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Being a parent is really hard, so much harder than I thought it would be when I played “house” with my baby dolls growing up. Dilemmas involving my kids arise nearly every day that call for some major, on-my-knees prayer time: when to step in and when to let them fail, grades and friends, time management and basic courtesy, boundaries and responsibilities, actions and reactions. It is not for the faint of heart.


I am fairly reluctant to write a “Parenting How-To” for anyone to read, partly because I am sometimes a failure at this job and I don’t want anyone to accuse me of thinking I have all the answers. There are times when I lose my cool. There are times when I prioritize in a wacky, mixed-up way. I have done and said things I have regretted, all while wearing my “Mom Hat” (assuming there’s a hat for everything we’re expected to be and do).


But just like any job, parents have days when they rock at their stuff and days when they should’ve stayed in bed. My kids are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but—as of right now as I type this—they haven’t stolen any cars and they don’t kick stray dogs. Keeping those parenting credentials in mind, allow me to lay out a few of the things I’ve learned about parenting.


Don’t give young children too many choices. They will begin to suspect that they are the boss of the family which should actually be your job. While we’re on the subject, while they are allowed limited input, don’t let your kids tell you what to do. You don’t have to be ugly about it. It’s just the cold, hard truth. I am not above saying the following to my kids: “You’re not the boss of me.” In fact, I said it earlier today when one particular little fella said I shouldn’t go past the bank before we met up with some friends. “I am the driver. I am the adult. I am the boss.” (Repeat this to yourself several times a day if you have a preschooler…or a teenager.)


Tell them stories about you. When our girls were small, they used to say, “Mommy and Daddy, tell us a story of when you got hurt.” (I’m not sure why these painful stories were their favorites but sports enthusiasts and accident-prone people have a lot of these in their memory bank, ready to be withdrawn.) Our kids now know stories about things that happened to me and my sisters growing up. They know about family trips my husband took with his sister and parents when he was little. They could tell you about the time my husband fell on a toothpick and it was embedded in his side and he had to go to the doctor to get it removed. These stories become a part of their legacy and inheritance (and a cautionary tale about toothpicks).


Answer their questions. When your 3-year old asks where babies come from, don’t blow her off, waiting for the perfect opportunity to explain the miracle of life with age-appropriate charts and graphics. Give her a basic answer to her question, such as: “They grow inside their mommies.” See if this satisfies the question. That may be all she needs but if she asks more questions, then answer those, too. You don’t have to feel comfortable explaining “The Birds and the Bees” to all kids, just yours.


Ask them questions. For the past nine years, I’ve had elementary-aged kids to walk to school. (I’ll get to start all over again with a kindergartener next year!) This was the perfect time to ask them questions. “How was school?” and “Fine” can only get you so far. Over a period of time, you’ll be able to get more specific as you build on prior conversations.


There’s lots more that I could say about parenting: Don’t hold grudges. Have reasonable (yet high) expectations. Read books to them. Apologize when you mess up. Try not to embarrass them. Get to know their friends. Be a good example of kindness and generosity. Among these, the best advice I could give anyone is this:


Tell them you love them and act like you like them.

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