Having a daughter 26 years old when I barely feel “grown up” myself is a challenge to consider. It has happened.
Thinking back on 26 years of parenting, the most simple, most helpful advice came from my mom. I expected the “50 best ways to parent”; “growing through the steps of parenting”, “how to instill characteristics of quality in children” etc. That is not what my mom said. When my firstborn was one week old and my mom was leaving to return to her home, I questioned my mom, “What do I do now?” Her reply, “Be consistent. Do what you say. Promise only what you intend to deliver.”
I was more than a bit surprised that parenting, which had tons of books written about it, could be summed up in a simple rule. Be consistent. This was going to be easier than I thought. Famous last words of a novice mom.
I found it easy to promise. “You can have that only after…” “If you don’t finish your peas…” “How many times do I have to remind you that if you don’t pick up your toys…” Consistency quickly turned into compromise.
My common excuses included, “maybe I’m expecting too much”, “I’m tired of repeatedly saying the same things”, “what’s the big deal if I let her get away with it just this once?” What I found was that when I neglected training, I often ended up feeling angry, raising my voice, threatening to send her to her room, etc. The point is my lapse in being consistent rarely brought anything but negative results.
Over time, I came to realize that diligence was the greatest requirement in the parenting process, especially in the early years. It was like tending tomato plants; I needed to find a method that worked for us and replicate it. I learned a little more patience. I learned to choose my battles. It wasn’t such a big deal if she wanted an orange bow in her hair with a pink shirt. No one really cared as much as me.
Much of what I stressed over is so funny to reflect back on. It makes perfect sense that consistency in parenting, really in any relationship, builds trust and confidence. When we do what we say and only promise what we will deliver, that strengthens others’ ability to trust that we keep our word.
One thing I’ve observed, if you want to destroy trust and raise a “rebel”, it’s easy. All you have to do is send that child mixed messages. Live one way, preach another. Say one thing and do another. It works like a charm. We reap what we sow. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.
Parenting, like the Peace Corps, may be the toughest job we will ever love. To truly enjoy our children and build strong and lasting relationships, it is imperative that we make being consistent, job one.
We eat right to stay healthy, we need to utilize the same tenacity to establish safe limits in relationships to keep them healthy. Preventative maintenance in the form of consistent and healthy boundaries, conflict resolution, family traditions and the willingness to listen with our hearts are among the greatest efforts we can make to build relationships that will stay the course.
One simple value that I reflect back on as my children were growing up, is the family dinner table. We share so many wonderful memories from dinner to board games to schoolwork. It is amazing how it all seemed so routine then. Now it appears to be the mortar that allowed us to develop wonderful and cherished moments.
The best thing I take away from my years in parenting is that it is easier to build them than it is to mend them. I have done both. Trust me, the less I say, the more I learn and the sooner they come over to my way of thinking.
To Angel, AnnaLynne, and Rachel, thank you for allowing me to grow with you and to rid myself of a lot of unnecessary selfishness. When I saw some of my negative ways in your young lives, it was the best catalyst for my growing as a person. You most definitely have been the teachers, and I, the student.
Sheri Geyer is a Christian Life Coach, Mentor, Writer, Wife & Mom