These are pictures of a young women I consider to be one of my ‘other daughters’ She’s a junior in high school. The photos were taken an hour apart. She is a fire cadet, and the first photo is her in gear on a ‘call.’ The second is her ready for prom an hour later. Needless to say, I admire her and her choices immensely, and am so grateful that my daughter chose her friend so well. Most parents might discourage a pretty daughter away from a ‘dangerous’ career, but this mother is one smart, amazing lady, whom I greatly admire, and it shows in both her daughter’s characters.
How do you raise a child to respect themselves and the world around them versus one who is so focused on themselves that they miss out on the best that life has to offer?
Well, nobody knows for sure, and there is already an overabundance of advice out there, some really good, some pathetic and selfish. So…though I know a little bit about a lot of things, and nothing about everything—here I go.
First, and most important. Set a good example. Be happy, not desperate to be liked. Be interested in people, in nature, in time with your family, in quiet time, take them to museums and travel if you can. Spend one on one time that’s about what they like! Introduce them to what you like, but don’t expect the same enthusiasm. Every time you can expand their world view, do it! My girls rebelled at being taken to museums in Rome and Amsterdam at first, now they regularly request outings to the Getty or the Norton Simon museum here in L.A and eagerly look forward to future trips. My oldest has even contemplated a career in curatorship, and they are both amazing artists.
It’s a tough balance, of course. It’s completely natural for kids in their teens to be enamored of their peers (future support system), to preen, to prepare themselves to find a mate (make-up, hair clothes and now tattoos, piercings, etc.) And there is increasing pressure through the high school years to pick a career, to stress over success, getting a job, become famous, stay skinny, have boobs or muscles, etc. All of these things are natural, but it’s important to make sure that they focus on being kind and brave, and figuring out what they do best instead of what will impress others. Striving to be envied is a life philosophy that leads to nothing but emptiness, which no amount of ‘acquired stuff’ will fill.
The best thing to do, I think, is keep the lines of communication open, stay aware, but don’t take it personally when they prefer to spend the weekend with friends instead of you. It’s good for them, and maybe for you too!
Recently I read someone’s blog, (accidentally, it was forwarded to me with only a web address, and I was appalled that this particular person was giving parenting advice. The crux of her message was, “Ditch the kids and make it all about you!” It only took a paragraph to realize that this was a step-mother who was jealous of the attention her husband’s daughters received from him. And she only had the kids three days a week! She complained about having to socialize with other people with children just to spend time with her husband, and how she demanded a date night that was ‘all about me!’ Not, ‘us,’ mind you, “ME!!” Shouldn’t date night be a about both of you?
Wow, if that’s your attitude, you should probably skip having kids, and definitely don’t marry someone who has them. The example you are setting is narcissistic and uncaring and the kids know it. What does that teach them? Of course your happiness is important, but not to the exclusion of your children. And facts are facts, babies and children require almost constant attention, it’s not a job for the self-absorbed. As they grow into teens, hormones and emerging independence change that somewhat. In my opinion, that’s a good thing. Not just for them, but for you, helping to transition into that time when they will have their own mates and interests, and you will need to stop running their lives and fill your own. The way I see it, it’s not my job to do everything for my kids, it’s my job to prepare them for life in the wild.
My husband and I are lucky enough to have plenty of time to ourselves because of a custody arrangement that gives us a couple nights a week off. Of course, we would both prefer to have the girls full time, but he is such a thoughtful and creative man that we would be romantic either way. I remember after the huge fire in our neighborhood that left us without power for 3 weeks. He returned to do what he could to make the house and grounds livable, and when I arrived two days later, in the evening, he had lit the walkway to the door and the house with candles and bought steaks for the grill and had champagne on ice to welcome me home. I often make a special evening for him. Maybe dinner by the fire out by the pool. I greet him with a cocktail in an evening dress, a table set with linens, lanterns in the trees, whatever, and we spend hours talking and reaffirming our bond with each other. Other times it may be pizza and hot wings and a game on TV. It isn’t what you do, or even the amount of time spent, it’s about the fact that you made the other person feel considered, loved, and treasured. This is true for your mate and your children.
I’m not saying don’t take care of yourself, of course you must, find time for a walk, a lunch with a friend, some creative project. Spend time with your mate and remember why you picked them. Laugh, have sex, talk, and most important, Listen!
Now let me be clear. I’m no expert. I honestly believe that for all the reading, studying, advice, etc., nobody actually always knows how to be a perfect parent. We’re all winging it, even the best intentioned. But if you wing it with love, if you realize that your child is a separate, unique individual who is on their own journey, and you support their choices, then I believe they will feel safe enough to be brave, kind, and fulfilled. The best things in life take both courage and compassion.
Time flies my friends, and that time with your children, that time when you can help them make choices that enrich their lives and fashion their passions, is limited, over far too soon.
Don’t waste it. Love them, hug them, be patient, stop and think what’s best for them, not what you fear.
But mostly, let them fly.
Shari, May 18th, 2015.