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Before I became a mother I often considered the mistakes my parents made and how I would endeavor to avoid repeating them if and when I became a parent.  I think this is a fairly common attitude among people who did not grow up children of Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver.  However, I surprised myself when, at the ripe age of 34, I became a mother and began in earnest to try and be the kind of mother my mother was and still is.  I often think: “what would mom do or say in this situation?” when I find myself on shaky parental ground.  The day I became pregnant I forgot all about the so-called mistakes, which I understand now are the things which humanize our parents – after all, how horribly burdensome would perfect parents be? – and focused on all the wonderful gifts my parents gave me.

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Top Eight Lessons I Learned From My Mother About Parenting

1. Children are sovereign beings

By sovereign I mean that children belong to themselves.  We do not own our children nor do our children owe us their lives because we brought them into the world.  The parent’s charge is to help her child to learn how to navigate life as the people they are, not as the people we wish them to be.

2. Hold your child to high standards

If we allow our children to take short cuts and perform to the least of their ability we fail to help them earn a precious faith in their own capacities.  If we agree to settle for less than what they are capable of what we communicate is that we believe they can’t achieve more, and eventually they’ll believe this too.  This is not to be confused with being a drill sergeant but rather that you teach your child the gift of applying themselves: well-placed pride in their efforts and achievements.

3. Children have a right to privacy

When you respect your child’s privacy you build trust and foster an environment where they will feel safe to come to you with things they may otherwise keep from you.  So many parents express fear of what they do not know about their child’s life that they end up training their children to become expert at hiding things.  No one likes a snoop.  No one.  This is not to be confused with negligence, being uninvolved or giving up responsibility for your child’s safety.  The circumstances in which you should go digging are rare.  Learn to be comfortable with the fact that children, like adults, need their privacy.

4. Children should be encouraged to pursue what they love

If Johnny wants to learn to sew or Brenda wants to learn how to fix a car, by all means go out of your way to help them make it happen.  It is all important to encourage and support your child’s interests and to let him follow them.  Even if (and perhaps especially when) his dreams seem odd or likely to lead nowhere.  A child must learn through his own exploration where his interests will take him.  By encouraging and supporting this exploration we help them learn the value of discovery.

5. Treat each child as special

Because each child is special, unique and full of her very own possibilities and gifts.  These should be highlighted and celebrated at every opportunity.  This is not to be confused with meaningless praise.

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6. Play hooky with your child from time to time

This is self-explanatory.  The thrill of ‘stealing’ time together makes memories and bonds that last a lifetime.  (Thank you, Mom!)

7. Children should be encouraged to express themselves through art, dance, music, gardening, etc.

We all need creative outlets, and children being inherently creative reap great rewards when they are free and encouraged to express themselves through artistic means.

8. Never label a child

Speaking to children or about children, using the terms like ‘hothead,’ ‘bossy,’ ‘poor sport,’ or even worse, ‘idiot’ are limiting at best and damaging at worst.  Resist the urge to call children names,  because labels can be hard to shed, particularly when a child begins to believe them herself.

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