Dear New Parent:
Please learn how to communicate. Period.
My sister-in-law asked me recently to send her a list of my top recommendations for parents. She already knows she has an introverted husband, so naturally, she asked me about mine. Over the years, while raising four children, I’ve learned some things. I don’t have a childhood development degree, nor do I hold any kind of psych degree. Heed my words if you feel they will help you: the person with an open mind, asking for advice, you, the parent who knows there is always room for improvement and who wants to equip themselves with best practices for an authentically engaged family.
Besides loving the children, what can you do to help each other grow as a parenting unit and prevent arguments once had, you’ll look back on and think, “why didn’t we talk about this before now?”
Well, here, talk about it now, hurry, before he/she/they arrive!
- Agree to disagree. You can either agree to disagree and hash it out later or if your kid is mature enough, you can disagree in front of them, calmly and also ask for their input. A child psychologist may tell you to never discuss things in front of a child. I am not about radical transparency but when kids enter middle school; I think it’s okay to discuss some things that affect their lives. You may not come to an agreement that day. It may get heated and emotions will run high. That’s all normal. Sharing a little about the reasons you think the way you think may help your child use their critical thinking skills. Disclaimer: if your child is more logical-minded, they may side with the parent who is also more logical and less emotional, vice versa. If you can disagree civilly with each other and teach your child this, you are facilitating a calmer discourse during their childhood that they’re more likely to emulate. Kids need a calm environment to sort out sometimes chaotic thoughts. Processing takes time.
- Don’t project too much of your childhood onto your kid. Sure, it’s easy to tell a kid who may not be acting “ungrateful” about how when we were kids we had to take the bus to school, eat rice with water, etc., etc. Your child may understand it hearing about it, but it’s not relevant to their current situation. Family traditions and what they meant to you, favorite recipes, childhood pastimes, and friendships — all of that are shareable. Overindulging your child because you had an impoverished childhood doesn’t help your kid. They were not there, so nothing is comparable to what they have now. A lot of attention, food, material things — the child has nothing to balance the indulgences and over time they will grow bigger. They need a parent to show restraint so they can exercise restraint themselves.
- Don’t make them share all the time. Just no, their stuff is their stuff. However, encourage them to. As a chaperone on my kid’s field trip, I lent a sweater out to a kid who was cold without asking my kid’s permission. She later divulged she felt I took her agency away over her own belongings. She’s absolutely right.
- Don’t gender-box them to death. Girls are not born to just be wives and mothers. Boys are not born to be masters of the universe. Kids born now can be whatever they want because all the old systems of suppression, repression, or oppression can no longer tell them otherwise. Don’t be one of those ridiculous and outdated ‘rents that force their girl to wear a skirt or force their boy to play football. Same way, don’t force your sexual preferences on them either. Discourage non-neutral discourse about sexual identity until they’re finding their own way. That doesn’t mean you won’t have those, “when you’re a mom or dad, you’ll see” type moments but lay off the “you must be a mom or a dad, you must procreate” pressure. Your daughters don’t need to hear about their biological clock running out of time when it hasn’t even started ticking! Stressful!
- For the sake of all the family and future generations, end the cycle of non-communication. Whoever said confrontation is bad is an unrealistic dipshit. Confronting something or someone carries risk, I understand, but without risk, there is no reward. Without confrontation, without researching a problem and its solutions, you’re basically leaving the child to learn self-awareness by themselves. Some level of this is good — you can’t be there to solve everything. Paving a path to self-awareness starts with confronting oneself. Equip your child with self-resource — asking oneself questions about why they’re feeling what they’re feeling right now and what can help them understand it. The reward of raising a child who can articulate to you, through puberty and adulthood, what they’re feeling will help everyone become problem solvers in the family and hopefully, with good use, raise their levels of security, empathy, and feelings of proactivity vs. reactivity. As a family, you’re all in this together. Do not be in emotional/mental silos!
- Commit to learning as a lifelong family goal. When I was a kid I read the same set of encyclopedias over and over. I read the back of every product existing on a bathroom counter/tub/whatever surface was within reach while I sat and did my business. Why? I loved reading what was available to me and I didn’t and still don’t like wasting time. Wherever I go, if I have to wait in line, I have reading material. Having a base of knowledge that grows exponentially because learning, open-mindedness and curiosity is encouraged creates an intellectually supportive environment. As parents, we should also always be learning new things. Our children will continue to teach us, too.
- Agree on a value system, but make it bendy. Religious, non-religious, school/college, or none? What is the minimum amount of money required to be satisfied with one’s life? If you value money above all else, what does this say to your kid? Get it straight with yourselves that your little bundle of joy is an entirely separate being, not just an extension of yourself. Be flexible. Will you be okay with it if they don’t want to go to college or play the same sports you played as a child? What if they want to give all their allowance away to charity and don’t want to earn money for a living? Think about all those things you, as the parent, are not prepared for. These conversations will, over time, pop up. What if they are interested in learning about Buddhism or enjoy the ceremonial aspects of Catholicism? Be ready to accept those things so you’re not living vicariously through your child. Will you be okay if they’re not into the same activities you were into? Just because you regret some things in your life, don’t force the opposite decision that you or your folks made for you on your kid — or you’re just perpetuating the cycle. Will you be a united front if your kid runs into some unfortunate consequences of their own making? Or will one of you be sliding the cash behind the other’s back as the enabler? Enabling doesn’t equal love, by the way. It means you’re scared and will stay scared and would rather have a problem instantly and temporarily go away until it comes back bigger and bolder. Boundaries are lines that cannot be crossed. Discuss those boundaries and keep those consequences coming or kids learn quick what easy soft targets parents can be. In short, respect yo’self and you will be respected.
- Take it slow. Don’t discuss everything here right away like you’re crossing off items on a checklist. Take time to think and digest why these matters are important. Remember to discuss with love, hope and above all, understanding. When you can understand someone’s completely opposite views and why they see things that way, their way, or their “family’s way” it’s easier to compromise and come to an agreement on how to move forward together, argue less, appreciate and support each other more. Good luck ‘rents!