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Parenting: What Not to Do, and Why

Nobody ever said being a parent would be easy. They – whoever “they” are, most likely your own parents or a friend who has been there – said it would be important, that it would challenge you, and that there would be days you wish you had considered that crazy notion to become a nun or join the Peace Corps instead. But you muddle through, and in spite of your best efforts you cling to the troubling notion that maybe you don’t have it nailed down. You’re probably right about that. But don’t be too hard on yourself, nobody gets it completely right, and somehow our kids seem to turn out okay. That is, if you can overlook those times when you see a little too much of yourself in them. For those who seek higher ground, here are a few things to look at.

First, stop feeding your kids the stuff you like to eat because it's easy and fast. We’re talking junk food here, the stuff that is ordered through a talk-box from your car and delivers more saturated fat per bite than an IV drip of pure bacon grease. It’s ironic that what you consider to be a little reward for yourself is just about the most physically damaging thing you can do to your children short of chaining them to the garage wall. Try a little turkey on whole grain next time, and wait until you’re alone to indulge your masochistic need for something that will eventually clog your arteries.

You don’t read to your child often enough. First hint here: they won’t be interested in Cosmo or the latest issue of Field and Stream. No, this is pure Harry Potter territory, after breaking them in with a side order of Sam I Am. Who knows, you might actually learn something in the process.

Next up – just back off. Their marks in the third grade really won’t impact their chances of getting into Yale, we promise. Help them set high goals and encourage them, but them remember that childhood isn’t about you looking good with bragging rights to having spawned a valedictorian. Let them be themselves, and trust in the process of their own need to shine. Model success, don’t dictate it.

Understand the law of consequences. If you take the heat for them, if you protect them from their own missteps, you’re missing the best chance of all to teach your children what you learned later in life. Sometimes falling is the best medicine of all. Don’t rob them of the chance to see how high they can fly by understanding how low they can sink. And don’t promise consequences you’re too timid to deliver. If they pour paint on your upholstery, make sure you take away their wide screen plasma TV, just as you said you would.

Other traps abound. Maybe you forgot to breast feed them – big mistake. Don’t let them hear you bashing them when you think it’s safe, they’ll remember what you say, and they’ll do their best to make you right. And first and foremost, don’t hold back on the one thing they do need to hear, and can never hear too much of: tell them you love them. Unconditionally, unashamedly. Make them want to make you proud, not because you need it, but because they do.

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