A Family Recipe for Goodness by Guest Blogger Mimi Meredith
Do you know that on amazon.com you’ll find twice as many books on the subject of cooking as on parenting? (Cooking – 137,064 and parenting – 60,405, when last I checked.)
Cooking offers specific instructions that, when followed with precision, yield predictable results.
Parenting experts offer countless opinions conveyed as instructions, and if you follow them, you’ll find the results are often totally unpredictable and sometimes even disastrous.
Do parenting experts have to carry professional insurance? Are they liable for the practices that occur because of what they preach?
“But I followed your recommendations and my daughter is a high school drop out addicted to meth with a child at age 15.”
So why am I dispensing advice? Well first, it’s free…so, as with all free advice, it may prove to be worth exactly what you pay for it. Or there may be something here that reinforces what your innate wisdom is already telling you.
People generally ask me for parenting advice after they’ve met our children – ages 22, 18 and 15. I take that as a good sign. When asked why they’ve chosen not to do drugs (and I did ask them…they’re my favorite focus group) none of my children cited any of the words of wisdom I’ve dispensed over the decades.
They said things like, “Dad told me he’d disown me if I did drugs” (Not true, but whatever works!) “For some reason you and dad helped me to feel that being able to resist the temptation and say no is something that is honorable and respectful.” And the youngest said, “You’ve never tried to scare me, you’ve just told me facts, like about what [drugs]can do to you.”
Okay…the youngest gets the prize for coming closest to hitting one of my talking points on the head: let the facts do the talking.
Being involved with community drug prevention efforts since the early 90s, I’ve been exposed to lots of facts and I’ve shared them all with my children…even when it might have annoyed or embarrassed them…like when their friends were in the car. Not just anyone can work, “did you know that young male brains are far more likely to lose the ability to create endorphins naturally if they abuse alcohol before their frontal lobes have fully developed” like I can.
Actually, having a healthy and drug-free family begins far before your children are old enough to endure your lectures. And long before you teach them about the dangers of drugs and unprotected sex (you are having both those conversations…right?), you demonstrate what is important to the culture of your family unit and you live out those things you call your family values.
Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you. ~Robert Fulghum
Most parents are quick to say respect is one of the core values they hope to instill in their family unit. For respect to be real it must be mutual and the underlying principles must be understood. Without that understanding, when you – the great enforcer – are absent, a child will naturally follow the leader he or she is with – you’ve taught them to follow, to obey – not to reason, or to think.
Back to respect being mutual. Saying, “You know I respect you,” doesn’t go nearly as far as a simple act of respect shown from the earliest age – listening. Yes, what happened in the last episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may be the most important thing you hear today. So stop what you’re doing and listen. Don't fake it… “Oh really, buddy…cool.” Listen. Just like you want them to listen when you say things like, “Please promise me you'll put on a seatbelt every time you get in a car.” You won’t be their most important confidant all the time. But they need to know that when they need you, you’ll pay attention.
Your children don’t need you to agree with them. They may think they need to win the argument, or at least your agreement, but what they really need is to be heard – hopefully even understood. “So you need some quiet time when you come home at the end of the day, I understand that.” Or, “I understand you think I’m being unfair, but from my perspective, there is no reason to be out past 1 a.m. when you’re a junior in high school…”
Be you. Don't try to be cool. (Nothing is more awkward than a parent who tries to be one of the kids.) Like yourself and be yourself. After all, isn't that what you want for your children?
Be honest and consistent. Children are like vines that, with a sound structure of support, grow and thrive. Your job is to provide the boundaries and the family culture that supports that growth. It’s not just about rules. It’s about how boundaries are determined, how they’re enforced, and how they’re evaluated as your children grow. Don’t worry about being popular or powerful – I’m here to tell you, when it comes to raising children, you’re neither.
Say what needs to be said. A great tip I learned at a parenting summit hosted by DrugFreeAZ was tell your children what you want them to know five years or more before they need to know it. For us, one of the earliest things conveyed – particularly by my husband – was always tell the truth. We said that out loud. Often. Saying, out loud, don’t do drugs, is just as important. Be clear and there will be no room for confusion.
We knew our children would, at one time or another, find themselves in situations that involved dangerous behavior. So we’ve always been clear about that, too. Each of them knows without a doubt, that we will drive any distance at any time of day or night to get them out of those situations. And we have. Those calls are the ones for which we are most grateful.
Above all, practice what you preach. Be true to yourself and to your word.
To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while. ~Josh Billings
Here’s to helping one another along the path of raising healthy, responsible children. It’s the most important journey we will make.
Do you have a question for Mimi? E-mail her at email@example.com.
Mimi Meredith is a corporate communication consultant who teaches people to build relationships that create more positive and productive workplace cultures. She is the author of Blooming Where You’re Planted, a collection of essays on life balance, leadership and finding goodness wherever you are, and she blogs regularly about those subjects and more at The Bloomin’ Blog www.blog.thegoodnessgrows.com.