Do you have your mom on speed dial for those moments when you realize you don’t know it all? I’m often amazed by my mom’s ability to do such a great job balancing work, church, family, sports, friends and yes, even my dad. There is no owner’s manual for kids - it’s all a judgment call. So, why not call someone with good judgment who raised six, my mom!
Before we get into the 5 tips that helped her raise our family, her first advice is this: Love and do all things out of love for your children!
1. Patience is not just a virtue!
As my mom explains, patience throughout the different stages of life is important and kids learn lessons from each. Here’s an example: A five year old spends 20 minutes tying his shoes as mom waits patiently to get out the door to work….it’s tempting to grab those cute little spider-man-wrapped feet and get it done yourself. Lessons: independence, confidence, how to tie your shoes (oh, and that your feet work much better when shoes are actually tied).
OK, I know what you're thinking – “who has the time to wait 20 minutes every morning while the five year old ties their shoes?” Pre-planning was always the key to her success: organize, plan and start early! The way you choose to manage your time will directly influence the amount of patience you’re able to display.
Last, know when you’re losing the battle with patience……step away, take a deep breath or have another cup of coffee!
2. Play a lot!
Mom says, “don’t underestimate play time”! It may look like leisure time, but when your kids are playing kick ball, house, or fighting imaginary dragons in the back yard, they are developing life skills. These things teach kids to play nice, regulate their emotions, imagine, think and master social norms. After all, we know that as kids grow up, the work environment is a team sport (and even sometimes a contact sport!).
Tree-climbing, hopscotch, dodge-ball and even dress-up time have kids moving much more than television or computer games. Kids who are active when they are young have been shown to stay more active as they become adults. In a nutshell, she says “play, sunshine, fruits & vegetables - these are the things that keep kids healthy.“
3. Be consistent, consistently!
“Creating consistency around expectations, rules and parenting creates a less stressful family life. Everyone knows their limitations, consequences and what is acceptable in and outside of the home. When kids know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you say what you mean and mean what you say, their behavior rapidly falls in line.” (and who hasn’t heard that exhausted mom counting to 10 for the 5th time?) It’s nearly impossible to be consistent when you are in a reactive mode, when you are angry or frustrated in the moment.
Now, when my mom talks about consistency, I always find examples…..why did my older brother get to stay out later? Why did my sister have permission to stay overnight at a friend’s house and I did not? Her answer makes sense, but not what I wanted to hear……it’s about age appropriateness, personality and each child has different needs. She explained that you have to be consistent, but it was wrong to treat each child exactly the same. This reminds me of the story of my brother Patrick who considered it a personal challenge to do exactly the opposite of my mom's "don't do X" instruction! While I, the perfect child, wouldn’t dare do it (like the fear of God, some of us have a healthy fear of our moms)!
4. Give them a job!
They don’t need to file a tax return, but appropriate chores around the house are a good thing. This teaches kids responsibility, initiative, pride in a job well-done, self-sufficiency and respect for their belongings. As soon as a child can put their plate in the sink or pick up their toys – they should be introduced to the world of responsibilities. She says, “Setting the table with napkins when you’re five and vacuuming on Saturday mornings when you’re twelve are very important life lessons on being part of the household team”.
When you give responsibilities, you don’t need to reward them. Being quick to reward can make them think they deserve something in return.
Also, as a parent of a busy teenager, it is tempting to say, “she has hours worth of homework, extra activities and is just too busy to do chores around the house.” My mom would say that’s a big mistake! Having busy teenagers maintain responsibilities around the house teaches them lasting life lessons on time management, balance and working together as a family.
5. Be the mom, not the friend!
“In order to grow into an adult, kids must develop confidence, independence and responsibility, and they must make some mistakes on their own and suffer the consequences.” If a mother is too much of a friend, then the child does not have the opportunity to experience the growth.
It is a balancing act! Keep an open relationship where you can talk about problems, questions and situations - listen with open ears and open hearts. But also, let them know that the first and final role in their lives is as their mother!
Easier said than done! Parents are paying for their children’s clothes, so how does it happen that some dress completely inappropriately? Teach your kids how to dress nice, stay up with fashion but within your family’s standards and don’t give into bad decisions just to be the “cool” mom.
Last, but certainly not least: trust, but verify! Quietly listen - it’s your responsibility to know what your kid is doing. Don’t snoop or read their love notes, but the simple act of doing their laundry brings learnings (jean pockets hold many secrets)! Don’t intentionally eavesdrop, but have your ear to the ground when they are having conversations with siblings and friends. Something as small as a shift in the way they keep their room can be a signal of trouble. As a mom, the bottom line is: “trust your instincts.”