In four days, America will celebrate millions of amazing women on Mother’s Day. And in five more weeks, families will honor their dads, too. Yes, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are great opportunities for us to give our parents all of the thanks, gifts, special treatment, and love that they deserve. But that’s not all: Those holidays are also opportunities for moms and dads to relish the relationships they have with their kids.
For some parents, that last sentence might have been uncomfortable to read. After all, it’s way too easy to let work, the responsibility of running a household, or even your golf hobby get in the way and take you out of the running for “World’s Best Mom or Dad.” Believe me, I’ve been there. Especially when my son, Josh, was young, I spent so much time at the office that I often got home after he had already eaten dinner and was getting ready for bed. Very rarely did I get home early enough—or with enough additional energy—to play with him during the week, and this often left me feeling guilty and even more worn out emotionally.
But here’s the good, great, and wonderful news: There’s no time like the present to hit the reset button on your parenting style. If you have regrets about the past, take a deep breath, let yourself off the hook, and start thinking about the future. I promise you, investing in your kids will be the single most worthwhile thing you’ll ever do. I’d like to share with you now some advice that has really helped me hit the reset button myself:
*Simply be present more of the time. I know that we’re all busy and that we all have many responsibilities that we simply can’t ignore. But on a consistent basis, you must not allow anything to take precedence over your time spent with your kids. Remember, parenting is rooted in the day-to-day. You need to be there to catch the special, opportune moments, to get to know your kids, and to allow them to get to know you. In fact, I often say that one of the absolute worst new phrases of the 21st century is “quality time.” That’s because the concept of “quality time” allows workaholics (like I used to be!) off the hook, believing that as long as they give one good hour a week to each of their children, they can spend the rest of their time at the office. Trust me, if there’s anything I have learned from the extra time I now spend at home, it’s this: The more time you’re simply in the same house as your children, the better your relationship with them will be by far!
*And thus, it is also true that with children, bigger isn’t always better. As parents, it’s tempting to tell ourselves that a big blowout trip to Disney World will make up for all of those nights we worked late. But while it’s uncomfortable to admit, the fact is that our kids may appreciate the little things even more deeply. I promise, doing “normal” things more of the time with your kids (like getting ice cream on hot summer nights) forges deeper connections than extravagant trips and gifts. Don’t cancel the big family vacation…but do build regular “parent time” into your schedule, too!
*Plug in—emotionally. Spending more time with your children is Step One. Being present emotionally as well as physically is Step Two. Kids are smarter than we often want to admit. If you’re thinking about work while you’re playing Go Fish with your kids, they’ll know that your mind is elsewhere. And if this happens consistently, they’ll begin to feel that they aren’t that important to you. Give kids the first fruits of your thoughts and feelings when you are with them if you really want to make a connection. After all, don’t you want your children to both know and feel that they truly are important to you?
*Let your kids be themselves. When you push your child to join the football team, play the piano, or even attend a certain college, you may have his or her best interests at heart. Or you may be trying to make him or her the person you always wanted your son or daughter to be. Please don’t do this! It is your child’s life, not yours. Also, when you try to dictate who your kids become, they won’t feel that you love them unconditionally. Instead, love your kids for who they are and make every effort to support them on their own paths. This will help them to grow into fulfilled adults, and it will help you to develop the best, most genuine relationship you can with them.
*Parent with no regrets. There’s no foolproof method for raising a happy and successful child, and you can bet that no matter how hard you try to get it right, you’ll wish you’d done some things differently. In the minefield that parenting often feels like, here are a few things that enable me to be a dad without feeling the need to question all of my decisions. First, I make every effort to be available and interested in my son’s life at all stages. Second, I try to make sure that I’m always guided by love and that I learn from any mistakes I might make. And finally, if I screw up, I treat Josh like someone I truly value and tell him, “I know I screwed up (I’m human!), and I’m really sorry. I’ll try better next time.”
*Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Since no one has all of the parenting answers, it’s a good idea to ask for help, whether from your parents, your neighbors, a psychologist, or even from your own husband or wife, when you feel you’re in over your head. As a father myself, I think that maternal instincts might be called that for a reason. For instance, I’m so glad that my wife pointed out Josh’s childhood milestones for me and gave me advice on how to relate to him at different stages.
*Be happy! Making your own happiness a priority might not seem like good parenting advice. But I honestly believe that this might be the most important factor of all when it comes to doing a great job raising your kids. As I have said many times, we do not place enough significance on our own happiness in America. And if you’re overstressed, overworked, and discouraged, how can you expect your kids to develop any differently? Always keep in mind that your children develop their priorities, outlooks, and attitudes based on what they see from you. So until we fathers and mothers learn how to become truly happy ourselves, our children don’t stand much of a chance themselves of growing into content, positive, and fulfilled adults.
Ultimately, there’s no such thing as a perfect parent. Trust me, every single one of us can look back and identify things we wish we had done differently in terms of raising our kids. But the fact is, looking backward won’t do you—or your children—any good. Instead, make it your future goal to be with your kids more—physically and mentally—and to love them unconditionally today, tomorrow, and every day. Just do the best job you can as a parent and try to stress less when you screw up. And finally, as I always say, be happy yourself! If you do more of these things I just mentioned, I promise, next Mother’s or Father’s Day you’ll feel a whole lot better about yourself and your relationship with your children, too!