After every temper tantrum or episode of quarreling amongst my children, I find myself reflecting on my role in their behavior and what I could have done differently. During moments of deep self-doubt I wonder if I have done anything right as a parent. Conversely, when teachers, neighbors, religious leaders, friends, and even strangers at restaurants compliment me on how intelligent, kind or respectful my children are, my most frequent response is, "I can't take any credit. God just sent them that way."
The actual truth is that God did send me five amazing children, but I have worked for 20 years to help mold and shape them into the people he would want them to become. I was overjoyed when I recently asked my kids what they felt I had done right as a parent and they verbalized a long list in a matter of minutes. The following are nine observations from my children that will hopefully give encouragement or guidance to other parents in the trenches of the greatest job on earth.
1. You trust us enough to make our own decisions
In order for children to become successful, contributing adults, they must be given the chance to make choices. Parental trust is earned one good choice at a time. I allowed my young children to exercise their agency on the little things so they would learn the positive and negative consequences of their choices. As they have matured and are required to make more significant decisions, they now have the skills and values in place to choose wisely. And I trust that they will. Here is more advice on teaching your kids to make good choices.
2. You emphasize education
I suppose all those nights helping with homework, family "summer school" sessions learning together about rockets or ladybugs and discussing current events over dinner have made a difference. My parents taught me that performing well in school is necessary but learning to love learning is imperative. Indeed, as the English philosopher William Hazlitt said, "Learning is its own exceeding great reward." Parents that train and encourage their children to explore, create and find the joy in expanding their minds and skills will give them a grand key to happiness, self-respect and success.
3. You teach us the value of hard work
Both my husband and I enjoy laboring with our hands and minds. We find that working with our children provides meaningful ways to teach and spend quality time together. Whether it's making home repairs with Dad, cleaning with Mom or doing dishes and yard work as a family, we believe that successful individuals and families learn and live the principle of hard work. Much to my surprise, even my least enthusiastic cleaner admits, "It's good that you make us clean the bathroom." Here are some lessons kids can learn from a good bathroom cleaning session.
4. You read with us.
I love to hear that most of my children share my love of reading. I think one of the greatest things my mother did for me was to read stories, books, scriptures and articles to me and with me, and I strive to continue that legacy. Our family has made story time at the library a treat and reading before bed a priority. We join book clubs, discuss literature and make sure our children see us reading. Read here to find out why reading to your child is a gift.
5. You take us to museums and plays and concerts
With a family of four teenage boys who don't particularly enjoy dressing up for an evening of culture, this comment was shocking! It seems the youth Christmas symphonies, high school musicals, community plays, siblings' musical concerts and recitals and visits to places ranging from local children's museums to the Smithsonian paid off in the end. Three cheers for the arts.
6. You teach us values like integrity
Since the children were young we consistently set aside one night every week for family time. With young children's limited attention span and older teenagers' hectic schedules, sometimes our lessons or activities last onlyÂ 10 minutes, but my husband and I use those minutes to teach the children the values we hold dear. In less formal ways, we talk about the consequences of society's declining moral values and above all we try to exemplify what we believe.
7. You emphasize religion
Our faith plays a critical role in our family's everyday life. We strive to be godly in word and deed and relate almost everything in life back to God's reality, love, and blessings. Some of my greatest memories as a mother center around listening to my young child pray in earnest to his creator, watching my boys perform their duties at church, and seeing my daughter live her values of faith, service, integrity and virtue. All those nights when I wondered if anyone was listening as we read scripture and prayed as a family have in the end brought forth great fruit.
8. You take us on vacations
Whether an expensive vacation at Disneyland, a relaxing time at the beach, a road trip to see our favorite football team, a jaunt up to Grandma's house or a day trip to a pumpkin festival, our family outings have bound us together. Thank goodness for cheap hotels, electronic car devices and a spirit of adventure.
9. You are getting less uptight ... except before a road trip
This once-rigid young mommy who insisted on spotless floors, perfectly groomed children and collegiate level essays from elementary children, has apparently made some progress. Now that I contemplate being a grandparent in coming years, I realize that everybody was right when they said, "Childhood slips by and before you know it, the kids are gone." I am grateful to have gained the wisdom to loosen up on the things that don't really matter and treasure each stage of family life in its time.
If you are questioning your positive influence on your children or wondering how to improve your parenting, ask the experts - your kids. You may be delighted at what you discover.