When we have to be both mother and father for our children in their primary residence, it can be a challenge to know how to supply nurture, encouragement, protection, and provision in the right measures. Our children will continue to evolve physically, emotionally, and spiritually over time and their biggest influences in their most informative years will come from their home environment.
As parents, we can only do our best. Remember that “best” is a moving scale and that as we invest in our own development, we create a bigger scope for our children to become more of who they were born to be. Here are my first five pointers to allowing your children their greatest scope for success:
1. Model Great Communication
Take time to be clear about what you want to say and why. My simplest strategies are:
- Keep it positive, so instead of “Don’t speak to me like that,” try “Speak to me politely and you’ll get a better response.”
- Try to practice replacing “but” with “and”—it will allow your children to retain the information in the first part of the sentence (which is usually the positive part), so “I think you dressed yourself really well today and tomorrow I’d like you to try a little faster.”
- I recommend reading The Gentle Art of Communicating with Kids by Suzette Haden Elgin (available at Amazon.com).
2. Encourage an Open Mind
Remember that there is rarely one right way. Take eggs: boil ’em, fry ’em, scramble ’em, poach ’em. Take personalities: adventurous, caring, entertaining, strategic. Take artwork: Monet, Dali, Emin, or Eisner. It’s all a matter of taste, personality, and preference. Encourage your child to find out what’s right for them as well as what might be others’ experience. Be open to discussions around gender, race, age, ability, height, weight, beauty, culture, faith, and education. Also be aware of your own assumptions in these areas—no one way is better than another—all have benefits and advantages.
3. Model Respect
“Treat others as you want to be treated” is valuable advice that has existed for generations. If you want to be loved, then love. If you want to be encouraged, then encourage. If you want to be bruise-free, don’t bruise. Being respectful can have its challenges—especially when we deal with our ex-partners—so practice acknowledging differences: “I can see that you think differently about the children’s summer clubs. Let me think about it”; or “It sounds like your faith works for you as much as mine works for me … which is good.” Your children will take their model for respect and tolerance from you (initially)—giving them the best start possible.
4. Maintain Boundaries
Consistency encourages confidence. This applies to our homes and physical surroundings, our ability to handle a new school or work place, our understanding of how to be around other people (family, friends, work colleagues, and relatives). Once we learn the rules, we can practice succeeding within them. With children, this means being consistent with messages of affirmation, rules at mealtimes, routines around home-time, bath and bed, standards of politeness and respect. Keeping these things consistent, even when we’re feeling sensitive and challenged ourselves, will pay off in the end.
5. Encourage Responsibility for Relationships
It’s all very easy, especially when our children are little, to intercede in their relationships. This includes us stepping into resolve disagreements with friends over toys, communicating with their teacher with regard to behavior, and taking their side in a conversation with their other parent. There’s a difference between taking over a situation and equipping our children to learn from a situation. Again, for an easier life, I recommend putting some effort into the latter.