Parenting regardless of your children's age can be tough and challenging, especially since it doesn't come with a manual. We tend to see what other parents are doing or read articles to guide and most of all we follow our instincts.
Parenting definitely does not have a one-size-fits-all model that you should follow. It is very specific to you and your child. But then again are some basic principles that you can emulate that can be so beneficial, not only in raising your children but fostering a good relationship with them.
When I had my son, I promised myself that I'd be the best parent to him. It hasn't been all smooth sailing but after 18 years, I still wake up every day with the intention of being the best version of myself as a parent, and I am quite proud to say that I have a really good, solid and healthy relationship with my son. As for my son, I might be biased, but I cannot speak highly enough of him!
Here I share some basic principles that I live by that have helped me tremendously.
There Is No Such Thing As Too Much LOVE
Really, there isn't. You simply cannot spoil a child by loving them to death!
Love is not the same thing as turning a blind eye when they sock someone in the eye, or when you yourself ignore the rules or limits you have set for them or giving in to their demands for material things.
I'll be the first to admit that whenever I was away at work for long periods of time, I'd return with everything my son's heart desired at that moment, only to realise that I'm actually giving him all he wanted as a substitute for time that was lost when I wasn't around, and out of guilt for leaving him.
What You Do Matters A LOT
When I had my son, I promised myself that I'd be the best parent and role model to him. Especially for me, in a single-parent household, I realised very quickly that my child only sees me, most of the time.
How I treat people, what I say and how I say it, what I do, how I react, my habits right up to my work ethic, I knew he was watching and learning at the same time. So I made an active effort to be truly aware of my behaviour and what came out of my mouth. As I said, it wasn't all smooth sailing or perfect and he did witness times when I did sometimes lose my shit at other people and go off the rail, but I'll normally take time to explain things to him or apologise for my behaviour if it ever came to that.
Especially when they are young and impressionable, they are always observing and learning from you. They hear what you say and the tone you say it in and what do you. They will most likely follow because that's all they know so always be wary because what you do really does matter, and you do want to be a good role model to your children.
What you say to your children will also have a big impact on them, whether negative or positive so take a deep breath and think before you say anything. Choose your words wisely.
Be Involved in Your Child's Life
Parenting is hard work and it comes with a mountain of responsibility and self-sacrificing for your child. It sometimes means putting aside what you want to do and bringing forth your child's needs and interests.
If you work, managing work-life and home life can be a bit of a challenge, but it is truly important to carve out time and physically and mentally be there for your kids.
Be involved in their studies, go to those football matches and show interest in their interests. Ask questions and be genuine about it. Understandably, sometimes work can take up a lot if not all of your time and if you're struggling to be there for them all the time sometimes quality time is better than quantity, and you can have a dinner date once a week or take full advantage of that commute to school to catch up on their lives, don't forget bedtime or even bathtime.
Being involved in their lives will have a big impact on them.
Adapt the Way You Parent to Fit Your Child
As our children grow their behaviour and thought pattern changes as well, which is normal. How we parent when they are babies will not be the same as how we parent them when they are toddlers, post toddlers, tweens and even teens.
Therefore the way we parent too needs to evolve as a form of support for their personal growth and development. Even that, your tween or toddler will not be the same as the next tween and toddler so your parenting should be specific to your child.
I've come to realise that the way I parent has largely depended on my son and his own personal growth and personality. He has been as much my guide as I was his.
Support Your Child's Independence
We know that our children tend to push boundaries and limits at all stages of their lives. Part of growing is wanting to be in control rather than being controlled. This is the reason that we have the internal tug-of-war between our basic instinct to protect our children and letting them do things on their own!
Not listening to us and their determination to do things on their own in their own way can often be mistaken as being stubborn or disobedient, but, if we understand it correctly, this behaviour is a natural progression to gain more independence and the push for autonomy.
Children need a lot to grow and one of them is - freedom. Being able to have a safe space to be free and figure things out on their own through independence promotes self-reliance and resiliency so have some faith in them, it's all not that bad.
It can be extremely hard for parents to let go but as soon as we understand that this is part of growing up, we are able to manage and support our child's push for independence better. And it often requires a LOT of patience, and holding our breath!
Set Rules and Boundaries
With the freedom that our children are constantly pushing for, we need to set a firm frame surrounding that freedom by way of rules and boundaries. Within these boundaries that we set, children should be given freedom and choices that they can make for themselves.
For my son, I set rules and boundaries on the bigger issues with zero tolerance, like no physical aggression, stealing, always having respect for people regardless of age, having table manners, being honest, no drinking and driving now that he's at that age, no drugs and stuff like that. When he was much younger, rules and boundaries were much more focussed on physical safety.
Then there are those rules that include things like having their homework done before they play outside or rules on screen time like video games, or even bedtime.
I don't sweat the small acts of naughtiness, but then again there is a line between naughtiness and misbehaviour that you have to navigate. Giving him a bit of liberty and trusting him with his independence and freedom within the set boundaries, not only allowed his personality to show but it taught him self-control. After all, I didn't want to be raising a robot.
Explain Your Rules and Decisions
I also believe that we have to spend a lot of time constantly teaching our children about what is acceptable and what is not and explaining to them the reasons for those things that are unacceptable or forbidden.
Continuous conversations about them are absolutely necessary especially if they are at the age where they don't quite understand it yet, and I don't mean 'mini-nags'.
Avoid Harsh Discipline
It is best to just avoid physically disciplining your child by spanking. It really doesn't do any good for the child. There are other ways to discipline like taking certain privileges away or a time out (which I personally don't subscribe to) or applying logical consequences to any misbehaviour. Talk to them and help them manage their emotions if they are misbehaving.
Understand that sometimes, even tantrums come from a place where they are overwhelmed by their own emotions that they are unable to regulate, so help them rather than punish them.
I knew a boy who once went to school with a haphazardly shaved head which his mom had done to him as a form of punishment. There were many other times with other forms of punishment, and I'd always hear people brushing them off by saying they are African and that's how it is. He loved his mom, maybe fearful but loved her nonetheless, emotionally, I never knew how that affected him, or whether it affected him at all.
Personally, I am just against any harsh, especially physical, discipline.
Treat Your Child With Respect
To gain respect you would have to give them. They will not only learn to respect you but they will learn to respect others as well.
Treat them the way you'd want to be treated, or how you'd like others to treat you. We do have to model the respect we hope to see from our kids. Extend to them the common courtesies that we would extend to others. Speak to them politely, respect and value their opinions, boundaries and their need for space. Listen to them intently and never cut them off.
When your child feels respected and valued, power struggles will show up less. Always remember that your relationship with them will be the basis of their relationships with other people.
There are many things we have to consider when raising children. A lot of the time, raising them makes us take a long hard look at ourselves. They make us want to be the best version of ourselves so we can raise them to be the best versions of themselves.
Do you have parenting principles that you'd like to share?