When our first child, Kerry, was born, Dan and I were completely and utterly in love with each other, with our new baby and with our life. She was perfect. And the huge responsibility of raising her was not lost on us. Above all else, we wanted to be good parents.
I devoured baby books that spoke to my soul, ones that admonished crying it out and encouraged co-sleeping. I read to support my own beliefs, not to learn.
Today, I look back and can put a name to our parenting style … attachment parenting. I gotta tell you, it works. We have great kids. They love deeply and quickly. They are kind and generous. They are faithful and ardent supporters of all that is good.
We are our kids’ first teachers, and we are their primary teachers throughout life. What we teach our kids determines their strength of character, their resolve, their ability to love and be loved and who they become.
There are some lessons that are universal, that no matter who you are, what your belief system is, what your background is, your children should learn early on.
1. Life Isn’t Fair.
Life is not fair, it never has been and it never will be. Bad things happen to good people, it’s not just you, it’s universal. We have to teach our children to be strong and persevere through adversity. If we cater to their every whim, if we step in and “fix” their every struggle, they will never learn how to cope, they will become the whiners and the bemoaners of society who cry foul at every turn. The world is full of these people. Please do us all a favor and don’t raise any more! Instead teach your kids to be hopeful, strong and resilient, teach them to be humble and generous, you’ll be doing the world and your children a huge favor.
2. Make Your Own Happiness
Life is darn hard and unfair, but oh my gosh, it’s beautiful and fulfilling as well. Unfortunately the beauty and fulfilling part aren’t always served to you on a silver platter. Oftentimes, you have to go out and seek the things that make you happy. You have to actually find joy in your life and share it with others. As parents it is your responsibility to teach your children to create happiness in the small things of life as well as to find the positive, the silver lining in all adversity. Teach them that deferring their happiness for later in life is a very bad idea. Teach them it’s a trade off that they might not be around to collect on. Teach your kids to fully comprehend that today, this moment is all they have and that they must make the most of it, always! Teach your kids to be the masters of their universe! Happiness is a choice, teach them to choose wisely!
3. Keep Your Priorities Straight
You can’t take material possessions with you when you leave this earth. What you leave behind in the form of memories and legacy is more important that what you collect and store in your homes, your safety deposit box and your bank account. In our family we choose God first, family second, and everything else third. We believe we are on this earth for one reason and one reason only … to get to Heaven. We already know who wins the battle of good and evil, and we strive to ensure that we raise our children to be on the winning side, because this is the one place where winning and losing are a life and death gamble. And family, blood and otherwise, are always there for you, even when you screw up. There is nothing more important. Teach your children not to ever discount their siblings as their best friends…friends and boyfriends and girlfriends come and go … family is around forever.
4. Be a Good Sport
We all know those kids who leave the football field in tears or throw their bat when they strike out. Epic parenting failure. One of the most important life lessons EVER is to win with humility and lose with grace. Teach your children that while winning is fun, it doesn’t define who they are. Teach your children that losing is inevitable and it only serves as a reminder to work harder. Kids sports are riddled with adults who want a second chance at greatness. They are seen screaming at refs, they are seen screaming at their child’s teammates. They are in the news for assaulting umpires and the opposing team’s parents. Don’t be that parent. Model good sportsmanship, live a well rounded life and choose to be happy … your child will thank you for letting them be a kid.
For Pete’s sake teach your children to love, to be vulnerable. Teach your children that the words “I love you” are meaningless unless they are backed by honest to goodness actions that prove love. Love is an action word, it demands sacrifice. Love is something you do, it is patient and kind. Teach your children not to only love with words, but by action. And teach them that loving someone means they are putting that person first. Our family repeats the J.O.Y. acronym daily, hourly and sometimes minute by minute…Jesus, Others, Yourself.
6. Never Compare
No-one’s life is perfect, no-one has life all figured out and no-one is on easy street. Everyone has their own struggles, their own issues and what others let you see is merely a glimpse into their lives, it’s not the whole picture, it’s not the entire shebang! Teach your children to live their best life. Teach them to never ever compare themselves to the superficial lives others live publicly because you can’t achieve fiction. Living your best life, seeking out the positive, creating your own joy … who could ask for more from life? Remember this, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Theodore Roosevelt.
7. Money is Not Going to Make Your Life Better
Traveling has proven this fact over and over. The happiest people we have met are people who are living paycheck to paycheck, but are living out their dreams. Heck, we live paycheck to paycheck and our lives are a blast. Teach your kids that money absolutely does NOT buy happiness. Hope, optimism, love, and the people you surround yourselves with are what make your lives rich. The experiences, the adventure, are worth more than all the money in the world! All the things that are most important to us cost not a cent … and everything else is just icing on the cake.
8. To Be An Independent Learner
Most kids spend an exorbitant amount of time in school, reading and learning about things that are wholly worthless. America’s schools are solely focused on teaching kids to ace tests. In the minimal amount of time our kids have out of school, we should teach our children to get up and out and to experience life in ways that interest them. We should help them nurture communication skills so they can meet interesting people, help them gain world views by traveling, give them the freedom to explore their own interests and their own skills. Be proactive as a parent and teach your kids to go out and make a difference in the world. It’s great to pursue dreams, but you must strive to make the world a better place as well. Turn off the blasted TV, restrict Internet usage and kick your kids outside where they will learn more about themselves and the world than anywhere else!
9. Let It Go
Teach your children to let everything go … wwallow their pride and apologize. Help them to learn to never hold a grudge, to accept apologies and move on. Staying angry is toxic to happiness and joy. Holding a grudge will eat you away, as will guilt, so teach them to get it over with quickly and swiftly and keep moving forward.
10. Your Children Get Only One Childhood … Make it a Good One
This one is for you parents. Don’t bog down their childhood with your regrets, your desires, your hopes and your dreams. Make their childhood magical, let them play freely, let them discover themselves, let them skin their knees and climb trees. Play games with them, read to them and make campfires with them. Hug and kiss them often and tuck them in at night. Teach them respect for themselves and others. Take family vacations, encourage laughter and spontaneity. Give your kids the gift of a sibling to stay up late with, get dirty with, to share their deepest secrets with, to sneak out with, to share inside jokes with, to laugh with and to share long car rides with. Spend as much time with your kids as possible, laughing, singing, playing, and whispering. Above all, show them how to live joyfully, spiritually and full of love.