12 golden rules of parenting
Rule #1 — There are no rules
When laying down rules for parenting, it’s important to start with some honest assessment and to acknowledge that every parent-child relationship is different. Your child is unique and so are you. There is no iron-clad assurance of successful parenting and no-one can tell you exactly how being a parent will unfold for you. Prepare yourself for the chaos that is the life force in expression and face it with a glad heart.
Rule #2 — Forget Rule #1
Although there are no hard and fast rules for parenting, the reality of children and adults is that structures help us live. You and your children need some guiding principles to fall back on as you navigate your way. Having some “rules” will help and there is a commonality to be found in the experiences of other parents. Build a scaffolding of rules you can hold onto amid the melee.
Rule #3 — Love, love, love
Let your child know they are unconditionally loved. Hug them, kiss them, cuddle them, have meaningful talks, hold hands and experience daily contact with your child. Such physical contact when offered from a place of love and respect shows your child they are special to you and this makes them feel safe.
Rule #4 — Watch and care
Never take for granted what is happening with your child. Watch them for signs that they are physically or emotionally out of balance with their developmental phase. Don’t obsess, but develop a practice of knowing what is happening with your children; it is about awareness, not micromanagement. Provide them with the basics for development — nourishing foods, opportunities for exercise, emotional openness — and offer support and guidance when they are out of balance.
Rule #5 — Build your communication skills
Changing your communication in just small ways can make a positive difference in your children’s lives and make them feel special and important. Explain things more fully and offer alternatives. If you are busy, let your children know they are loved but that you’re very busy right now and you’ll make time for them later. This extra care supports their self-esteem as the message they receive is that they are important to you.
Rule #6 — Nurture happiness
A child learns what is wonderful and unique in them through your eyes. When they accomplish a task that requires skill and determination, point out how amazing they are to achieve this. With your help they can become aware of their personal talents and interests. Research shows that helping children explore the beliefs and behaviours that help them feel good and function well is positively correlated to improved academic performance, the heightening of empathy and altruism and the prevention of depression. Positive emotions like joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope and pride flood your brain with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that not only make you feel good, but dial up your learning centres and neural connections to help you overcome obstacles, make the most of opportunities, build good relationships and conquer your most ambitious goals. These results aren’t achieved by painting on a smiling face and wishing away your problems, but rather by learning the skills of hope, optimism, serenity, self-discipline, resilience, strength, gratitude, empathy and altruism that have been found to lead to human flourishing.
Rule #7 — Model mindfulness
Living mindfully is a powerful way to live. When you live in a mindful way you show your children how to be mindful as well. This does not necessarily mean entering deep meditation. It can start with simple awareness of what is happening in the body. Talk with your child about what food does in their body and where it comes from. When they express an emotion, encourage them to observe where that emotion comes from and how it makes them feel. Mindfulness is about realising you are not a victim in life. Being a parent allows you to connect with your centre and is also an opportunity for down time, enabling you to re-focus and recharge. It is a time to let go of what is not important and a time to connect with your higher self as a source of renewed energy and divine wisdom, leading to improved health and guidance. With your mind rested and calm, you can return to your children alert and mindful.
Rule #8 — Trust your instincts
Sometimes it’s best to ignore the various “experts” and benchmarks your child is meant to be reaching and discover your own style. There are so many opinions, blogs, books and guidance on the “right” way to do things that parents can become paralysed and lose sight of the instinctual nature that is parenting. Consider your own children. Each is very different and no one “format” is going to fit all your kids.
Rule #9 — Do things for YOU
Do you parent better when you are reading or listening to something inspiring, or when you are well rested and relaxed? When you include activities in your day that nurture you as a parent, you are more likely to see the humour and abundance in your life. This investment in “you” makes your parenting role feel less daunting. When you are happier, you are more resourceful, solution-orientated and playful. So a good question to ask yourself is: “How much time do I currently invest in myself?” All too often self-nurturing activities fall to the bottom of the “to-do list” and you begin to feel less authentic, more easily stressed and so tired you might as well be dragging yourself through cement. Find the time to meditate, to read a good book, to talk yourself up, to exercise or relax in a bubble-bath. You start to see more challenges than blessings in your life when you don’t do the little things that give your life meaning. Incidentally, you are a model for your children and don’t you want them to grow up knowing how they make your life a joy?
Rule #10 — Nurture your relationship with your partner
Life is always going to be busy but finding time to connect with your partner is crucial and pays many dividends. You might like to think of setting aside time as a regular special “date”. Plan ahead, organise a babysitter or alternate babysitting with friends. If you feel like your schedule is too overloaded to fit in such “luxuries”, ask your partner to assess your weekly plans and activities. Sometimes you get so immersed in the demands of your own life that you cannot see things objectively, so it’s beneficial to get a loved one to help you prioritise tasks. Strong relationships are dynamic; people are constantly changing and evolving and relationships need to be adjusted and nurtured accordingly.
Rule #11 — Be gentle
As parents, we are often our own harshest critics. We question everything we do, feel guilty about the choices we make and worry about the future we are creating. A stressed parent’s mind can be a minefield of negativity. Begin to see each day, and all it has to throw at you, with love. Bless everything around you. Bless the washing, the nappies, the toys and the mess. If you are struggling to see how a morning cleaning breakfast cereal off the wall or rushing from school drop-off to work to the shops to soccer practice is something to be grateful for, simply acknowledge how amazing you are to do it all. You are doing the most important job in the world, and you are doing it to the very best of your ability. Just for a second consider everything you have done in the past 24 hours; you are amazing.
Rule #12 — Remind yourself of Rule #1 again
Having forgotten Rule #1 for a while, remind yourself of this fundamental truth: parenting is a wild, wonderful ride and you don’t know where it will take you. Strap yourself in, direct it where you can and need to, let it go when that’s appropriate, and enjoy every bit of it.
Terry Robson is editor-in-chief of WellBeing and editor of EatWell. He is a journalist, author and broadcaster.