If you have read many of my postings then you probably already know that I have been blessed with 3 of the best kids you will ever meet. My 17-year -old daughter Megan is as close to perfect as a teenager can get. Her sweet disposition is matched only by her intellect, love, and faith. My 14-year-old son is as fun a kid as you could ever be around. He is also the type of boy that holds doors open, helps people carry things and looks for opportunities to serve. My 9-year-old Abbie is our sweet perfectionist. She has this shy, demure countenance but it is coupled with an insatiable desire to be the best. She definitely makes her Daddy smile!
I am guessing that you are asking yourself if there is a point to any of this other than me taking another opportunity to brag on my kids. Let me readily acknowledge that I seldom pass up an opportunity to brag on my kids, so there is a little of that going on. The bigger point I want to share is that when you see good kids and you are around kids that make you like kids all over again, it isn’t by accident. Great kids don’t just happen. Sure, there are kids born with terrific personalities and likability but there is a lot of work that has to be done to cultivate those personalities into great kids.
I have great kids and it is work. But I cannot claim the credit for my kids. I am a very involved Dad, a true believer in proactive parenting and I love my kids with all of my heart, but the real parenting magic in our house lies with my wife. She is quite simply the best parent I have ever seen.
Before you become too skeptical that I am saying these things to get out of the doghouse for some husband goof-up, or that I am just trying to get on my wife’s good side, please know that this posting has been in the works for a long time; I have spent the summer trying to really put my finger on what it is that makes Sylvia so effective as a mother. I have known for years that Sylvia is a talented mother, and yes – parenting is a true talent -- but I have not been able to put my finger on the main reason why until this summer. And once it finally dawned on me what the real skill is that makes Sylvia so effective, it made me really look at myself and think about how I could practice this skill and hone this talent. So please, aside from a little self-indulgence that might appear as bragging on my wife, know that I am placing myself squarely in the “needs to improve” category for this skill.
Before I share this found skill with you let me mark the “Big 5” off the list.
- It’s not love – I can promise you that Sylvia loves her children. Lots of moms do. And I am guessing that the love most moms have for their kids is unquestionable and absolute. So yes, love is critically important and is absolutely necessary, but it isn’t enough to be a good parent. There are lots of goofballs that unabashedly love their kids yet are lousy parents.
- It’s not discipline – It goes against every fiber of my being to write this, but discipline is not the difference maker. Yes, discipline is vital to being a good parent and discipline is an absolute necessity when it comes to raising good kids. But there are a lot of parents out there that are consistent disciplinarians yet they are not effective parents. Discipline alone is not good enough.
- It’s not commitment – Being a parent is a 24/7 job. Lots of people build their entire lives around their children and are fully committed to giving them the best experiences, education, physical comfort, and intellectual stimulation possible. Lots of people fully devote themselves to their kids but there are still quite a few of these folks who struggle as parents. Commitment, once again, is critical but it is not enough.
- It’s not nurturing – Being a nurturing parent is not instinctual to all parents. Many have to work on nurturing, but there are those who are nurturers and have the temperament and personality to truly care for and take care of their children. Again, this is a wonderful attribute and one that all of us should strive for but it is not enough by itself.
- It’s not nature – Some folks think that good kids are just born that way and obstinate kids come out of the womb ready to rumble. Nature surely does play a part in the personality and affect of kids but it is neither the ultimate determinant nor the insurmountable problem. Nature creates tendencies and predilections but it does not make the kid. Nature is the starting point, not the end result
So now that we have these 5 marked off this list what is left? What can possibly be left over as I claim that these 5 cornerstones of parenting are not the true determinant and final arbiter of effectiveness? The answer is supremely simple, yet agonizingly difficult. The answer weaves love and discipline, commitment, nurturing and nature into a tapestry of an action that is the true difference maker. Here it is:
Great parents consistently make the hard choices.
That’s it. That’s the key. That is what I found separates my Sylvia from so many other moms that continually call her for advice. That is what separates Sylvia from me. I, like many parents, love my kids and make it known to them how much they are loved. I discipline from a standpoint of consistent love, and no one can ever accuse me of not being fully committed to my kids. I am not a natural nurturer, but I know this and I try my best to always make up for any nurturing deficiencies. And I cannot claim nature as a huge advantage for my kids. I am a generation or so removed from some family tree branches that I am not quite sure ever forked. But I have great kids.
Over the last 6 weeks I have purposefully watched my wife’s interactions with my kids and my niece and nephews who have spent a lot of the summer with us. I watched her as she daily raised our kids and then was the surrogate parental figure for our little niece and nephews. I watched the absolute love and the disciplined approach and the commitment that only a mom can have creating this nurturing environment that enhance natures gifts and minimized natures flaws. Then I watched her consistently and constantly make choices that were best for the kids, irrespective of the popularity or ease of the decision. She simply made decision after decision and choice after choice that were completely geared towards the betterment of our kids. Note that I did not say happiness. Many of these decisions did not make the kids happy. Many of them didn’t make Sylvie or I happy, but they needed to be made. The kids needed to see and hear and live and learn that making the right decision was a given, and there would be no equivocation for expediency or comfort’s sake.
Sylvia and I talk a lot about how we parent our kids. We spend lots of time talking about what is going well and what we need to improve on. We talk about our kids' strengths and how we can enhance them, and we talk about where they struggle and how we can help. What I have learned from Sylvia during these talks is that she is constantly looking at how the things we do, the words we say, the places we go and the values we imbue all affect our kids. She is looking ahead and seeing that even though it would have been easier and the kids would have celebrated her leniency, giving in on some things won’t have be good for our kids in the long run. We talk about tough choices and I find myself many times lobbying for choices that would make one of the kids really happy in the moment, but Sylvia constantly comes back to the lesson the kids would have learned from that choice. I find myself often times lobbying from the standpoint of wanting something for one of the kids that would have made them more popular, because that would have made them happy in that moment, but Sylvia always comes back to the moments that follow and the lessons that would have been taught -- and whether or not the momentary, and sometimes even vapid, happiness is worth the lesson.
I have figured out that great parenting is really hard. The strange thing is that it is easy to love my kids and do for my kids and even try to make my kids more socially prepared. But it is hard to constantly and consistently make the hard choices. It is hard to give up instant gratification for long term gain. It is hard to give up popularity for being right. But do you know the crazy thing? Sylvia makes those hard choices over and over. Often times they aren’t popular with the kids or even with she and I. But my kids love their mom. More importantly, they trust her and confide in her and know that she will always do what is best for them. Even when they don’t agree with the choice, they respect the intent because they know every decision she makes is purposeful.
Being a parent is hard. But watching your kids thrive makes every second of difficulty worth it! Consistently making the hard decision is not fun or easy, but the end result is oh so worth it.
Thank God for Mom.