During my college and post-college years, I had the words “Be the change you wish to see in the world” by Mahatma Gandhi on my bedroom wall. This was during a time when I should have been able to flee the nest and be my own independent adult, yet I couldn’t. Gandhi’s words of affirmation meant a lot to me because I wanted something different in life–I wanted a different living situation, a teaching job that paid more, and a different family than the one I was born into.
Being the second child of six, growing up in what I now recognize to be a toxic home, I never felt like a member of the family. I always felt different. I was even treated differently. I was the family scapegoat, or the family Cinderella; I was invisible, unloved, and unwanted unless my existence gave my parents some form of social status.
Therefore my parents never felt like parents. My mother was more like a competitive older sister who had to look and be better at everything and everyone. She wore the pants and called all the shots. And my father was just present.
I now recognize that my mother is a (covert) narcissist, and my father is codependent and an enabler.
My parents’ relationship with one another–or lack there of–and with my siblings and me, was not genuine nor authentic. It was not built on love, trust, acceptance, and all things a child needs to feel safe and secure. Therefore, I told myself I would never parent like my parents.
I have always wanted to parent differently. And this meant modeling myself after teachers and other adults I admire. These role models were kind, gentle, patient, humble, and more.
My first parenting test came with teaching. I learned that in order to be the parent (or teacher) that children respect and can learn from, I had to do several things. This holds true with my own two children. They all taught me that in order to not parent like my parents, to Be the Parent I Never Had I had to:
- Be firm yet loving
- Be consistent
- Be a role model
- Be involved
- Be interested
Be Firm Yet Loving
All children need their caregivers to be firm yet loving. This means enforcing boundaries, guidelines, rules and regulations, and saying “No” when necessary for the safety of the child. There should also be room for flexibility, as being rigid and strict will only force the child to rebel, and what was intended as love is not received as such. As they age, children need to learn independence, and the restrictions made during their toddler years no longer apply to a 30-years-old adult.
Consistency is the ability to remain the same and being fair about it. That means having a schedule and keeping to it. And this applies to every child in the household, and the parents when necessary. An example would be: if your child cannot have a cookie until after dinner, they cannot have that cookie until they have eaten. If they throw their food and throw a fit, they still do not get a cookie.
Be a Role Model
Every child needs a role model. This can be their parent, grandparents, other relations, teachers, celebrities, and whomever they look up to. They are seeking someone who can teach them how to life because there is no manual that came with the child at birth
As the adults in their life, we are the ones they look up to. Therefore they are learning from us whether or not we realize it. They copy they way we dress, the way we speak, the way we behave. And if we want to see good children with good manners, we must model it fist. We cannot expect our children to the the things we do not do ourselves.
Children need to feel seen, be heard, and be validated. They get our attention in order to meet these needs. This can be as simple as telling us to watch them jump or do a twirl, asking us to read to them, or crying over a spilled cup of juice. Other tasks may be to build a fort with them, attend their school field trip, or go watch an upcoming movie with them.
By putting aside our own needs and becoming involved in the world of our children, we’re showing them that they are important, that they matter.
As a teacher, I found that my students opened up more, and wanted to be around me more, as I became more interested in them. This was easily done by asking what they did over the weekend, who they like to spend time with outside of school, what their hobbies are, and so forth. I was genuinely interested in the lives of my students because who they are outside of the classroom impacts who they are when they enter the school. I wanted to understand my students, and I could only do so by showing interest in them.
Plus, we all feel important when others show interest in us. We make, and keep, friends who ask us about our day, or who check in on us and our mental health. And the opposite occurs when we find ourselves in the presence of someone who only talks about themselves.
In conclusion, being attuned to the needs of my children and students actually turned me into the parent I am today. And I’m so grateful. I have these wonderful children to thank for teaching me how to become the parent I never had. And I know that, if you follow my advice, you too can become the parent you want to be.
If you’re still reading this, thank you, and question: How do you parent? And if you’re not there yet, how do you plan to parent?