“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.” – Ben Franklin
I’m hoping that this new year will find me a better parent. To help make that a reality, here are the 10 parenting commandments I’m going to follow. It’s not a comprehensive list, but it’s full of truths that are important yet easy to forget.
Thou Shalt Not Compare
This applies both to your children and yourself. It’s true—comparison is the thief of joy. It’s the siren song of parenting—tough to resist but it rarely ends well. Just don’t do it.
Thou Shalt Expect Them to Do Chores
Kids are members of the household and they’re very capable of contributing to it. Doing so helps them feel valued and capable. It may take a little time to teach them how you want things done, but it’s worth it, both for you and their future roommates and spouse. Teens are ridiculously busy—however, resist the temptation to let them off the hook completely. At a minimum, do power hour once a week. There are 168 hours in the week. Devoting one percent of their time to the function of the household is not too much to ask.
Thou Shalt Not Interfere with Natural Consequences
It’s tough to let bad things happen, but those natural consequences can be an even better teacher than you are. (I know, it’s a tough pill to swallow) Better now than later.
Thou Shalt Not Dive into the Drama
Kids and drama go together like peanut butter and jelly. But you don’t have to be a party to it. KJ Dell’Antonia says in her book How to Be a Happier Parent that “you don’t have to go in there.” It’s true in both a literal and metaphorical sense. Not only do you not have to dive into the drama, your kids will benefit when they see you remaining calm amid chaos.
Thou Shalt Laugh
I’m pretty convinced that laughter is the glue that holds families together. Leave time to have fun, be silly, make the inside joke, and snicker at your older kids’ inappropriate comments. One of the great things about kids is that they are hilarious. Laughing with them is a joy of parenting. Make the most of it.
Thou Shalt Not Forget You Are the Parent
Your child has lots of friends, and you are not one of them. You are their parent. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your child immensely. I sincerely hope that you do. However, you are not peers. They don’t need another friend, but they do need a parent.
Thou Shalt Teach Empathy
Dr. Michele Borba says that empathy is a muscle and it can be strengthened with practice. Kids are developmentally inclined to focus on themselves. Help them step out of that mindset and teach them to think of others and their feelings. Showing your kid empathy is a huge part of this, and it’s hard. I struggle to empathize with my daughter when I have one nerve ending left and she’s jumping up and down on it. But I’m hoping to remember that being a kid is hard. When kids make it hard to be kind, that’s often when they need our kindness the most. Sometimes a hug or an “I love you” text can smooth the rough edges.
Thou Shalt Not Insult Their Music
It’s a tale as old as time—no, not Beauty and the Beast, though that is, too, but parents have been disliking their kids’ music for seemingly forever. Doing so aloud is a great way to alienate your kid. Take some time to listen to their music and see why they like it. It can be a great way to connect with your kids.
Thou Shalt Do Things You Enjoy
There’s a wonderful meme making the rounds on Facebook today and it says, “You were someone before you were their mom, and that person matters.” You need to prioritize yourself and your joy. It’s not selfish. (If there’s a little voice telling you that right now, kindly tell it to see itself out and stay out. Or shut up, that’s a good, concise option.) What’s good for you is good for your family. Really. Modeling what a happy adult with interests and hobbies and friends looks like is truly a gift to your kids, one that lasts.
Thou Shalt Practice Self-Care and Kindness to Self
Channel your inner Nike marketer and Just Do It. Really. And while bubble baths are great, and encouraged, go a few steps further. Truly take care of yourself by moving and eating well and getting sufficient sleep. I cannot stress the importance of that last one enough. It’s so hard to be a good version of yourself when you’re exhausted.
Parenting is the toughest job you’ll ever love, or hate. It’s okay to hate it. Frustration and anger are valid emotions. We all feel lost on occasion. (It’s the parents who think they have it all figured out that are truly cause for concern, amiright?) No one knows exactly how to do this, and like all other human beings, you have good days and bad days. But even on the rough days, you know your kid better than anyone else. Trust your gut, forgive yourself, apologize when you’re wrong, allow yourself to move on. Be kind to yourself. Your kids don’t need a perfect parent, they need you.