Being a parent in today’s world is not easy, especially when there is so much uncertainty in life. And yet, I’ve found that the greatest reward for me has been working with kids, both in my divorce cases and at home with my son. These children are filled with such promise, and they’ve given me a great purpose in life. They force us to focus on what our true values are, as we really have to think hard about the lessons we want to impart on them, for ultimately they will be our true legacy.
Now of course each child has his/her own little personality, and so what works with one won’t necessarily work with another. Since they don’t come with manuals, a lot of parenting is really trial and error, so relax none of us are going to be perfect 100% of the time. But there are some big mistakes that I’ve repeatedly seen parents make that we should all try to avoid. Here’s my list of top 5:
1. Avoid being overly protective (aka the “helicopter parent,”) who is always hovering over them. Of course as parents it is our job to protect our kids, but we also need to let them learn some things on their own. You don’t want to create such an unhealthy level of dependency that they will never be able to spread their own wings.
2. Don’t create the bubble child. Parents sometimes want to shield kids from the harsh realities of life, but the fact is there are some bad people in this world & bad things happen every day. Setbacks and disappointments are a normal part of life, and they need to learn to cope with these things sooner rather than later. We cannot always protect them or save them from their mistakes, and if the goal is to prepare a young adult to be a productive member of our society, then we need to let them see the real world- both in its glory and at its worst.
3. Just Don’t Do It. That cannot be all you say about drugs or sex. I grew up in a home where these things were not discussed, and it led to a lot of secrecy. I learned to do my own research & confide in friends instead of family. With my own son, I’ve decided to do things differently by opening up the lines of communication, so there are no taboo subjects. As things come up in the news about drugs, alcoholism, sex scandals or homosexuality, I let him no any question is up for discussion, and then I just filter by answers based on his age.
4. Overcompensating for a Divorce– lots of parents feel guilty because their children are now growing up in a “broken home.” I don’t see it that way—the family has simply been re-structured, and obviously it had to be reorganized because things weren’t working when everyone was under one roof. The research shows that kids are resilient, they just need for their parents to be stable. So, the sooner people get over their guilt and return to a healthy parenting style, where they set limits, the better.
5. The Revolving Door. Mainly psychologists caution against this with divorced parents that start dating, but I would say this really applies to all of us and our significant relationships. If a child continues to see that people come and go, in and out of your life, then what lesson will s/he learn? How will this child feel it is safe to form any bonds with others if people come into your life one day and are gone the next? Too many people these days treat others like disposable tissues– they are around when you need them, then get dumped when you’re done. We need to put a little more effort into our relationships and model good behavior if we want our kids to form healthy relationships in their own lives.
If you can relate to any of these, don’t sweat it- it just means that indeed you are human. Parenting is truly the toughest job you will ever have, and none of us will hit a home run all the time. All we can do is acknowledge that there is a behavior we want to change, then try our best to do things differently. Luckily, kids are very forgiving– they are wired to want to love their makers, and that is their greatest gift to us.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.