My kids would beg to differ sometimes, but I’m a pretty lenient parent. We have our rules, and I uphold them — most of the time. But I’m also willing to listen to their take on things. And if they present a good argument, I will bend the rules.
So, I will pick up my 9-year-old’s dirty clothes off the floor if he tells me nicely that he’s too tired to do it. And I will give my younger son a lollipop even though it isn’t “dessert time” just because he looks so damn cute with his new haircut and he told me how pretty I look in my new dress five minutes ago. That’s right, I have spoiled kids.
I spoil them with stuff too. I don’t have the cash to buy them too much stuff, but they get toys, video games, and ice cream. Honestly, whatever leftover money we have in the bank goes right to them. They are my world, as they should be when they’re kids.
That’s the thing — they’re kids. They scream their heads off sometimes over the smallest, most pointless things, but that’s because they haven’t developed proper impulse control yet. Whatever makes them able to do that hasn’t completely formed in their little brains yet, and so I try to be patient with them. I have to teach them structure, yes, but I need to be aware of where they’re coming from, and have empathy for their feelings as much as possible. It’s a tough balance to strike, for sure.
Plus, they’re just so ridiculously cute and little, and I want to indulge them while I can. So when my 3-year-old requests that I lie down with him for his entire nap, I just can’t say no. And when my 9-year-old has a nightmare, I let him sleep in my room that night, and for a week or two after, because…why the hell not?
Maybe I’m a pushover sometimes. But here’s the thing I will not bend or budge about: I won’t allow my kids to be jerks. And it’s not just about them minding their manners. In actuality, manners don’t mean jack without an understanding about kindness and respect.
So how do I teach my kids to be nice people?
First, we talk about feelings in our house — all the time. My kids are probably sick of me talking about feelings. But they’re big around here. If they aren’t doing the right thing — whether it’s not getting off their screens when I tell them to, punching each other in the stomach, or rejecting their lunch they specifically requested — I need to know what’s going on with them.
Sometimes they can’t tell me in the moment, and yes, they need discipline if things are out of control or if they are hurting themselves or those around them. But we don’t punish them for their feelings. Once they are able to get their shit together, they are pretty good at telling me what’s going on, what’s bugging them, irking them, whatever.
By showing them I have respect for their feelings, I am teaching them kindness, love, and empathy. In turn, they have learned to be good listeners — to me, to their teachers, to their friends.
How I treat them is the model for how they’ll treat others. And if that sometimes means that I come across as coddling, indulgent, or spoiling them, then so be it.
What I want most is for my kids to feel loved, safe, and loved some more. I truly believe that showering them with unconditional love — filling them to the brim with it — is going to mean that they will have that much more of it to share with others.
I am not perfect. I am just muddling my way through this parenting thing. But I can honestly say that whatever I’m doing — even if it involves a fair amount of spoiling — seems to be working. My kids are good children, good friends, and good students. And one day, they’ll grow up to be good men who value kindness and respect above all else.