21 parenting lessons I’ve learned the hard way

RACHEL DOHERTY

Social worker, teacher and the founder of Tweens2teen

Parenting is a tough job that doesn’t come with a manual. And the lessons we learn raising our children are often things that make life better for us too.

My parenting journey has been going for almost 19 years. With plenty of ups and downs along the way. Like most parents, there’s a few things I’ve worked out through trial and error that I wish I’d know at the start.

“Children are educated by what the grown up is and not by his talk.”

CARL JUNG

Parenting lessons I’ve learned

There have been some horrible moments in my life as a parent. The time I lost our 9 year old on an inner city train station during peak hour. Watching a child battle a medical condition that almost took their life. And a houseboat holiday five years ago I’m still recovering from.

But all the difficulties are also part of what makes us a family. Part of our story.

So here’s 21 lessons I’ve learned about parenting, that have taken some tough lessons to grasp:

1. Think before you say something

The teenage years are all about power and the desire for respect. The best thing you can do to avoid conflict is to take a breathe and make a careful choice of words.

2. Be kind when judging your own parenting

It’s like looking at your reflection in the mirror. You’re always harder on yourself than others are. And teenagers aren’t always good at giving fair feedback. Instead look at how your kids act in public and what other people say about them when you’re not around.

3. It really does take a village to raise a child

When kids hit the tween years they realise you’re not a superhero. Anything that makes them look like you or feel like you will be cast off quick smart. At this point, you need to have great adult or almost-adult role models in their life for them to look up to. Coaches, cousins, teachers, neighbours, friends of older siblings, uncles, aunts and family friends.

If you don’t provide examples they’ll go looking for the on their own.

4. Ask questions rather than giving advice

Anything that sounds like advice loses its value. Instead, ask questions. Get them thinking about options to their own problems. And when the time is right, be tentative when you offer advice. Ask for an invitation to share it first.

If you want to learn more, check out my article on how to give advice that your teens will listen to.

5. What happens today is just part of the journey to adulthood

Childhood is a training ground for the grown up world. It’s a space to try things out, make mistakes and work out who they are. Don’t lose sight of that in the yelling, foot stomping and “you don’t know anything”s.

6. School is just a dress rehearsal

And not always a good one. Life after school is a choose-your-own adventure where all kids will find their spot, even if they never quite found it at school. For some kids, it’s just about hanging on to the end so they can begin life.

So don’t fall for all the hype about graduating with good marks, just focus on finishing whole.

7. The art of saying “Let me think about that”

There have been times when I’ve asked the kids to do something and it’s like waiting for a sloth. My kids have taught me the art of not rushing into things and buying time to think.

8. There are times when you shouldn’t make things better

It’s natural for parents to want to “kiss” everything better. But as your child’s world moves further and further from home, you have to let them solve the problems. They need to make the choices and sometimes suffer the consequences.

In the last couple of years I’ve also realised that we have to encourage our kids to take the leap when the stakes are low. Later in life the consequences will be so much bigger and we all learn best when we’re given room to experiment.

“The art of good parenting is staying positive and focusing on your relationship.”

9. Independence takes time to develop

Kids don’t just turn 18 and unwrap the gift of independence and common sense. It takes years to craft that thoughtful mind that helps them to make good choices and get along well in the world. Don’t rob them of the opportunity to learn those skills while you’re still close enough to catch them when they fall.

10. Don’t dismiss the power of a placebo

When my kids were young, the box of Band-aids got a workout as a way of stopping the tears and helping us all move on. My placebo arsenal these days includes ice packs, heat packs, cups of tea and milkshakes. Placebos might not make things better, but they provide a distraction so we can see things in perspective.

11. Any help is better than no help

Whether it’s from kids, family or friends. Doing things on your own isn’t nice. Like lugging 15 bags of groceries upstairs. Be grateful for what you get and let them know it. With kids, they’ll help out more.

12. Every child is different

We all make choices about where our kids will go to school, what activities they’ll do and what our rules will be. But sometimes kids don’t thrive in that space.

If your choices are making one of your kids miserable, look for a different response. It’s okay to change your mind or treat them different.

13. Capture every smile and kiss

As your kids get older, kisses and cuddles become much more fleeting. I feel like I’m savouring every one these days!

14. Kids are much smarter than we give them credit for

Kids can make judgments and evaluate options. They know far more about the world than we did at their age. Millennial kids are discerners, not consumers, so help their thinking and decision-making skills grow. Don’t hold them back with your assumptions.

15. You can’t make your kids happy

Happiness, joy and optimism are internal qualities, not things you give to a child. Sure you can create an environment where these should be the result, but you can’t make them happen.

16. See advice as just that

There’s no manual for parenting, and every child and family is unique. So don’t get caught up on doing things the right way. Take advice, including mine, as ideas that have worked for others and might work in your situation. But might not too.

17. Consequences work better than punishment

Discipline teaches kids that someone else will regulate their behaviour. Consequences gets them to do that themselves. Where you can, let other people or the circumstances be the teacher, not you.

18. There are more important things that a tidy house

I do like a tidy house. It helps me feel calmer and in control. But I also know that having a tidy house at the expense of spending time with my kids or damaging our relationship isn’t worth the hassle.

19. Practice what you preach

Kids are great observers. They can spot inconsistencies and judge them as a character flaw. If you’re going to have rules and expectations, make sure you’re setting a good example for them to follow.

20. Keep your eyes on the prize

Parenting is about creating adults who you want to be around and other people don’t mind either. Everything between that is just part of the journey. There will be ups and downs in any family, so ride them out and get help when you need it. Focus on what they’ll look like as an adult, not what they’re doing today.

21. Never give up

Everyone needs at least one person to believe in them. Someone who will still be encouraging them until their last breathe. If your kids are making poor choices or facing huge difficulties, be the person that believes better days are just ahead.

I’m sure there’s many more lessons I’ve learned the hard way as a parent, because parenting is hard work. Just when you think you’ve worked something out, the kids move into a new stage and no longer respond to that strategy.

The art of good parenting is about staying positive and focusing on your relationship. If you want to know more about what’s worked in our family, take a look at my article on raising great teens.

Are there some parenting lessons you’ve learned the hard way? Perhaps one of these? I’d love to hear your story!

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