I am seeing four or five couples, all of whom are having problems with their children. So, I thought it important to convey some of my thoughts on the matter. But first, let me assure you that no one is “the supreme expert” in this area.
It makes me think back to a story about a man who had problems with his son. In desperation, he went to his rabbi and said, “Rabbi, my son has caused me tremendous problems. Can you tell me how to deal with him?” The rabbi said, “I’ve had trouble rearing my own son. He won’t go to services, he questions religion, and is attracted to a girl who isn’t Jewish. Perhaps we should ask God about our prolem.” They then bowed their heads and said, “Lord, we have problems with our sons. They refuse to follow in our footsteps, are rebellious, and have little respect for our religious beliefs. Please, help us.” There was a prolonged silence. Then, a deep majestic voice from on high said, “I, too, had a son.” It may not be as humorous to you as it is to me, but I think it says that none of us are God and there are no perfect parents.
That being said, there are twelve rules of thumb I would like to share with you, regarding parenting.
1. The definition of parent should be changed to failure. The criteria by which you judge yourselves as parents should be based on how few mistakes you make, not how successful they are later in life. You can neither take credit for their accomplishments, nor for their failures.
2. Recognize that, deep inside, your children want to please you. They want your love, involvement, and time. When they can’t directly express that, or ask for it by seeking negative attention, it doesn’t mean they’re having problems. It might be an indication that you need to question how little, or how effectively you go about giving it to them.
3. Parent your children for them, not for you. What does that mean? When you child has problems, or seriously misbehaves and you, figuratively speaking, want to slap him or her silly, or ship him off to a military school or monastery, ask yourself, “Is this for the child or is it for me? Am I acting as a responsible parent, or reacting out of my feelings of helplessness and failure?”
4. Never try to live your life through your children. If you do, your life is going to be similar to riding a roller coaster. It’s bad enough when you’re speeding on the straightaways, but it gets much worse on the inclines and curves. Your job needn’t be to ride with them, but to ensure that their seat belts are fastened.
5. It’s not wrong to lift your kids up when they fall, but it’s far better to show them at a very young age, that they can get up on their own after they fall. It’s no different than the notion that you don’t give people fish, you give them a fishing pole.
6. Sometimes, too much love is as emotionally damaging as too much criticism. Expecting too much from your children, building them up erroneously, or insisting they perform up to their maximum potential “because you love them” can be just as damaging as beating or degrading them.
7. Your children need and want you to be strong enough for them to lean on you. They don’t want you rigid and unbending, but they do need to know that during difficult times, you will be there for them. That’s the reason they test you over and over again. They’re no different than a mountain climber who checks his safety line before every climb, to ensure that the line can support him, should he take a misstep and fall.
8. Too many parents argue over having to be “on the same page.” You do, in terms of your final ultimatums, limits, or boundaries. But you don’t have to agree on everything. Nor do you have to hide your disagreements from your children, because they’re very proficient at perceiving what’s going on in you, and between you and your spouse. They can not only see your weaknesses, they’ll take advantage of them if you allow it. Their unconscious rule is “divide and conquer.”
9. Children should never be used as an emotional football that’s kicked between spouses in an attempt to avoid overt confrontation between themselves. For example, the father or mother who is angry at their spouse and punishes their partner’s favorite child. When this occurs, the children wind up paying the price for their parents’ problems.
10. If there’s one excuse I’ve heard more than any other from the parents of problem children, it’s, “I cared so much, I hated to see him/her suffer. I thought if he had one more chance, he or she would learn from it.” At the same time, they say, “If he weren’t my son, I’d fire him”, or, “If an employee talked to me that way, he’d be gone”, etc. What they don’t realize is, children do much better if you help them to live according to the same rules and consequences the rest of us have to abide by.
11. Above all else, teach your child that he/she is okay the way he is; that he doesn’t have to be the most popular or best looking child at school. He/she only has to believe he’s okay in spite of their shortcomings, failures and fears. Similarly, they need to learn that, to reach high places, you first have to experience low places, i.e., you don’t start out as president of a company, you work your way up to it.
12. If there is one fact a parent has to be aware of, it’s that every child catches their parents’ problems. Unfortunately, it often seems that they catch every one of your shortcomings. The result is, you feel guilty and responsible for all of their weaknesses. In part, that may be true. But there is a lesson both you and your children have to learn: People make mistakes. Parents aren’t perfect, and kids don’t have to be, either. The rule is, dysfunctional parents raise dysfunctional children. Therefore, your primary obligation as a parent is, first and foremost, to make yourself functional and healthy, because you need to have confidence in you, so you can effectively nurture, care, celebrate and support them. But most of all, to allow them to be them.