#1 – There’s no such thing as the “Perfect Parent”
No one’s perfect, so why would there be perfect parents? Humans are not all-knowing and faultless. Graciously acknowledge any mistakes you may have made as a parent (and as a person), learn the lesson, and impart the wisdom to your children. That knowledge is more valuable than being a picture perfect Mom/Dad. Your children will learn that it is perfectly normal to be wrong sometimes, and they will learn humility and the importance of being honest.
Taking the pressure off yourself will also make you a fun parent to be around, because you won’t be uptight about needing to be “right” and “good” all the time. The result is happier children who are comfortable being around you because you are comfortable being yourself. They will also learn how to accept themselves to be “less than perfect” because you would have shown them how to live in harmony with yourself and others even when one is not perfect.
#2 – Good parents say “Sorry”
This is closely related to #1, but yet an entirely different matter altogether. While an erred parent may admit to committing mistakes, it does not mean he or she would seek forgiveness from their children. Many parents find it hard to admit their wrongdoings to their own children, seeing how Asian society tends to place the parents in a hierarchy above the children, let alone seek forgiveness. “Your parents are always right”, you’d hear people saying. But is it really true?
I know this may sound insane to most parents, but if you view these little people as individuals, apologies are necessary when required. Children are humans too – not an extension of their parents – and they deserve the same respect you would give to another adult. And while you’re at it, tell them exactly what you did wrong (though they would most likely know what it was), why and how it happened, and wait for forgiveness. Teach them not to commit the same mistakes that you did, and teach them to have a gracious heart knows how to forgive.
#3 – Your child is an individual of his own possibilities
Despite the genetics, strange habits and quirks inherited from you and your spouse, your children are not extensions of neither parent. They are individuals with a unique blend of preferences, talents, goals, limitations and a mind of their own. Do not assume you can read your child’s mind thoroughly. Sure, you can predict he would want to do a certain something based on his hobbies, but when it goes deeper into the capabilities he feels he possesses, it is an entirely different ball game.
Do not impose what you feel he or she is capable of. Do not try to make them live out your dreams. Do not assume you know what’s “best for them”. Even if you may be right, trial and error is a crucial part of growing up. Do not deny them of their right to make their own choices and, most importantly, their opportunity to learn from their own mistakes. We only fully learn a lesson after we’ve been through it ourselves; it’s just how the human mind is programmed to work. Allowing them to make their own judgment will only make them wiser and more self-assured.
#4 – Accept, and celebrate, uniqueness
What works for someone else’s child may not work for your child. What is considered as “conventional parenting” may not work for you either. (I am a classic example.) If you have strong reason to believe that going against the norm will do your child good, then by all means, DO IT. When Barney sang that all children “are special in his or her own way”, it was meant to be taken at face value – gender and societal stereotypes aside. If your girl wants to play with cars, she might grow up to be an outstanding mechanical engineer. And if your boy wants to buy (and wear) a girly bead bracelet, he might just grow up to be a famous jewellery designer. (He might be gay too, but does that really matter?)
Yes, I am actually referring to Josh who had desperately wanted to buy a $3 bead bracelet from Cotton On Kids, and has been wearing it for the past week whenever he’s not in school or in bed. Am I freaked out? Nope. Is Daddy freaked out? A tad, I believe. He refused to buy the bracelet for Josh citing that “people may laugh at him”. Well, who gives a hoot about what other people think? If he’s happy wearing it, and he feels it expresses his individuality, those people can laugh their heads off for all I care. He knew what he wanted (he picked it out from the bottom of a clear plastic box filled with similar bracelets) and he relentlessly pursued it (insisting I took out that specific one for him when I passed him a similar one). I was merely assisting him to achieve his goal by paying for it. If he applies the same tenacity to everything else that he does in life, he is going to be one successful person!
#5 – Be a friend
Before you think I’m leaning towards the Western liberal approach towards parenting, let me first say I am 100% for punishing children who misbehave. We have a rattan cane at home, and we do use it occasionally – mostly just to threaten the kids. But over the past year, I have come to realise that it does not work. Maybe my children are special, and immune to the pain of physical punishment. But when I gave it some good thought, it occurred to me that it was simply because it does not make sense to the child.
For example, Josh hits Kee. We punish him by hitting him. He must now think that hitting is allowed in this house then, since we’re doing it to him. Then what’s so wrong with what he did to Kee? In another (hypothetical) example, Josh plays with his food and makes a huge mess. If we mete out physical punishment and clean up his mess for him, he will never fully understand the consequences or why we are angry about a dirty table/floor. An appropriate punishment would be for him to clean up on his own (even if it wouldn’t be done properly) so he learns that he must take responsibility for his actions. Thereafter ask him how he would like to be cleaning up our mess every single day. (The answer will almost definitely be negative.)
That’s a bit of digression there, but it’s somewhat necessary to illustrate my point.
If you are a friend to your child, you would advise on what is right or wrong. However, it is up to the child to choose his path (see point #3). If he chooses the wrong path, he has to bear the consequences on his own. As a friend, you have every right to be angry that he did not listen to your recommendations, but you can also choose to support him through his decision (ie: helping him clean up the mess he created). As parents, we are the most important friends our children will ever have, and we will always be held in the highest regard. No child in this world who would want to make their “favourite best friends” angry at them and put the “friendship” at risk. When you truly love someone, you will always want them to be happy and you will do everything in your power to get them there. A child would naturally behave the same way towards his parents, and not want to be the cause of unhappiness. This “punishment” is the most effective and teaches the most valuable lessons to a child.
Another aspect of being a friend to your child is about sharing. You share your triumphs so they may partake in your joy and celebrate with you. You share your failures so they may learn the lessons without having to live with the consequences. You share your feelings of fear and sadness, so that they may in turn share their worries and sorrows with you. Relationships are two-way streets and it is no different for a parent-child bond. To be a good parent, you have to first be a worthy friend; only then can you learn and teach effectively and live together harmoniously.
These are my own views on parenting, so I don’t expect everyone to agree with my school of thought. But judging by the amount of empathy the boys show to me, these points must be beneficial to creating a close-knit parent-child connection. As I had sat on the kitchen floor sobbing during one of Hubs’ overseas trips, Josh reassured me that “Papa will be back” and that I shouldn’t cry or worry. And this happened just minutes after I had yelled nastily at both of them for not going to bed on time. If that isn’t love, then I don’t know what is. 🙂