If you want to score tried and true parenting advice, head straight to the masters in the game: experienced parents. They have seen it all, done it all, and lived to share their pearls of wisdom with the next generation of moms and dads. Parenting is nothing if not playing the long game... a really long game... and solid advice will see you through those exhausting newborn weeks, trying toddler months, mind-blowing teenage years, and beyond. Let these snippets of advice for new parents and veteran parents alike guide you through one of the most intense journeys a human can embark on: parenthood.
Focus on Raising Adults, Not Raising Kids
"Remember, you want to raise adults. Keeping the mindset that they will grow into adult people is key. I've never liked the phrase "raising kids..." feels like we end up with spoiled adults with this mindset."
- Sarah Espinosa - Mother of four thriving adult children, including twins
You're not raising children; you're raising adults. It sounds strange, but it could not be more accurate. The parenting journey doesn't end with you raising a child; it actually never ends. Remember, you are raising a human being from start to finish and it is going to take grit, determination, endurance, and probably several prayers. Teach children lessons they will need and use far beyond their younger years, and know that raising them extends way past the childhood stage. Ensure they have what they will need to leave the nest and take the world by storm. This might mean assessing your parenting at every stage of the game and modifying your approach as kids grow up. What works for them as tots won't apply to the teen years. Be sure to provide kids with lessons that are applicable to each stage of their growth, so they continue to develop and evolve into their adult years.
Learn to Apologize Honestly and Often
"Apologize and admit when you're wrong to your kids. It teaches them humility and the fact that no matter your age or position of authority, we all make mistakes and it's okay to acknowledge them and learn and grow. I think it helps kids learn to take ownership of what they do and say and to apologize when it's warranted."
- Alice Meece - Mother of three children, including twins
We expect kids to apologize when they are in the wrong, and parents should follow suit here as well. Learn to apologize to your children often and honestly. Parents are only human. They lose their temper, say the wrong thing, and royally mess up from time to time. That's okay, but use your own pitfalls as teachable moments for your children.
If you apologize to your kids, they will learn that making mistakes, accepting them, and asking for forgiveness are all part of life. Your relationship with your child will be stronger and sincere when both parties can admit when they are in the wrong. All relationships require a give and take attitude, forgiveness, and a heavy dose of humility, and this includes the parent-child relationship.
Empower Children With Choices
"Give your kids choices as often as possible, starting at a young age. Even if it's just, 'Would you like the dinosaur outfit or the fire truck outfit?' 'Would you like a banana or apple for snack?' That way, they are deciding between two things that you approve of but teaching them decision-making skills. Make sure to build confidence in their decisions by saying, "great choice" or "you did a great job by picking that."
- Alis Meece - Mother of three children, including twins
Giving children choices is a really important component of their growth and development. Offering choices fosters respect, responsibility, and confidence in kids. As your kids grow, create opportunities for them to think through their choice options. Allow them the power and control to make decisions regarding certain aspects of their life, so they can develop vital decision-making skills.
When offering choices, only allow kids to choose from options that you, the adult, can live with. Offer reasonable choices, such as:
- "What would you like for dinner? Fish or chicken?"
Don't complicate choices by wording phrases in the following open-ended fashion:
- "What would you like for dinner? It's up to you!"
Ice cream and cookies are not a dinner choice, so narrow it down to feasible options and avoid an epic dinnertime battle.
Let Go of the Guilt
"Guilt in parenting will get you nowhere fast. You have far too much to do in your day to dwell on all that makes you feel subpar. Leave the guilt alone. It won't serve you."
- Kristin McCarthy - Content writer and mother of four, including twins
The kids had chicken nuggets and canned corn for dinner four times this week.
You haven't scheduled a playdate for your seven-year-old in over a month.
You are fifteen minutes late to everything, all the time.
You forgot to pack a snack and library books, and actually, you don't even really know when library day is (darn that rotating specials schedule)!
Enter parent guilt. Parents feel guilty for everything because they think that anything less than perfect is an automatic failure. Nope. Not even. Do not allow guilt into your mental space when raising children. You have to do your best, accept that some days will be subpar, and if the day is a real doozy, forgive yourself and commit to trying again tomorrow. Try not to compare yourself to the pretend-perfect mothers and fathers on social media. Give yourself some grace for juggling all that you do, and remind yourself that even though you feel like a C- parent, your kids think you are the cat's meow, and a total A+ in their book!
Read to Those Little Sponges
"Read to them every night. Then, when they can read on their own, lie next to them and have them read to you. Then when they can read in their head/silently, lie next to them and read with your own book. This is still going strong in our house and it morphs afterward into a time for reflections, good conversation, and interests in books you might be reading, which then spirals into other conversations. The nightly reading side by side is a precious tradition at this point, esp because our oldest is almost a teen, so we know it's likely coming to an end soon."
-Amber French - Sr. Account Manager, mother of two
There is no reason NOT to read to your children. Only good stems from snuggling up with a good story. Reading to children has so many benefits including, increased levels of concentration, creativity, and imagination. It enhances cognition and strengthens the bond between parent and child. If you do anything in those early parenting years, be sure that it includes a book and your undivided attention.
The Perfect Parent Isn't a Thing
"Realize from the start that you're not going to be perfect parents because those people don't really exist. You're going to make mistakes, but if you can learn from whatever you might have done wrong, you can turn those mistakes into lessons you use as you continue to parent your children."
- Kelly Roper - LoveToKnow Editorial Assistant and mother of four
A perfect parent doesn't exist, not by a long shot. If that is your ultimate parenting goal, then you are probably destined for failure. It's like attempting to transform yourself into a unicorn, not gonna happen. While perfect parenting isn't possible, great parenting is. Do your best, and try, try, and try again. Remember that every mistake is a lesson in sweatpants. It might not look great, but it is useful, crucial, and key nonetheless. Your child has no desire to be raised by the King or Queen of Perfection. They simply want you as you are.
Trust Your Instincts
"The best advice my mom gave me was to do what's best for me and my family. What works for one may not work for the next."
- Kelly Bendernagel Hersberger - Mother of four
When you become a parent, suddenly everyone you know (and sometimes don't know) feels as if they know exactly how you should raise your family. Here's the thing about advice: it is there for the taking or the leaving. Use it or don't, that is entirely up to you. While well-intentioned folks will all feel like they have the answers to your parenting woes, trust your instincts and have faith that when it comes to your family, you know what is best. Choose to raise your children in a manner you see fit, and only consider advice that fits with your parenting plan, lifestyle, and belief system. Parenting isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of gig. What works for one family won't work for another. Assess and consider advice, but be the final say in how you raise your kids.
As Your Kids Grow, Let Them Fail
"If you do things FOR your kids (crafts, school projects, the like) all it teaches them is that you can do it. My kids didn't ever have the Pinterest perfect Valentine's Day boxes at school, but they did it themselves and learned."
- Patti Bishop - Mother of four, including twins
No one wants to see their child struggle and fail, but from failure stems crucial life lessons like perseverance, self-confidence, and self-assurance. It might be in your nature to take over for your child and do their projects and homework assignments, but you will want to fight the urge to do so. If you go full-on helicopter parent, your kid might have the most amazing book report ever created, or perfect scores on homework assignments, but they won't have that feeling of being able to achieve something, even if it takes them a few solid tries.
Let kids make mistakes, be proud of what they can do, and let them learn as they go. The goal is to raise competent and capable human beings who are not afraid to try. Don't take the opportunity to try away from a child simply because you strive for perfection or worry your kid might experience something other than glowing praise from the outside world.
Learn to Live in the Moment
"Breathe in every single moment with your children… good, bad, indifferent... as those breaths will carry you for the rest of your life."
- Joel Hoefner - Father of three and youth coach
It is such a simple concept but, for many parents, a challenging thing to put into practice. Living in the moment takes conscious effort, and that is likely because parents are forever pulled in a million different directions, multitasking at a rate that is barely humanly possible. Sure, you want to sit on the living room floor and play with LEGO, but there is laundry to do, dishes piling up, a million emails awaiting your response, and you really should shower because you are starting to wonder if that stench is you or old cheese sticks shoved in the crevices of the living room couch.
The best way to learn to live in the moment is to simply do it. Dive into your children's activities and practice mindfulness. Make time with them a priority. Don't look at the mess, don't think about checking your phone, just be in their world, even if only for a few minutes at a time. It is true what they say; when it comes to parenting, the days are long, but the years are short. Kids grow up fast and before you know it, those precious moments spent together are flying by at rapid speed. Soak them in, relish in them, know your kids appreciate them far more than you think, and smile because living in the moment is some serious good parenting! Those household chores and work responsibilities will still be there after you play, read, or cuddle. They aren't going anywhere.
You Are Their First Teacher: Know the Role
"You are your children's most influential teacher and role model. If you want them to read, read to them, then with them, then around them. You want them to be kind- demonstrate kindness in their midst and when you think they aren't watching too. I believe they absorb what they see around them. So be what you want them to be."
- Charles Taunt - Father, surgeon, and coach
So many people will come into your child's life and make an impact. Your child will have many "teachers" during their formative years, but you are their first and most critical one. Be their role model in everything. If you want to see your children act a certain way, model the behaviors yourself. Want to raise readers? Have a book in your hand. Desire to raise reflective, calm citizens? Take a temperature gauge in your own tone and communication approach. Value connection over technology? Examine how often you scroll on your smartphone.
All that we do as parents influences our children. No, we don't have to be perfect parents all the time. That is unrealistic. That said, we do have a responsibility to act as our kids' role models and teachers, and we do that through our values and everyday actions.
Choose Battles Wisely
"One of the best pieces of advice that I was given as a young mom from the boys' wise old pediatrician was don't fight about what they eat. Make coming into the kitchen and sitting around the table feel like a warm, inviting, safe space for your kids. If you fight with them about what they will or won't eat, you may win the battle but lose the more-important war of hearing about their days and connecting with them. I'm so glad we listened to that! I still have one picky eater, but the dinner table is where we share about our days and what's happening, and how we're feeling. I treasure these conversations and want my kids to *want* to come to the table rather than feel discouraged or apprehensive about it."
- Valerie Good - Assistant Professor and mother of three
While it is absolutely important to ensure your children receive proper nutrition at all meals, picking every food battle might put everyone in a losing situation. Make mealtime more about connection and less about controlling actions. Your family kitchen is the central hub of the home. It's where days get shared, problems get solved and everyone learns to love and listen. Consider placing more emphasis on what is happening around the dinner table, compared to what is being served on it.
In Parenting, Timing Is Everything
"If your kid is seriously losing their mind over something, that's a signal to give them space. Walk away and take time to catch your breath. When a kiddo is in meltdown mode, they are irrational. Giving time and space can prevent fuel being added to the fire, and soon they can regain their wits about them and be more rational. Once everyone is in a different mindset, conversations can be had."
- Stacy Christenson - Teacher and parent of two
In life, timing is everything, and this tried and true wisdom certainly applies to parenting as well as life in general. When kids are in meltdown mode, parents often strive to redirect, teach those crucial life lessons and change the direction of the course. When children are upset, all attempts at rationalizing, explaining, and redirecting will prove futile. Kids need time and space to recenter just as adults do; and it is our job as parents to give them the time AND tools to do so. Next time your little one (or your big one) spirals into meltdown mode, give them a minute to breathe before you launch into whatever lecture, redirection activity, or consequence needs to be paired with the meltdown.
Learn to Separate Your Feelings From Your Parenting
"Remember that no matter what your day is like or how you feel, your children deserve your love, not your anger."
- Illiana Rosario-Urban - Parent Coordinator and mother of three
Life is messy; and there are going to be days when you honestly don't think you can take one more let down, break down, or meltdown. When it seems that the world is crumbling around your feet, it will be easy to transfer your feelings of stress and anger onto your whiny and demanding children. Try your best not to do that. If they are not the direct cause of your personal feelings and emotions, then don't allow them to take the brunt of your personal attitude towards the world.
This is hard, and it can take some work, but it's completely possible. When things become overwhelming, take a step back and breathe. Talk to an adult in your life you trust, practice self-care, and if you need a minute to decompress so your children get the best of you, take that minute!
Parenthood Is a Unique Journey for Every Parent
Parenting advice is great, and in most cases, really useful and applicable. Even if you feel equipped with the best and brightest tidbits of parenting knowledge in the entire universe, remember that everyone has a different journey as a parent. The goal is to raise happy and healthy children; but how you achieve that is entirely up to you. Raise them the best you can, try to enjoy the wild ride, and capture those memories, because their childhood really does fly by.