Come April, I have become a father for exactly seven years.
Yes time really flies. I can still remember the moment my wife and I were hesitating about becoming parents. And now we are parents of two.
Throughout these years, apart from seeing my children grow, I have learned many things being a parent too. These lessons are based on my own observations, discoveries, and experiences.
Photo Credit: Alex E. Proimos
Lesson #1: Patience
I have a confession to make. I am a very impatient person. I know this from my own realization and also as pointed out to me by my wife.
You know children can sometimes drive you up the wall and I always fall into their trap by losing my patience. It is not that I get impatient after being a dad but with children around, this weakness of mine is magnified many times over and it seems more obvious than before.
It is bad to scream and yell at children. It makes you look bad in the eyes of the children. And you set a bad example for them to follow too.
Knowing I am impatient is only one part of the story, working on it is another. Paradoxically, my children are the ones who test the limit and they are also the ones who help me increase the limit.
Lesson #2: Let go and let grow
I find too many parents over-worry about their children. They worry about their kids not having enough food, they worry about the clothes they wear, they worry they would fall down while playing, they rush them to hospital just for a mild sickness, and more.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that you should not worry about your children. I feel that a balance somehow needs to be there. You can show your concern but don’t over-protect your children.
If you over-worry, your child is like a plant in a greenhouse. Children are all well and protected as long as they are in the greenhouse. But things go haywire the moment they step out to the outside world.
You want a child who is resilient to all kinds of threats and be responsible for himself. The best time to do it is when they are young.
Give your child his own space. This space is important for him to grow healthily – physically, mentally, and psychologically. Don’t put unnecessary control over your child. You prevent him from growing when you over-worry and put up too many restrictions.
Let the kids run around freely in the park (if they fall, ask them to wake up and tell them it is okay), let them make their own bed, give them ample time to create their own antibody to fight bacteria and viruses, let them help you cook, let them put away the toys, let them explore and find solutions to questions, let them…
The point is stop doing it for them. Let go and let grow.
Lesson #3: Parents need private time too
It is quite normal when children come along, the center of attention is on them.
I have to say I make this mistake myself. When J was born, everything revolved around her: where we go, what we buy, what we eat, etc. Until now, we are still learning how to juggle between the kids and us.
I don’t mean you should live the life you used to live before the kids were here but somehow as parents we must have our life and private space too.
Personal time is very important for us to recharge, reflect, and reorganize our personal life, growth, and career.
Spend some time just by yourself or with your partner. You can watch your favorite TV program or read a book or even do nothing while the kids are in bed. On a bigger scale, plan a child-free trip to somewhere. Get someone to babysit your children. Not only can you work on your relationship, you get other benefits too. One is you learn how to let go and another is your children learn how to be by themselves without parents.
Lesson #4: Stop comparing. Every child is unique
This is a killer mistake many parents commit unknowingly. Let’s take a look:
You see your brother can eat so fast, why can’t you?
Your sister can draw so nicely but your drawing is so…
Sounds familiar? Done that?
Stop comparing between your children (or even their friends) because every child is unique. If you do, you make a huge dent in the “weaker” child’s self esteem.
How do you feel when your boss starts comparing you with your colleague? And your boss asks you to learn from him? Not a good feeling, right? This is exactly how your child feels when you compare.
Look for preferences, positive traits and talents in each child – and focus just on those things. Encourage him to do and excel in what they are good at doing, not what you want them to be good at.
Lesson #5: Children need rules and limits… besides guidance
With no rules and limits, there will be no family bliss. Everything breaks loose when parents are not in control.
To bring back peace to the family, rules and limits have to be set. And most important of all, they must be enforced.
Explain to your children the do’s and don’ts… and the consequences if they break the rules. All this must be clear and adhered to.
Too many parents are lenient and flimsy when it comes to the demands of the children. They are not able to say no fearing that this could make their children feel sad or suffer.
And that is not quite true. Children must be taught about rules and limits from young as they are more open to ideas at this age. If you wait and only “lecture” them when they grow up, I am afraid it is already too late. They will not listen to you and they will retaliate.
Instill discipline now or never. When it comes to discipline, I am the bad guy because I am very strict with my kids. A rule is a rule, no exception. Remember parents are the commander-in-chief of the family, not children.
Lesson #6: Children are highly adaptable
In fact, they are more flexible than adults. However, many parents afraid to let children to try or even to expose them to new things.
Children need only little time to adjust and adapt. After that, they are fine. The only thing that is holding them back is parents. They deny children the opportunity to do so.
The first time we left J alone, she was furious. We had no choice but to let her stay with her aunt for a night. Looking at her reaction, I felt bad. But I persisted and waved her good-bye. Her aunt told us she took a while for her to settle down that night after we left. But when we met her the next day, she was well and dandy.
This is just one example which showed I might be too worried about how J coped that night. But in actual fact, she handled it better than I thought. And sometimes children are very clever and they will test how far we can go. If they can’t get what they want after a few attempts, they are flexible enough to adjust and adapt.
The same thing happened when J and K started sleeping in a separate room. They (especially K) wanted to come back to our room during the first few nights. But we insisted they stay put.
It is up to us whether we want to allow them the opportunity. That is why we have to be “cold-hearted” sometimes in order for the kids to grow.
Lesson #7: Parenting is teamwork
To have effective parenting, both parents must be on the same page. You can’t say one thing to your children and your wife says another.
Two of you must be consistent in how to deal with children, what rules to follow, and so on.
Differences in opinions are unavoidable. But what is more important is for both parents to come up with consensus on how to parent children. You can’t be a lone ranger and do it your way. Listen and respect your partner’s views, don’t run them down.
To overcome this awkward situation from happening in front of your kids (as this can create confusion in them), talk to your partner about issues that both of you need to agree upon. Come up with approaches that you mutually agree. Once both of you are on the same page, implement them.
Differing views on parenting are like positive and negative charges. One will nullify the other and in the end everyone losses out. You have to iron out the differences.
It has been an exciting and challenging journey in the past seven years. As you can see, I am a different person now. Credit is given to my children. If we look at things positively, everything happens in our life (not only being a parent) has one lesson or more for us to pick up. As for me, working on my patience is one lesson that is more difficult than getting an MBA
The book that really changed my mind about parenting is How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. If there is only one book you will ever read about parenting, this should be it.