My children are all grown now and sometimes I find myself looking back and wishing I had received a child rearing manual when they were born. I did a LOT of these things and thankfully my kids turned out pretty well with some ups and downs and a few frantic moments. And, yes, I wish I had done a better job on some things. Hindsight is 20/20, so my gift to you parents of all ages, especially the ones just starting this little adventure, is this collection of thoughts and advice I wish someone had given me when I had babies.
1. Hold them more. Yes, you cuddled your babies and kissed the littles when you dropped them at day care or school. As they grow up they tend to want their own space and eventually you are suffering from empty-arms-syndrome, because as adults they don't think their mommy or daddy need hugs and kisses any more. Trust me, this happens faster than you could ever imagine. One day they are all over you vying for your attention (which sometimes is focused on other things you deemed much more important back then) and the next they are running out the door with their friends, leaving for college or tending to their own families.
2. Teach them to play well with others. I grew up in a large family so I had no choice but to learn this lesson early on. When you have three sisters and three brothers in a small house you either play nice or bedlam ensues, which it did on a regular basis, but we grew up respecting the space and objects belonging to our siblings. That extended to our friends and the rest of the world. When a child grows up expecting everything to be served to them on a silver platter and that the world owes them a living life can get really hard really fast as an adult.
3. Be consistent. Sound easy? Not so much. We naturally want to protect our kids, even from themselves. If they get into trouble they need to learn there are consequences for their actions. Their actions and those consequences can become more severe as they get older. If they learn from you that there is a hard fast line they can't cross over it is more likely they won't have to worry about the scary things that can happen to them if they don't. Letting them get by on seemingly little things over and over gives them the idea that you, and everyone else, will always be lenient and forgiving. The world typically does not work that way.
4. Keep them focused on what's going to be important later in life. Children need to have fun, play and dream a lot, but interjecting reality into their world will help them function as adults. Teaching them the importance of education, a good work ethic, loyalty and trust will help the rest of the world love your children as much as you do.
5. Teach them to respect their elders and authority. This used to be a given. Not everyone did, but for the most part when I was a kid I feared stepping out of line because I respected the fact that my mother would not tolerate bad behavior. I have seen first-hand the results of children that do not have that fear and respect wind up in a world of trouble because eventually someone will step in and set them straight and it will likely not be as gentle as you might have been.
6. Show them the world. Exposing your children to different foods, places and people will round out their education. If they stay in the same place, eat the same foods and never venture too far out of their comfort zones they will miss out on a lot of things that will open their eyes and minds to the rest of the world and the people in it.
7. Turn off the TV. Turn off the video games. Turn off the computer, cell phone and iPad. Immerse yourself in your children's world every chance you get. Play with them, read with them and above all, listen to them. They need to know you will give them your undivided attention even for the little things. That way when there is a big thing they will be more likely to confide in you knowing that you will listen with an open mind. You can always turn the devices back on when they go to sleep.
8. Take more photos and/or video of your children as they grow up. It's is easier and more affordable to do this now than it was when my children were little. While living in the moment is really important, remembering through photos can keep those memories more vivid. I learned a hard lesson when one of my children suddenly died at age three. I always thought I would have infinite time to capture her cuteness, sweetness and even her naughtiness on film to look at when she was grown. It doesn't always work that way. I cherish the few photos and videos I have of her, but wish that I had been more vigilant. You'd better believe I have thousands of photos of my other children, but I still have to remind myself to pull out the camera every time I get the chance. Cell phone cameras make this a no-brainer. As a side note, have them take photos and videos of you too even if you loathe having your picture being taken. A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say, and they will want those to remember you by when you're gone.
9. Teach them to be independent. They will one day not only have to be responsible for their own welfare, but likely that of their own family. Children who grow up knowing that they will need to provide for themselves will not find the fact that they have to pay rent, buy food and pay for their car, insurance and medical expenses such a shocking revelation.