As my family gathered over the weekend, we had opportunities to talk about some of our favorite childhood and adult memories. Some of these memories were related to trips we took or holidays we spent together. But, there were many more memories shared that related to the day-to-day occurrences or times when each of us kids had gotten into trouble. This made me think that not only have my parents been married for 50 years – but they have been parenting for 49!
Growing up my sister, brothers and I had our share of successes and challenges. We were not “bad kids,” but definitely had times in which our errors in judgment led to upheaval and disappointment. But regardless of what we did or failed to do, we always knew that our parents were in our corner to help us get through whatever crisis or celebrate whatever high point came our way. We also knew – and still know – what is expected of us, the values that are important and the ways in which you show generosity and concern for others. For my parents, I think that their children knowing they were loved and supported and trying to live by the values and expectations they set are indicators of their success.
As parents, it is my opinion that they mine did two specific things that had this type of lasting impact: One was that they were consistent, the other was that they were available.
By being available, I am referring to my parents being present in our lives. Not only did they attend sporting events, art shows and recitals, but they knew what was going on in each of our lives. They knew our friends, they knew what was important to each of us and they listened. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely arguments and times we disagreed. But we were allowed to express our feelings and “speak our mind.” They were open to hearing what we had to say and supported our opinions – when they could. They also recognized our talents and strengths and were present to teach perseverance and encourage success.
By being consistent I am not only referencing consistency in discipline or routines, but also that their actions and words matched their values and their expectations. As children we knew what mattered to our parents, not just because they said it but because their actions supported it. Values were evident in daily routines – for example praying before dinner and getting our allowance only when our chores were complete. Expectations were supported by actions – for example, we were expected to work hard in school. This meant we did our homework, we listened to teachers and we studied. My parents made sure that homework time was a part of our home routine; they helped us study, checked our work and there was no television until homework was done. When we did our best in school and fell short, we were not in trouble. But if we hadn’t tried our best and got bad grades there was a punishment.
How my mom and dad parented seems simple and practical – their values and expectations matched their words and actions. This style of parenting requires intention and commitment, but it is not complex or costly. As parents we can choose to ensure that our messages come through in our words and our actions. We just need to make sure the messages we send are the ones we want to give!