Everything I Need to Know About Parenting, I Learned From My Parents

by Mikki Caplan-Zaple
Originally Published: 

1. Yelling is far more effective as an informational tool than a disciplinary one. In our house, there was plenty of yelling; yelling out of frustration, out of annoyance or simply to inform. But it was never used for discipline. While yelling was effective to alert us to time constraints, or that we had a friend on the phone, yelling didn’t work best for discipline. You always knew how much in trouble you were by how quiet my dad was. I remember one time I did something incredibly stupid and my father just left the room. I will never forget the feeling in the pit of my stomach that day, and it was enough to ensure that I never repeated the mistake again.

2. A clean house is overrated. Growing up our house was never clean. It wasn’t dirty either, it was just messy, cluttered, not tidy, whatever you want to call it. While I know that my mother would have loved to have the kind of house where guests could drop by unexpectedly, she thought it was more important to be living life. When she wasn’t working (or going to school), she spent her time driving us from extra curricular activity to our friends’ houses, to the mall, to wherever. She made sure that we never missed anything, and if our house took a hit in the process, so be it. We were loved, and cared for, that’s what mattered to her.

3. Gender roles mean jack. I grew up watching television shows with two parent households where, even if the mom worked, she was expected to still do the washing, cooking and all of the cleaning. That was never our reality. Our parents played to their strengths, and my mom’s strength was not the typical “mom” role. She can’t cook at all (love you mom), she’s not the tidiest person and she loves video games and fixing things. My dad, however, can cook. He cooks the kind of food that had our friends begging to be invited over for dinner. Despite the fact that he worked long days at a law firm, he almost always came home and cooked us something spectacular.

4. Parenting is a team effort. My parents are celebrating their 42nd year of marriage this August and are still as in love today as ever. The key to their success? Being partners. To them parenting was always about team work. With four kids in 6 years, and both of them working, it really had to be, but beyond the simple organization of it, they always spoke to each other, communicated with each other and were on the same page when it came to us and discipline. There was no chance of playing one off of the other because they had already spoken to each other about whatever it was we were trying to get away with.

5. Love means loving always not just when times are good. My parents had a rule, no matter how much trouble we were in, they would always tell us they loved us. We never doubted how deep their love for us was, because they never let us. And because of this, we trusted them. When some friends of mine got into some trouble with drugs in high school, I was honest with my parents about it. They didn’t lecture me, or tell me not to hang out with them, they told me that they trusted my judgment and that I could always come to them. I will never forget that, and still to this day, no matter how badly I screw up, I know my parents will be there to love me anyway.

6. Your siblings are your allies. One rule my parents had was no tattling. It wasn’t because they didn’t want to know what was going on, it was because they wanted us to grow up with our siblings as our best friends, and number one allies. They would never let us play each other, or try to drag the others down when we were in trouble. My parents knew that while friends may come and go, our siblings would always be there for us. Because of this, the four of us have a pack mentality. We know we can trust each other, and that we’ll always be there for each other, no matter what.

7. Family dinners are incredibly important. No matter how crazy busy we were, we were never allowed to miss Saturday and Sunday night dinners, because that was family time. Sometimes it felt like a drag, having to rush home for dinner, or feel incredibly guilty if we wanted to stay out. They did this because they had four kids with four very different lives, and knew that we needed to have a time to get together and recap the week. Family is incredibly important, and everything my parents did reiterated that message. (Of course, it didn’t hurt that my dad was an amazing cook so there was always a great meal to look forward to.) As we’ve grown up into adulthood, our family dinners have kept us together. My siblings may be in different places now, but when they’re here, we know that we’ll always have family dinners together.

8. Knowledge is more than half the battle. To my parents, education is everything. The only time I really ever got grounded it was because I got a grade lower than a C. If we weren’t informed and knowledgeable, we wouldn’t be able to make the kind of decisions that would lead to us being happy and successful. Because of the importance my parents put on education, my sister is getting her PhD, and I’m about to start my Master’s. We’ve also been able to filter through the news to pick out what’s right and what’s important, and stay engaged, active citizens. But more than the textbook school education, my parents taught us street smarts, how to protect ourselves in a bar, how to pick up on social queues and know when a situation is out of hand. The knowledge that my parents gave us, has helped us all grow up to be healthy, stable adults (well as healthy and stable anyone is these days).

9. The ‘No Questions Asked’ policy. My dad had a rule, no matter what he was doing, no matter what time it was, if we found ourselves in a difficult situation we could call and he wouldn’t ask any questions. There were a few times in my life that I had to use the no questions asked card, once when I got into a car with my friend only to discover 10 minutes into the drive that she hadn’t actually gotten her license, I made her pull over and called my parents. They were there as soon as possible to drive us (and her mother’s stolen car) home. They never rubbed that mistake in my face and because of this a couple of years later when I discovered the friend that was supposed to be our DD had been drinking (underaged), I was confident in my ability to call my dad and have him come pick us up. There wasn’t any lecture about underaged drinking, only a pat on the back for trusting him enough to call. He extended the same courtesy to our friends, and as I’ve grown up, so have I. Making sure his children were safe was way more important than an uninterrupted nights sleep or the chance to teach us a lesson.

10. Parents aren’t invincible. Nine years ago this March, I came home to find my strong, amazing father in the full grips of a heart attack. That was the first time I was faced with the fact that my parents weren’t invincible. But thinking through the years, my parents had always tried to remind us of this (but not in a melodramatic depressing way). It’s why family dinners were so important, and why they always wanted us to look to our siblings as allies. About a week after my dad got out of the hospital after his quadruple bypass surgery, his mother, my last surviving grandparent, passed away. It really served to remind me to appreciate the time that we have together, and to remember to always tell my parents that I love them.

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