Four years ago, we had the following exchange with our then 12-year-old daughter:
Sofie: Have I ever thanked you and Mama for being such amazing parents?
Ah…the classic “non-compliment” compliment.
A few years later, at 14, she was concerned about being as awesome parents for her kids as we’ve been for her. OK now…a straight out compliment. And again, this past weekend, the 16-year-old version expressed concern that we teach her how to be the kind of parent for her kids that we’ve been for her and her sister. So with that in mind, here are my instructions...for everyone.
Number one: You know that old line about how parents can’t be their kids’ best friends. That’s bullshit, and it depends entirely on your definition of “best friend.” In my world, your best friend is looking out for what’s best for you, and won’t let you do stupid or dangerous stuff. Your true best friend won’t cover for you when you’ve done something heinous, but will encourage you to own up to it. Your “buddies” might, but not your true friends. Your true best friends will not only have fun with you, but will encourage you to be your best self. And by that definition, parents can be their kids’ best friends.
Number two: It’s not about power, it’s about setting a good example. Don’t be the parent who’s always saying “Because I said so.” Instead, make sure there’s a good reason for your saying so, and if there’s not, then admit it. Back down when your kid is right, so that they know that the times when you do dig in your heels, it’s really important. Of course, there are some times when you can’t explain why, and it has to be “because I said so”, but those times should be few enough and far between enough that your kid is willing and able to trust your judgment.
Number three: Don’t try to be the perfect parent. The best book about parenting was one I never read; the title alone made its point. It’s called The Good-Enough Parent. Don’t fret about whether or not you’re doing this exactly right and by whose rules. Just be good enough. If you try to be perfect (whatever that is), you’ll only make everyone crazy.
Number four: Back them up when they challenge authority and that authority is wrong. But also teach them that sometimes they just have to suck it up…for the moment…as we all do.
Number five: Don’t come up with rules just for the sake of having rules; and ask yourself why the rules you have exist in the first place. Why can’t the kid have a whole bowl of Reddi Whip for breakfast? If that's the only way you can get a dairy product into them, then let them have it!
Number six: Let them make their own mistakes, and deal with them on their own, without rescuing them.
Number seven: Understand that the world is a random place, shit happens, and you can’t prevent it. You can’t protect your kid from everything; and if you’ve successfully protected them from X, they may well get struck down by Y.
Number eight: Don’t be afraid of your kids hanging out with the “wrong” kids. Or rather, don’t be afraid of the “wrong” kids hanging out with yours. If they’re hanging out with yours, and hanging out at your house, maybe it’s because your family is an example of a stable one, and your kid is a good influence on them, rather than them being a bad influence on yours.
Number nine: Be goofy and don’t give a crap what other people think. Don’t get all freaked out when your kid and their friend wave and shout “Hi!” to people out the car window as you’re driving along through town. It could be worse.
There’s so much more, but if I were to try to put all this into three words they would be these: Lighten up already!