Like most people, I have learned many lessons from my parents. Unlike most people, I didn’t learn the usual lessons. Cooking, making a budget, doing laundry were not things that I learned to do from my parents. These were things my parents rarely did, let alone tried to explain to me. They weren’t very interested in being parents, in preparing their children for responsible and productive lives. And since my parents were in and out of jail, battle consistently with addiction, have filed multiple times for bankruptcy, there certain isn’t anything to learn from example. Instead I have learned what not to do, which sometimes can be even more valuable. Here are the top three lessons I learned in what not to do when raising children.
Never say “I don’t care.”
My father said this to me all the time, but my mother did as well. This was their answer when I asked permission to go somewhere or do something. First of all, if you as a parent don’t care, why should the child ask your permission at all? You have become a pointless middleman and undermine your own authority over your children.
Second, a simple yes or no answer is more respectful to your children that “I don’t care.” Count the damn syllables. It baffled me as a child to imagine my dad spending the extra time and energy to say three words to express his indifference to me, instead of just answering my question. It’s a passive aggressive insult that, again, does nothing but undermines you as a parent.
Never make fun of your children.
My mother didn’t approve of my weight. I was always heavy while my mom was borderline sickly. But she didn’t make me play outside, portion my meals, or invite me to go with her on a walk. She made fun of me. I believe wholeheartedly that parents are responsible for keeping their children healthy and at an appropriate weight, just like they are responsible for making sure they get an education and have good impulse control. Calling names or shaming a child for a behavior that isn’t healthy will never do any good though. Children need to learn through example and leadership. If a child is fat, it is the parents’ fault.
Never hijack your child’s crisis.
Another way of saying, be a good listener, to avoid hijacking your child’s issue is to listen to them and their crisis fully and respond to it directly before placing blame or changing the subject. My mother found out I was hurting myself when my guidance counselor called her and told her. The conversation was brutally short:
Mother: Your counselor called and said you cut yourself. Show me.
Me: (shows her my arm)
Mother: Stop that. People are going to think your dad molests you.
Obviously, this reaction is so far below what is an necessary to deal with a child’s crisis, but it is also a terrible way to start a meaningful conversation that could possibly help someone. My mother showed me that she didn’t care about what I had been doing. She was not curious about why I was hurting myself, but like always, was more concerned with protecting her husband.
My sister pointed out to me that she had said something similar when her daughter told her she had hurt herself. As the parent, my sister was legally responsible for her daughter and could suffer consequences when she chose to do those kinds of things. I asked my sister if that was the first thing she said to her daughter. Of course not. I asked if that was the only thing she had said to her daughter. Of course not. That was afterwards, after comfort and caring, when she tried to use reason and logic.
This advice can of course go for less serious conversations as well. If your child is upset that the boy she likes asks someone else to the prom, it isn’t productive to remind them that there are people in the world with real problems, at least not right away.
These three lessons are really closely related. It comes down to respecting your children. Of course, your children must respect you. How can they do that if you do not show your children what respect is? You must respect their questions, their problems, and their needs so that they can actually learn from you and your examples.