Somewhere between my childhood and having my own kids, I ditched a lot of the “old-school” ways of parenting, and like many of you, adapted my ways to suit my family. For example, there is no head of our household because we’re both exhausted, and no one wants another job to do. There is not one person in this house who makes all the decisions because there are more people in this house than just one person. Everyone has to pull their own weight, except the baby, because he’s a baby. And the cats, because they’re lazy.
Still, the past and present of parenting collide on occasion. For as much as we know what’s best, it’s not our job to always tell our kids what to do. Sometimes, especially as they get older, we have to let them fall. If we’re always there to pick them up, how will they know how to pick themselves up? (Except the baby — we always pick him up.)
For as many differences as our upbringing had from our children’s, we’ve also kept a few old-school parenting ways on hand, like:
1. I don’t play with my kids.
Neither did my parents; they worked a lot. It was up to me to entertain myself or fight with my brother. And now? Let’s face it, I have way too much to do. If I can get ahead on house cleaning and laundry, I’ll do games or crafts. I’ll sculpt Play-Doh and have a tea party, because really, who doesn’t love a tea party? But for the most part, it’s kind of why we had their siblings — and by “kind of” I mean it absolutely is why.
2. We don’t shield our kids from making mistakes.
In life, you have to make choices. If you aren’t making choices then someone else making them for you, or you’re a pet. Every choice we make in life comes with some kind of consequence — good or bad. Choices can be as simple as choosing an ice cream flavor. If we go through 10 flavors, highlighting ones we think our kids will like and ones we know they’ll like, in the end, it’s still up to them to decide.
If they choose black walnut over bubblegum, they don’t get to take one lick and get a new cone. That’s not how it works. They either eat it, or they don’t get ice cream. Choices are part of our every day, and it’s a good habit to encourage kiddos to start making them early. We interfere if their choice is potentially harmful, like using their birthday money to buy throwing stars when they’re 4 years old or hearing them ask their sibling what might happen if they hit the cat with a Barbie doll. Otherwise, we step back and let the life lessons roll, baby.
3. They have chores.
This is less about earning an allowance and more about starting to understand the responsibilities that come with every facet we face in life. In our house, our kids are pretty small, so right now, chores range from picking up their toys, to bringing their dishes to the sink. Sometimes it’s helping me move clothes from the washer to the dryer and feeding the cats. They’re small, so they’re not very good at it, but that’s not the point. The point is, if you want to watch TV, or buy a toy, you have to earn it; it’s not just handed to you. That’s what birthdays and Christmases are for — and grandparents.
4. We aren’t their friends.
We’re their parents. We’re there to guide them. Sure, we hang out and do stuff together. We help them learn, we listen, and we are always there when they need a hug, help, or direction. We help them problem-solve, understand bad choices, and make sure they know that no matter what happens, we’ll always be there. Yes, we get silly and have fun, but at the end of the day, it’s not a negotiation. It’s not a friendship. It’s business until you’re 18. Then we can be friends — unless you’re still living at home. Then, you still need to make your bed and feed the cats, if they’re still alive.
5. No quitting.
Once you start something, you have to finish it. You don’t get to say, “I want to play basketball,” and then quit two days after. You commit; you see it through. This really applies to anything from games to activities, to asking for a banana and deciding you don’t want it.
6. Accepting responsibility for your actions.
When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. We all screw up and mistakes happen, but the only way to move up and on from those is to accept that you screwed up, admit it, and apologize for it. There’s not a lot of gray area here. The only way this differs from how I was raised is that, even as the parent, when I screw up, I apologize. I’ll even admit when I made a bad choice and explain how I can do better next time. I think it’s hard to teach kids how to accept responsibility if you don’t lead by example on this one.
7. Consistently follow through.
If you say, “You’ll have go to bed if you two don’t stop fighting,” and they don’t stop fighting, you put them to bed — because someday their boss will tell them, “If you don’t get your work done by xx date/time, you won’t have a job.” Their boss won’t pussyfoot around, so why should you?
8. Encourage their independence.
As much as I love having my kids little, and sometimes even needing me, they won’t be little forever, and I won’t be there forever. I’ll help with teeth-brushing and meals, but you get yourself dressed because I know you can. I’ll help make sure your shoes are on the right feet, but you have to make the effort to put them on. As much as I want my kids to know I’ll always be there for them, there will come a time when I can’t be, or simply won’t be.
9. I don’t get involved in arguments.
Communication and conflict resolution isn’t easy to teach, so this also has to be taught by example. Still, there will come a day when you simply cannot be the middle man anymore because either you’re not around, you’re on the phone with the billing department, or you simply don’t care who had the Paw Patroller first. Work it out, yo. I’ll step in if someone whips out a knife or a bat.
10. We respect our elders (and everyone else).
Not everyone is the same as us. Not everyone lives the way we live. At the end of the day, we are all people, and we all have a right to our own opinions. When you accept that, embrace it, and are even open to it, you might just find a few folks who not only stay with you for life, but enrich your soul simply because of who they are. If you never respect others and who they are based on opinions or differences, you could miss out on amazing new opportunities.
11. Respect family time.
At dinner, we turn off the TV and talk about our day. In the summer, we make our monthly pilgrimage to Dairy Queen for a dip cone. Every July, we travel up north to spend the Fourth of July at the same lake my husband’s family stayed at when he was a kid. I’m sure in a few years, it’ll all seem stupid, because everything is stupid when you’re 15, but all these family moments help us stay on top of what our kids are interested in, and who they are becoming. It gives us all a chance to talk about things happening with us, and gives us the opportunity to make memories and enforce a foundation.
12. Instill the importance of hard work.
It’s easy to give your kids whatever they want, especially when they are little. Still, the problem with that is they don’t learn to value what comes from working hard for something you want. Expecting to get something comes with much less satisfaction. Going out in the real world simply expecting what you want can not only be disappointing but also debilitating. Nothing in life is free if you aren’t an heir to some insane fortune. The only way to go up is to climb. The only way to ever be proud of your accomplishments is to do the dirty work. Make the climb, and experience slipping, falling, and failures.
Getting a trophy for participating is fine and dandy, but getting a trophy for winning? Being recognized for the outstanding efforts you made? Well, that’s something else entirely. Trust me, I know this. I got a trophy for playing Little League, and I spent 80% of the season picking flowers in the outfield and 5% of the season running to the closest porta-potty. The only thing I earned were the memories.
We all have an obligation to give our children the love and guidance they need to go out into this world and be good people who strive to make a difference. It doesn’t matter if you’re old-school, or new-school, or home-school, or anti-school. It matters that you try. It doesn’t matter how you do it, it matters that you do it.
We need our kids to know that when they’re all grown up, if they pick the black walnut ice cream over the bubblegum ice cream, it still won’t be as satisfying, and you still can’t just get a new cone — not without buying another one. Life is fun, but there are rules, and in the end, we’re all on our own — every single one of us. Our kids will do well going into this world knowing they have to pull their weight; everyone has to — except the cats, because they’re lazy.