In my last column, I mentioned the idea of being attentive to yourself, not only as a parent but as a person. I asked the questions: “What are you saying?” “What are you doing?” “How are you with other people?”
These are what I call “can’t get away with it” questions. They’re line drivers, making you sit up and think how you are behaving in front of your child.
You are the example for your child. Not your mother, the teacher, the stay-at-home neighbour, your babysitter or anyone else.
Because this responsibility lies squarely on your shoulders, it can make you feel inadequate in how you are carrying out your parental obligation. I’m not trying to scare you; I’m trying to make you aware how important you are to help your child to grow up to be a happy and well-adjusted adult.
It’s no accident people change when they become parents: Holding your firstborn may have been the trigger to wean you off the nights out with your friends. Sure, you’re tired – probably more tired than you’ve been in all your life – but there are other instincts at play here: bonding and nesting. Nature has figured it out. Little ones need care and protection. The strong feelings that compel you to stay with your baby are built in to ease you into the role of not only a parent, but a good parent.
Hypocrisy doesn’t work: The expression “do as I say, not as I do” comes to mind. Telling your child not to say “bad” words, but then swearing a blue streak because you’re angry and feel justified spouting off, doesn’t justify your behaviour. Did I say parenting is tough? Of course it is! There are times when the child in you wants to complain, thrash, and throw dishes when things are not fair, but it is in instances like these that your self-control and maturity must emerge to pilot not only you, but your child as well. You’ll find yourself growing up fast and liking it.
Actions have consequences: Being the example inevitably brings up the issue of disciplining your kids. If they have done something wrong, an immediate consequence is in order. Making extreme ultimatums such as “no TV for a month” can shock your son into submission but it’s nigh impossible to enforce. “No TV until Friday” is a consequence that is reasonable to carry through. Teaching your children that you mean what you say, whether it’s a disciplinary action or a treat, develops their trust in you. Being consistent and constant clearly marks your parenting boundaries, making you a good example for your child.
Your child is a gift to you: I may be waxing poetic here, but the thought of your child as a gift to you – a profoundly special gift – may give you pause for thought to not take your kids for granted. Taking anything for granted invites sloppy behaviour, where “not caring” has an easy entry if you are not careful. The busyness of our lives puts us in autopilot at times as well. Being an example to your child by rote instead of experiencing them from your heart can leave them feeling ignored instead of loved.