I was recently lamenting to a friend about what an awful mom I was. I had let my son fall asleep without brushing his teeth even though I knew he had sweets, and the result was the start down the road to cavities. I admit I’m full of mom guilt, but my friend looked at me like I had two heads and simply said “Stop, stop! Oh my gosh, staaaaaahhhhp!” before proceeding to tell me some of her own mom sins.
They didn’t sound that bad to me, probably because I didn’t do them. Mine didn’t sound that bad to her either, which I found mystifying.
While I admit we all make mistakes (and I still think mine was a big one), there are definitely things we can all do so that at the very least, we don’t feel guilty for good reason. If you are doing these things, you are probably doing a-ok, and if you aren’t, you will (rightfully) feel guilty, because it’s the good stuff any mom or dad can do.
5 Things Every Good Parent Does
1. Focus on what they do well and let them thrive in it. If your child loves art but you love science, encourage her to pursue her own dreams and hobbies, and support her. Even if you think it’s boring, a waste of time, or nothing that will help them get into an Ivy League college. Unless it’s dangerous or unethical, let them find their own drum beat and march to it. Don’t compare them to other children, especially not their siblings who will have different talents and interests. There is no better skill, or important skill. It’s what she loves to do, and it’s what makes her special.
2. Prioritize family time Activities are wonderful, learning new things after school can be fun, and even camp can be an adventure, but nothing should replace a great deal of time spent together as a family. Quantity time is quality time, and enjoying activities with siblings, learning new things from parents, and going camping with the family will always trump being sent off to do those things with strangers. I don’t mean that they should only be with family- of course he should make friends and spend time with friends- but children don’t thrive when they are being rushed to two or three after school activities a day or sent to sleep away camp for two months every summer. Unless your child actually asks to spend more time away or join specific activities, please don’t sign him up unless he is agreeable and happy about it.
3. Give your child choices Nothing makes a child feel more desperate than feeling like they have no control over their lives at all. She wants to feel like her input matters, and someone cares about what she wants, needs, and feels. Your child should be able to choose many things, like what she has for breakfast, what shirt to wear, what music she likes. The parent who tries to control everything a child does, and steers them continuously to what the parent prefers, is the parent who will never really know their child, and who will likely lose their child when she is old enough to venture out on her own into the world and choose who she spends her time with.
4. Hug a lot And I don’t mean only when you are in a good mood, or when you pick him up from school, or after he gave you flowers for Mother’s Day. I mean a lot, all the time, even when he is bad, and even after he is no longer tots. Show affection physically, with lots of hugs, pats on the back, touches on the cheek. Don’t just tell your child you love him (or worse, assume he knows it because you’re his parent). Show him you love him with a big bear hug, or ruffling his hair when you tell him he did a good job on something. You can spoil a child with things, but you can never spoil a child with love, so don’t hold back on letting your child know he is very much loved. Hug him when he wakes up, and when he goes to bed. Cuddle when you read together. Give each a kiss on the forehead as you give him his dinner plate. You will never regret loving on your kids, but when they are up and gone, you will definitely regret it if you didn’t.
5. Talk to your children and give them a lot of space to talk. Do things together during which you are simply silent, allowing them to explore their own thoughts, take in what is happening around her, and to fill in the silence with conversation if she chooses. These are the times children tend to truly, honestly express their real thoughts. Don’t judge, don’t cut her off, don’t use it as an opportunity to lecture or teach a lesson. This is your chance to hear your child and who she really is, and how she thinks. This is your chance to connect, so she’ll always feel like you heard her, saw her, and supported her. Most importantly, this is your chance to discover if your child is facing any kind of trouble, and possibly save her.
I’ve spent a great deal of time in the past thinking about how I should have done things differently, or how I could have handled something better, and instead I should be focused on how to improve in the future. We will all make mistakes, but the focus is children who are thriving, and feel respected and heard. Children should always feel they can come to their parents for anything, and as long as they become happy, healthy, and fulfilled adults who are decent people, and your relationship is always strong, there is nothing to regret.