When my son was born, my dad, a man of very few words, told me: “Your kids are an investment. Whatever you invest in them, they will pay you back in spades.” There are a million different ways to parent. And a million ways to be a good parent. I’m not a psychologist, or therapist or counselor. But I grew up watching the Brady Bunch and Leave it to Beaver so I’m as qualified as anyone to give advice on parenting. I’ve also (almost) raised three kids and, in the process, made as many mistakes as one could imagine. These are just a few of the rules that have worked for me and for people I respect over the years.
1. Take the time.
The paradox of parenting is that it is the easiest thing you’ll ever do and it’s also the hardest. For the same reason. All it requires is your time.
2. Be present.
You are not spending time with your kids if you push them on the swing set with one hand and yammer on your cell phone with the other.
3. Trust yourself.
There’s not really a right way or wrong way. Don’t compare yourself to other parents. If you give a damn and show up, you’re already 99% of the way there.
4. Don’t compare your kid to other kids.
Percentiles don’t mean anything. If your kid is different, celebrate that difference. Don’t conform it.
5. Ease up.
Because you’re going to screw up. Over and over.
6. Shut up.
You’ll be amazed at what you will learn from and about your kids if you just listen.
7. But don’t ever tell your kids to shut up.
8. Remember the two Cs.
After love, the greatest gift you can give your child is confidence. The next is curiosity.
I know a dad who has this single rule for every interaction with his kids: Each time he sees them he greets them with a smile. What a simple, beautiful gift.
10. Read to your kids.
11. But don’t always be the bedtime story teller.
Sometimes be the bedtime story listener.
12. Your children are not here to make you happy/fulfilled.
They are not here to entertain you, or make you rich (believe me), or save the world, or compensate for your bad childhood. Don’t take it out for them if they don’t.
13. Work puzzles.
These will develop critical thinking skills. At a young age, a child’s brain is very elastic. Load them up with foreign languages, books, projects, etc.
14. Teach them how to be alone.
Turn off the TV, the phone, the computer. Meditate, read, think.
Find a cause and get involved.
16. You are on the same team against the rest of the world. Be a good teammate.
17. Learn the football hold.
Lay a crying baby with her stomach against your forearm like you’re holding a football. Another move that works is to hold your baby upright with his back against your chest/stomach and do slow deep knee bends.
18. Don’t google every malady that you fear.
19. Get out.
It is natural to feel isolated and alone when you are a new parent. Force yourself to get out of the house and be around other adults.
20. Don’t do your kid’s homework for them.
21. Surround your kids with good role models.
I can’t tell you exactly where to find good role models for your child but I would generally advise you to stay away from strip clubs, banks, and other high crime areas like Congress.
22. Play music.
Some babies listen to Mozart, some listen to Mick Jagger. (But no child should have to listen to Selena Gomez.)
23. Your kids will do what you do.
If you don’t want your kids to act a certain way, don’t act that way.
24. Make important decisions when you are rested.
This is usually in the morning before fatigue and ego depletion set in.
25. Guilt is an unsuitable motivator.
I grew up Catholic, so I know this firsthand.
26. Trust teachers to do their job.
The majority of them will. And they will do it quite well.
27. Don’t assume the worst.
I can’t count the number of times I flew off the handle before being armed with all of the facts about a situation.
28. Don’t assume the best.
A bunch of 9th graders were caught in the park with alcohol but your kid was the only one not drinking. Yeah, right.
29. Encourage gratefulness.
Kids first view the world through your lens. Are you aware of all of the wonder and beauty that surrounds you every single day? Are you making your kids aware? This was previously known as counting one’s blessings.
30. Widen the boundaries as kids get older.
31. Garbage in. Garbage out.
Scientists have recently discovered a link between listening to Nickelback and homelessness.
32. If you’re not the coach, don’t be the coach.
What works for your 7 year-old will not work for your 17 year-old.
34. Don’t have too many rules.
This seems a tad hypocritical coming from a guy who is giving you 50 rules. But “be kind” and “be honest” are probably enough.
35. Make them compete.
So what if they lose? Life is going to frequently kick their ass. Might as well get used to it…and learn to fight back.
36. Choose your words carefully.
I once read that the emotional footprint from our childhood transcends all of our years. The words you choose make a big difference.
37. Teach them to eat right and exercise.
Start these habits young and make them part of a normal lifestyle.
38. Don’t ignore the possible link between biology and behavior.
If your child is misbehaving and you can’t figure out why, there may be a link beyond the normal. This could turn out to be something as simple as eyesight or diet or something else that has an easy fix.
39. After your kids reach a certain age, it’s really none of your business.
40. Have a life of your own.
Show your kids that they are not the single source of your fulfillment. Have other interests, other occupations. Share these experiences with them. That is, unless your extracurricular activities aren’t child friendly. In that case, keep a few secrets.
41. Be consistent.
Have concise and clearly defined expectations.
42. Don’t upstage your child.
Don’t answer for them. Don’t “one-up” them.
43. Go outside.
Breathe. Play. Travel.
44. Remove a screaming baby/child from a public place.
How can parents not already know this?
45. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong or when you’ve made a mistake.
46. Give your kids a spiritual example.
Help them search for something bigger than themselves. Introduce them to a large loving community that adopts a common set of values and beliefs.
47. Do not gossip with or about other kids.
48. Don’t give an ultimatum unless you’re prepared to follow through with it.
I told my son that if he didn’t clean his room I would sell his X-Box. This didn’t work out too well, primarily because I really enjoyed playing X-Box.
49. Teach your kids to be happy for other people.
Life is not a zero sum game. Someone else’s success, happiness or good fortune does not diminish yours. So stop with the petty jealousy. Be happy for others.
50. Have fun.
It really is a wonderful adventure.