We may not always know what we are doing, but they do turn out OK.
I’ve made a whole lot of mistakes in my life. Some of the consequences linger as reminders for me to stay on course in making better choices. Others are salt in my wounds of regret. Yet my many good decisions have allowed me to continually reap abundant joy.
Fortunately, for my son and the people in his life, parenting overall is something I got right. I know that now, but while he was young, my self-doubt was ever-present. The day he turned 18, I fell to the ground in exhausted relief, crying in gratitude. I had figuratively held my breath to that point, worrying that I would cause him harm or that he would get into trouble. That he made it to adulthood without injury or legal incident was a small miracle.
I am grateful my son is gainfully employed, law-abiding, and happily married with three young children. He is, without a doubt, my pride and joy; my absolute best accomplishment of my lifetime.
If you are a parent, I hope you will know that feeling some day, if you don’t just yet. It’s far more than satisfaction and pride; it’s more about gratitude – knowing your legacy will have a positive impact for generations.
Parenting is one of the most significant roles in which an adult can have a lasting impact. Yet the average Westerner receives little if any instruction beyond the examples we observe. It’s incredible to me that the most important job in the world requires no training.
I had some rough experiences in my youth, so when I became a parent and realized the daunting responsibility, I wondered if I could do it right. My biggest concern was that I would say or do something wrong and mess up my son’s psycho-emotional health, sending him into therapy for decades of his adult life.
I parented pro-actively when I was informed and making conscious decisions, but in my immaturity or thoughtlessness, I frequently failed to apply a lesson previously learned. Sometimes I was neglectful out of sheer ignorance. My ineptitude bit me in the butt a few times. Oh, I cringe at the thought of what I took for granted when raising my son.
As dedicated parents, whether single, married, or divorced, most of us want to do everything in our power to raise our child to become a healthy, happy adult who will contribute goodness to our society. Nowadays, expecting parents can research via the Internet or take classes at their community hospital on how to handle practical situations.
In long-term parenting, however, we leave much to chance. We can be more effective for our children when we plan and make a focused effort on teaching our children how to be good and why.
Here are four principles that helped me raise my son to be a good person even though I made mistakes along the way:
1. Start with the end in mind with parenting, just as you would with business goals.
Evaluate how you define what it means to be a good person. If compassion is a criterion, teach your child compassion. If a strong work ethic is important, use age-appropriate discussion on the subject to help your child understand.
I have always valued compassion and wanted to do all I could to ensure my son would be a compassionate person throughout his life. I knew this meant I would have to demonstrate compassion in my interactions with others as he observed. It would also require bringing to his attention compassion and the lack thereof in others we would encounter.
2. Prepare them for each role they will play in life.
Every child will grow into many roles–student, friend, member of the community, employee, lover, spouse, parent–and our parenting efforts serve as foundational training.
My mother brought to my attention that it was my responsibility to raise my son to someday be a good husband and father. We talked about what that meant to me based on examples of men in my life. I noted the qualities of the fathers and husbands I observed that I respected and admired, as well as those behaviors and qualities I wanted to make certain that my son would not have.
3. Children are aware of more than we may realize.
As a result, they learn from our negative experiences as well as the good stuff. Because we are fallible humans, it is important that we acknowledge to our child when we make a mistake that impacts them. Keep the conversation age-appropriate, talk about your decision and why it was not a good choice. Discuss how you will make better choices next time. This may also be a good time to use another person as a positive example, such as “I notice that Mr. Jones jogs almost every morning in our neighborhood. I would like to become as dedicated to my health as Mr. Jones is to his.” Such examples also help to demonstrate values to children.
My son observed many of the mistakes I made. Swallowing my parental pride to admit my mistakes and discuss my bad choices was never easy. Fortunately, my son’s learning style allowed him to glean lessons from my failures. He learned about consequences, human nature, and compassion through these lessons.
4. A child is his or her own person and will learn from those around him.
If the child has good critical thinking skills, they will be better equipped to evaluate options and potential consequences, and then make their own decisions and act accordingly.
One of the best sub-conscious efforts I made in parenting was teaching my son critical thinking, logic and consequences: if this, then that. What I didn’t realize until he was a young adult was that critical thinking skills empower and protect the child from bad influences, including the mistakes of a fallible, human parent.
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