Raising Kids: The 15 Things Parents Really Need to KnowSerge Bielanko
There are harder things than being a parent, I’m sure. But I can’t think of them off the top of my head.
Pulling a locomotive with your teeth, maybe?
Living through a nasty summer afternoon shark attack? That seems sort of difficult.
Getting locked up in a North Korean jail? Falling off the safari jeep in the middle of the cheetah field? Losing fifty pounds in time for that wedding in three weeks? Those things are all damn tough to deal with, let’s face it. However having a kid can eclipse them all, really.
Why? Why do some people want to make such a big fuss about becoming a mom or dad as if it’s the most challenging, demanding, mind-bending, crazy beautiful difficulty that anyone could ever possibly face?
Well, speaking just for myself (and granted, I haven’t been in the jaws of any Great Whites lately) the reason that lots of people emphasize how hard parenting can be is because… well… because it IS hard.
Keeping a tiny breathing baby alive isn’t a piece of cake, people. Tiny humans are very good at finding ways to ruin a perfectly good day with disaster and tragedy, and when they get a little bit older, believe me, things don’t necessarily change for the best. Kids need their parents at least fifty times a day, to kiss boo-boos and to cook mac & cheese and to scrub the snot shellac from their noses. Love, in its most basic form, between a parent and child, is a 24/7 head game that rewards you one second and then spills your soul all over the supermarket aisle the next. (Right beside the entire box of Cheerios that your three-year-old just dumped on the shiny floor.)
Thus, admitting that parenthood is never ever going to be much easier than surviving a shipwreck on a tropical island (after 2 kids, that sounds like a freaking vacation right there) or walking across thirty feet of hot coals is pretty much the first step at being a kick-ass mom or dad.
Knowing that you are in for more insanity, the good kind and the not-so-good kind, than you could ever possibly imagine is a blessing in disguise. Because what new parents always end up finding find out is that no matter how much they thought they knew, they really had no idea things could get so weird, crazy, or awesome.
In that spirit, I wanted to share a list of the 15 things that I think every new or soon-to-be parent ought to know, and that people who are already parents probably need to remind themselves of.
… 1 of 16
Click through to read them all!
There Are No Experts 2 of 16
Listen, when it comes to parenting and being the best mom or dad you can possibly be, believe me when I tell you that no one has any idea what the hell is going on. We live in strange times, people. These are the days when opinions are offered up whether we want them or not, 24/7, and rare is the day when there are not 50 gazillion people across the world signing on to the internet or appearing as a so-called "expert" on TV trying to tell you how you should be raising your children.
Puh-leeze. Do yourself the greatest favor you will ever do yourself and ignore the hell out of all of them.
Trust your instincts, take in advice from here and there, wherever you feel comfortable getting it, but never ever feel as if you need to be more in tune with whatever the latest parenting craze or debate is. When decisions must be made, you will make them according to your gut instinct. End of story.
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Kids See Things We No Longer See 3 of 16
Watch a kid for a while and the world sort of melts away from us. It might be a six-month-old or it might be a nine-year-old, but when a young child is fully immersed in their own world (which by the way, they ALWAYS are!), they are viewing things through a radically different set of binoculars than we are. It's easy after being an "adult" for so long to kind of forget that the young see magic and possibility in so many places that we don't anymore. Give a child a bucket and a clump of dirt and they immediately see an adventure at hand where we just see a freaking mess waiting to happen.
And that's exactly my point. We have been jaded, all of us, by life. Some of us more than others, of course, but all of us more than kids have been yet. So never ever forget to remind yourself ten times a day that while it may seem so easy to dismiss you kid's intense playing or getting scared at something on the TV or feeling crazy excited about some simple thing like an ice cream cone as being childish or whatever, they are doing EXACTLY what they are meant to be doing, playing their roles spectacularly, while it is more than likely us, the parents, messing our roles up somehow.
Think about it.
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Don’t Rush Stuff 4 of 16
A lot of nights, my 4 year-old daughter Violet will show up in my bedroom unannounced, sometimes when I'm knee-deep in a novel, and sometimes when I'm just drifting off to sleep.
For a while there I began to think that I was making a big "parenting mistake" by letting her come in and crawl up under the covers. She'd whisper to me, "Daddy, I want to snuggle with you," and I would turn to her and tell her, "But Violet, why? You have such a nice pretty pink bedroom all to yourself!"
Then one day I was reading a story about a soldier who had just died in Iraq and about the little girl he had left behind and it dawned on me that I was the biggest friggin' idiot on Earth. I imagined that soldier grabbing me by the shirt collar and jacking me up against the wall as he just stared into my eyes and said,"Sir, I wish I could snuggle just five more minutes with my daughter. Just five more minutes."
Time is so fleeting, folks. And they aren't going to want to cuddle up to you that same way forever, you can bet your ass on that. So do it now, while you can. How could we ever regret it, really?
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Winning Means Nothing 5 of 16
Yeah yeah, I know that there are lots of people out there who might disagree with me on this one, but that's okay, because... well... they're wrong. Ha!
See, from the time they are a very young age, if you teach your kids that playing games and sports and entering contests and whatever is supposed to be fun more than anything else, you might think that maybe you aren't giving them that "killer instinct" they will need to survive and succeed in this cruel cruel world someday soon, but you will be wrong, too.
Kids don't need a damn "killer instinct!" Kids don't need to be raised like a tiger either. And guess what?! They don't want to be! They seriously HATE it, man. Because kids, when left to their own natural instincts, want to laugh and get silly and lay in the cool evening grass and play with a butterfly in left field just at the exact moment a pop fly is coming their way... and we should respect that, both as parents and as witnesses to the greatest thing we will ever witness: our children's youth.
Sure, winning is great and there will come a time when the kid will want to experience that on his or her own. But until then, let 'em stare at the clouds while people cross home plate. It's all good.
Image Credit: behavenkids.com
Kids Ain’t Responsible For Our Grown-Up Blues 6 of 16
Don't make the same mistake that a billion other foolish parents do and don't ever blame your son or daughter for your blues. I'm serious. People all over the world, since the beginning of time, have been taking their frustrations out in a million different ways on the youngsters in their midst. And it is so unforgivable and so damn lame.
I'm not just taking about whacking on your kid either. (Although if that's your thing, I certainly do hope that some good old-fashion lightning strikes you down this week!) Abuse can be dealt out mentally just as easily as with the hand and oftentimes it is the chosen weapon of perfectly grown-up professionals and well-respected parents who, for whatever reason, feel so much sadness or fury inside of themselves due to life being life that they take it out on the weakest ones in their lives, the ones who depend on them wholly and completely.
I guess what I'm saying is that the next time you have a crappy day at work or slam down the phone after an argument with whoever, try like hell not to start storming into your child's world with all of that steam rising up off your head, buddy. Nothing good can come of it. You'll probably only break somebody's heart. And it'll end up being the last heart you ever thought you'd hurt, too.
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Smile At Your Kids. A Lot. 7 of 16
This might seem sappy or New Age-y or just plain dumbass, but people I'm being serious here.
Let's take a pop quiz, okay? Here we go....
Smiling at your baby and then at your toddler, every day/a bunch of times a day, is an irreversible indisputable surefire way to make them grow up to be the kind of person who smiles at other people a lot because:
A) They are a genuinely happy person.
B) They remember how much your smiles meant to them and they like passing that feeling on to others.
C) They were raised on good strong smiling and they are infected with it for ever.
D) They have become the soul of awesomeness/ the kind of people other humans actually WANT to be around.
E.) All of the above.
The answer is E.
Isn't that pretty cool?
Image Credit: My son Henry and me!
Kids Always Cry For A Reason 8 of 16
There is a tendency to tune out a kid's crying sometimes, and that's okay, I guess. Listen, kids cry a whole lot and there are times when it will seem as if your entire face is going to just melt off of your skull if you have to listen to even thirty more seconds of tears coming from the restless crib or the bedroom.
But, bear in mind that old adage that "kids always cry for a reason" and you will be well ahead of the game when it comes to understanding the vast wild galaxies of how little ones operate. It's really really true, you see. No baby has ever gone on a two-hour jag just because he or she sort of digs the feeling they get from burning their own eyeballs out with 2000 gallons of hot salted tears! They cry because they are hungry or tired or their ass hurts or they are lonely or sweating their begonias off under those six designer baby blankets you insist on covering them with.
Just remember this. Even if a child can speak perfectly good English (or whatever language you speak) that still doesn't mean that there won't be lots of times when they break down bawling as you stand there perplexed at what is going down. And, if you just stop for a second, and try and assess the situation before you start panicking like a freak, you will be able to help calm them down and solve things a 100% better every single time.
Trust me, I know this because I have messed it up thousands of times myself.
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Kindness Is Immortal 9 of 16
If you want to know some peace in your life, after all of these years of shucking and jiving and trying to make ends meet and get things to connect, after all of these years of dreaming and sweating and waking up early and hitting the pillows late, then don't worry, my friend, because there is a way for you to reap every fruit from every tree that ever really mattered here on this big old clump of sour dirt we call Earth.
Teach you kids that kindness is immortal. Raise them to enter a room doling out hugs like Jesse James doled out bullets. Tell them over and over again that having friends and treating them nice is probably the coolest thing that ever happened to anyone. And show them that you mean business by offering up yourself on a silver platter, you know? This is our only go-around in this life as far as we know and despite all the ways we try and think we are cool or hip or better or more advanced than our neighbors, the fact remains that people who are comfortable being really kind to other people have always and will always live the best lives anybody can possibly live.
Image Credit: creativetempest.com
Don’t Force Stuff 10 of 16
Try not to force your son or daughter to do stuff they really aren't feeling. I mean, it's super-duper that you were such a great quarterback in high school (NEWSFLASH: you weren't that great) and everyone from back in the day still talks about how badass you were out on the roller skating rink (NEWSFLASH: no one ever ever talks about that), but still, that doesn't mean you need to try and shoot the same old marble down the same old sidewalk now, does it?
Being proud of who we are means being proud of who we were, I get that, I really do. And being proud of our past means telling stories and offering up vignettes and lessons we learned from our glory days and all. Yet, being proud of children is an entirely different animal, my friend, and it would behoove us to realize that little nugget while the bambino is still in the oven, if you know what I mean.
If your little lad likes Barbies, who gives a damn? And if someone says something to you about that, make sure you let them know that you are a Force of Nature when it comes to supporting whatever your kid digs. If your daughter wants to play football, good for her. If she wants to water-color kittens until the sky falls into the backyard, you should maybe start water-coloring kittens too.
What do you have to lose, you old Team Captain you? (NEWSFLASH: you weren't Team Captain and we know it.)
Image Credit: sluniverse.com
Listen 11 of 16
You wanna know what some of the worst kind of humans on the planet are? They are the ones that sit across from you at the dinner table or sit next to you in the office, or Dog Forbid, pretend they're your friend over a couple of beers and never ever stop talking about themselves.
With the advent of the internet and "The Me Generation" and the endless stream of useless data blowing our minds into smithereens every single morning all over again it's becoming a full-on epidemic, all of this one-sided conversing going on to our left and to our right, and it's basically the saddest thing I have ever experienced in my 41 years so far.
So, listen to your kids. Actually LISTEN to them. Yes, they might be saying stuff that you already know. And yes they might be saying stuff about the latest episode of Dora, which you don't really give a fish fart about, but whatever, just listen to them. Because if you actually get into the habit of being a good listener you are going to also find that your marriage or relationship improves. Your friendships will improve too, and if they don't then you can end them without too much fuss, since, let's face it, you have HAD IT with buddies who never ever bother to ask you about YOU.
Plus, your kids will grow up in the presence of a world-class set of ears, someone who really cares to listen up when the malarky is flowing, and later proves invaluable when trouble is brewing and 11th grade hearts are getting broken.
Image Credit: forkparty.com
Imagination is Everything 12 of 16
There is nothing more important in the life of any kid who has ever been born or ever will be born, than imagination.
Chuckle if you need to, but I know that I'm right. I just know it.
Raising our kids to use their minds as canvases, as storyboards and stages for the most outlandish tales of nonsensical or perfectly infeasible that they can possible conjure up in those coconuts of theirs is quite likely the greatest gift we can ever give them. And the best part about that is the fact that they are BORN wanting to paint pictures with their eyeballs and write fables with their thoughts! Even babies possess fantastical senses of adventure and possibility when it comes to closing their eyes and just plain dreaming and I think that is a big, bad, beautiful thing.
Encourage them then. Books, crayons, bedtime stories, construction paper thing-a-ma-jigs, whatever they want, just go along with it and cheer them on and look at what they are imagining in their minds and then sharing with you, with the world, and consider yourself among the luckiest SOBs who ever lived. Because if your kid is using his or her imagination whenever and however they want, then that is exactly what you are.
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Don’t Be Afraid To Trust People 13 of 16
As adults, we've become so dispossessed of our true natures lately and it's really sad stuff. We were born into this world trusting everyone from the bottoms of our hearts, but given a little time and a few incidents we ultimately began to raise our guards. Nowadays, "street smarts" have pretty much been replaced by a minor raging paranoia in a lot of us. Current events and political horseshit have led us to a brand new cliff edge where our kind has never really teetered before.
We have learned to trust almost no one. And we have become suspicious of practically everyone.
What a strange Orwellian world we have created for our kids then, huh?
Maybe it isn't too late though? What do you think? Maybe we can still steer this thing towards the edge of sanity one last time and maybe we can somehow find it in ourselves to convince ourselves that the world really isn't this place where death and pain and sadness lurk around every single corner. They lurk around every single TV commercial, around every other website, I'll give you that, but the truth remains: when you hit the street first thing in the morning, there is still a whole helluva lot of decency and good to be experienced out there. And there are still a lot of folks who are worth trusting to be in our lives and in our kids' lives too; other parents/teachers/store clerks/cops/firemen/old men on the street who used to give out Jolly Ranchers to kids in the 70's now left standing there with a whole bag of candy that no one is aloud to even eat.
I dunno, maybe I'm wrong on this one. I know that safety is everything when it comes to our children and I'm right there alongside everyone else when it comes to shouting my crazy safety crap off of the rooftops. But maybe I'm right about a lot of this too. And if that's the case then we are dooming our kids to distrust everyone and everything and that's a very strange doom, indeed.
Image Credit: www2.cathedralofhope.com
Kids Notice Everything 14 of 16
Lately my four-year-old daughter has started to repeat, in gradual passing conversation, things that I have said to my wife during arguments and stuff. Nothing major mind you, but it was enough to cold-slap my flabby cheek with a nice fresh dose of reality, you know?
Kids see and hear way more than we think they do. We are always around them and thus we become adjusted to thinking that we have some kind of Super Parenting Power that allows us to put up the kind of privacy wall they have in nice limos which, unfortunately, is absolutely one of the dumbest things we ever do en masse. They aren't dumb, these kids. On the contrary, they are highly intelligent and oftentimes bright and there are occasions, at least once or twice a week, I'd say, when they are full-on smarter than mom or dad or even a mom/dad combination. Seriously.
So, watch what you say around them. For real. Don't be badmouthing relatives you've soured on or the neighbors or talking any kind of your weirdo trash when they are anywhere around (i.e. in the same 3 mile radius) because when a child hears something with their finely attuned earholes they usually believe it. Even if you don't.
The same thing goes for how you act and move and just generally live your life, too. Okay? They are watching you, they can hear you. Do the right thing.
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Never Ever Ever Be Afraid of Love 15 of 16
Some of us, many of us actually, have had some trouble with love. We've been battered along the way, slammed against the seawalls by mean and nasty gusts of crazy lovers and vicious parents and brutal peers. Life tore down our pretty masts and we had to get up some old potato chip wrappers just to be able to catch a little breeze, to keep ourselves moving along. Not all parents have had that ride, I know that. But a lot of us have, and that's okay if we can remember one thing.
Damaged as our hearts might be, we must never ever ever be afraid of the love that is bubbling up inside us for our kids. People, listen to me here. You can't love a kid too much. I know you've wondered that. The first time you looked at your newborn baby's eyes, you wondered it and you've been wondering it ever since then too. But, down in your guts you know the answer and so I just wanted to remind you of that here today.
You can't love that kid too much. So don't ever think twice about letting love come busting out of you like the Alien. Sometimes, the hurt hearts are the best ones, you know.
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Eat Ice Cream 16 of 16
Last but not least, no kid in the world cares about his mom or dad's diet or what their beach body looks like or any of that jive. What kids care about is ice cream; all of the flavors, all of the time. So eat some with your kid, if not tonight then tomorrow for sure.
After all, the clock is ticking and there are like a trillion Fudgsicles and Choc Tacos out there calling your names. What a wonderful world, eh?
Thanks for reading...
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You can also find Serge on his personal blog, Thunder Pie.