I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, occupational therapist or nothing else ending in ‘ist’. I am not a social worker, a counsellor or a doctor of any kind. Although I should tell you that I have started studying psychology twice now – once when I was 18 and had no idea what I wanted, except to get out of a small town and go to uni. The second time (12 months ago) because I was sure that this was the way I could really help people. Now, I am not so sure, thus why I am no longer an official psych student although I like to think I study this every day in some way or another.
I am also not going to pretend that I know everything about raising children but I am qualified, I have almost 17 years in the field experience and have had my fair share of success along the way. I am a real mother, I screw up regularly, I have lots of bad mummy moments and I often question whether I am doing an OK job, or more to the point, are my kids OK.
I am lucky enough to have the partnership of a REAL husband – their dad. We have a perfectly imperfect marriage and we disagree on a lot of things, including how to raise our kids. But somehow we manage to find a middle ground that seems to work. Sometimes that means doing it my way, sometimes his way and sometimes a compromise of the two. But no matter what, we have learned that a united front is essential, even if it is only in front of them and behind closed doors we disagree vehemently.
I am going to unashamedly gloat right now. I have great kids and no, I do not live in a fantasyland where they make their beds each day and do their homework without being asked. They are pretty normal kids who push the boundaries just like they all do. But they are kind, generous, hard working and open (sometimes a tad too open but hey, I would rather that than not knowing what they are up to).
I have had several of my friends tell me that they would be thrilled if their kids grow up to be anything like my two. They ask me how I’ve done it and I tell them the things that I believe made the difference.
And now, in no particular order, I thought I would share them with you…
United front – always!!!!!!!
There are lots of different types of partnerships raising children – step-parents, single parents, de-factos, marriage. If I have forgotten any, forgive me.
But no matter what type of relationship you have it is essential that in front of the kids you are always on the same side. Trust me, behind the cheeky smile of your child there is a cunning mastermind who is just waiting for the chance to jump in and say – ‘but Dad said I could’.
As my two got older, they learned very quickly not to ask both of us when we were together. If they thought I would say ‘no’ to something, they would bypass me and go straight to their dad. I did say they were cunning didn’t I. But what they forget is that I have been around for a long time – and heaven forbid, but once, I was even a kid just like them (not that they believe that of course – they think I was born this old).
I have to give them credit though, because even now they will give it a go. Sometimes they catch us out and they win, but overall I think the game score is Parents 52, Kids 6.
Children = GOOD, Behaviour = BAD
I really do believe that all children are fundamentally good. Their behaviour however is a totally different story. Their behaviour can range from exceptional to incomprehensible. I am sure you have all experienced those moments when you go ‘OMG, I cannot believe that my son/daughter just said or did THAT’. If you have not experienced that then I am guessing that you child is still a gorgeous little baby that cannot walk or talk yet. Otherwise I think you may be in denial. Alternatively you have incredible children and you should in fact be writing this instead of me.
Just remember – if your child does something wrong focus on the fact that it is their behaviour or action that is unacceptable, it is not them.
We would always say ‘I am disappointed in your behaviour, not in you’. While this may seem like parenting basics 101 it blows me away how many parents I see screaming (yes, screaming) at their children in public (let alone what they do in private) with comments like ‘you are a disgusting little boy’, ‘you make me very angry’ or ‘she’s such a little bitch’. It is no surprise that children who have these remarks thrown at them regularly grow up with little or no self-esteem.
And don’t beat yourself up if you have done this in the past. And you may even slip up and do it again in the future. What is important is what you do and how you are MOST of the time.
We are all human beings and we do our best. I think if we can be conscious to the impact that it will have on them both now and in the future, we will do it less and less or even not at all. It has taken me lots of practice but early on when I used to slip up, I would simply apologise to the kids saying, ‘I’m sorry, what I meant to say was – it is your behaviour, not you that I am upset with. You are a great kid but how you spoke to me before was disgraceful and I won’t have it’.
I want to be clear – it is not about fluffing your child’s ego, it is simply about distinguishing between them as a person and their actions. They are not their actions!
Open communication always. Tell them that they can share anything with you, and actually mean it. Our household mantra has always been ‘you will get into more trouble for lying to us than for the thing you actually did wrong’. Lying is unacceptable in our house and comes with pretty stiff consequences. Which brings me to the next tip.
Consequences for their actions
We have always talked about consequences rather than punishment. We have our kids create their own consequence for their actions. I don’t remember where or from whom I got this little pearl of wisdom but it has been one of the most effective tools I have ever used.
We have always used the work consequence rather than punishment as well. I don’t remember actively deciding this at any point but that’s the way we went and I think it has had a positive impact as well.
So when they doing something wrong we ask them to give us a list of consequences that they think fit. It’s funny but they always (without exception) come up with consequences way harsher than we would ever give them.
The ‘S’ Word
Let’s talk about sex! Yep, no matter how uncomfortable it may be – you have to be able to talk to them about sex!! Make it easy for them to come to you. Don’t make it weird or uncomfortable but don’t also don’t be tempted to be too open. There are some things that they really must explore on their own – for example Sexyland and other adult stores (should they choose to).
It is important they understand the things that they may see on TV or in movies (particularly for your older children who most likely have been exposed to porn) are not real and they in no way represent real relationships. Their girlfriends or boyfriends are not going to look or behave like this and neither should they be expected to.
I think respect is the key – respect first and foremost for themselves and then for their partner. If they respect themselves and value who they are then they are not likely to get themselves into difficult or even dangerous situations. Don’t leave their sex education just up to schools – make sure you have healthy discussion at home as well.
Give them their own budget. This teaches them many life lessons plus it will probably save you money as well. I tell you, when they have to pay for something themselves, they really do think twice about whether they really need it. Just ask my daughter!
We worked out roughly what we would spend per year on clothing, entertainment (ie movies, presents for friends parties etc) and then added some extra. We then divided this by 52 weeks to work out their weekly allowance. Our kids have to put half into a savings account that they cannot touch and half goes into a spending account (their have their own ATM card) which they can do what they like with. They have to pay for all their personal items (as listed). We pay for anything school or sport related because we didn’t want them to choose not to play sport because they didn’t want to pay for membership or buy specific sports gear such as basketball shoes etc.
For those of your with younger kids, it is up to you when to start but our daughter was 10 years old and it worked a treat even at that age. Perhaps for younger ones you could try something similar that just has them responsible for entertainment type things. The key is to try things out and see what works for you and your family.
Mum does not mean friend
You are not their friend!! I have a wonderful relationship with my kids. We hang out, watch movies, play cards and do things as a family.
But they are very very clear that I am their mother, not their best buddy. I make the rules and while I am happy to discuss them and hear their side, my decision is my decision and that’s it, whether they like it or not.
I often have my son say that his friend’s are allowed to do whatever they want. I get that this is tough but I am very comfortable with what I will and won’t let him do and actually think I am pretty fair. Most of the time he respects this and accepts it but sometimes NOT – he is 17 after all and thinks he knows best!!
Don’t worry about what other parents are doing. It is great to hear what other people have to say but then you have to follow your gut and do what you know is best for your child. I have found this to be one of the most difficult ones, especially when it comes to drinking alcohol. We have allowed our son to have a few drinks since he was 16 and I have friends who think that this is pretty bad and they would never allow their children to do it. I don’t judge what other people do and I ask them to give me the same courtesy as we are all doing the very best that we can for our own children. There is no right way or no wrong way, their is only the way that you choose to do things.
Don’t ever doubt yourself. And if you find down the track that you made a mistake, you can always clean it up. Kids are the most generous human beings on the planet (even teenagers) and when you are genuinely sorry they get it and forgiveness is immediate.
You are not perfect
Do not pretend that you are perfect and have it all together. My kids know I am human, they see me cry, they see me angry and frustrated and they see my mistakes. I don’t hide any of this from them. I don’t want them under the impression that life is a fairytale. Marriages (and partnerships of all kinds) require a bucketload of work in order to be successful!
Really listen to them.
This has been a hard one for me. Both my children have regularly accused me of not listening to them and butting in when they were in the middle of trying to tell me things. Yes, I am guilty but I’m working on it because I believe it is important for all kids to have someone who really listens, someone who doesn’t try to fix everything for them, but can just listen when they need a brain dump. If my daughter needs to dump, she now starts the conversation with ‘Now Mum, I don’t need you to do anything or fix anything, I just need to have a whinge – is that OK’. I love that I have inadvertently trained her to remind me to just listen, not fix her.
And if you are busy and don’t have time to listen at the exact moment they want it, you can say – ‘hey, can you give me half an hour (or whatever you need) to just finish what I am doing, that way I can be completely there for you’. You will know if it is something that can’t wait and you need to stop what you are doing immediately.
Teachers can be students too
Get that you can learn from them too. Just because you have been around longer than they have doesn’t mean they can’t teach you a thing or two as well. As long as it is done with respect as opposed to arrogance then be open to what they have to offer.
They love love love responsibility so give them some. I don’t believe they are ever too young. They thrive on it and as a result, my two have yet to let me down. A few month ago, my then 16 year old wanted to stay home by himself for 2 nights while my husband and I went away for the weekend. After we had said yes and were working out the ground rules, he asked if he could have a party. I asked him what a party looked like in his mind and he said 30-40 people to which I promptly said – no way! We ended up agreeing to one friend staying on the Friday night and 2-3 of his mates on the Saturday night and that he could have a few drinks.
And this is exactly what he did. Friends might (and have) said – ‘as far as you know that’s what he did but what did he really do?’. Well, you know what – I trust my son. He has never let me down and I refuse to think that way until he does.