an extensive vocabulary. I urge you to find the time to read with your children, read to them and read in front of them. Like I said we are living by example. If we don’t read, why make our children read! Not to mention, checking books out at your local library helps them fund the library!
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE
What is that saying, there is no greater feeling than to love and be loved? I couldn’t agree more. I also couldn’t agree more that parenting is one of the hardest jobs on this planet. If someone has told you that the days are long and the years are short. That is because they are. Our children are only ours for a short amount of time. They leave the nest and start their own lives before we even realize what has happened. Enjoy the moments. Make sure to tell them that you love them. I cannot tell you how many times a day those words come out of my mouth. Not only to our son but to my spouse as well. In reality, children “need” very few things. Food, water, clothing, a place to live, and love. Well, of course, that is the short list, but it is the most important list. They need to feel comfortable and comforted. Show them that you love them by being present, telling them you love them, and making lasting memories.
My list of how to be a better parent could go on for days and days. Like reminding you that you are the parent. Take charge. Be strong. Stay firm. Hold your children accountable. Make sure if you give a warning you can follow through with it. Pick your battles. Schedule one-on-one time. Trust your instincts. Find time for yourself. Find time to still go on dates with your spouse. Avoid fights over food. Have your children go to the doctor and dentist regularly.
Let me make one thing clear though, none of us, and I mean none of us, have it all put together all the time. No matter how good some parents make it look on social media, we all have our moments and we all have our weaknesses. So if today was a bad parenting day, don’t worry there is always tomorrow!
Jessica Heesch is an avid runner and fitness guru by choice, occasional writer by coincidence, loved by an amazing husband, and mother to an incredible boy, Jackson, by the gift of adoption.