I am not a parenting guru. The only thing I do, is learn from my experience as a dad. We have four children, aged 17, 15, 12 and 3. The core guidelines for the upbringing of our children are very simple. A short disclaimer! These are my guidelines, not my wife's. We have two very different cultural backgrounds. My wife is Japanese and I am Dutch. So we show our children two very different cultures, languages and rules.
I have two main rules or guidelines. These are:
1) You have your own path
2) You can talk to me about anything
Please let me explain how these very simple guidelines helped my children to become more confident and how they keep me connected with them.
1) You have your own path
From a very very young age, so for as long as they can remember, I have told the kids that they have their own path. I've come to think that most responsibilities in life are merely a game of the mind. We feel we are responsible for things that might not be our responsibility. We feel responsible for the happiness of other people for example. I sometimes feel responsible for my mother's happiness and also of my children's. I was contemplating on how real this idea is (I contemplate a lot on things that seem straightforward but do not necessarily have to be). For what am I actually really responsible?
For all or nothing?
In a way we are all responsible for each other. We are all responsible for the state of the world, the poverty, our children, our neighbours, friends and fill in whatever you like. Having stated this so boldly, how can we have a positive impact on all these matters? "How can I show the world that the future is bright?", I thought. What can I do to have a positive impact? For me, the way to show there is a different way is to show other people that I am happy, or as happy as I can be.
I am only responsible for my own happiness
By telling my children that they too are responsible for their own happiness they take the responsibility for their lives into their own hands. My daughter, when she was three years old, said "do it myself". From that age she wanted to make her own bread and pick her own clothes. And yes, even if the match was terrible to my standards I let her. After all, she has her own path. Pink, purple and orange may be a good match after all (somewhere in the future ;). Now she is 15, she does great at school (with a little help from me), she sings (OMG I am so proud!), she plays the guitar and piano, she puts her own alarm clock, makes her own lunch, and a healthy smoothie in the morning for the whole family. Yes I am proud, sorry if I overdo it.
Taking responsibility into ones own hands
"You have your own path" is a way for telling my kids that they are responsible for their own happiness, they make their own decisions and I trust their decision making process. Now three of the children are adolescents. If they ask me if they can do something my answer is: "What do you think yourself?". "Can I skip school?" is answered by "What do you think yourself?". If they say "Sure I can skip school!". I say: "OK, go ahead but I have nothing to do with it. So if you get caught... Good luck!".
They also became more confident because of guideline number two:
2) You can talk to me about anything
On my path of personal development I learnt that silence, finding some form of silence, is essential to see things in perspective. I learnt to meditate. At this moment this is (almost) a daily practice.
But finding a form of silence is only one part. Many people that meditate forget that the opposite of finding silence is also important: making noise. Making noise is about expressing yourself. I have written a blog about making noise.
I learnt to express myself from my children when they were young. 2-3 year old children express themselves without any form of shame. When the are sad they cry and when they are happy they laugh. When they need help they ask for it and when they want to give help they give it. Nice and simple.
But then come the puberty years. Do you remember your puberty years? I do. Beautiful and terrible times at the same time. Everything changes. Falling completely in and out of love in a rapid pace. My skin was so bad (OMG). I was very insecure but not trying to show that (a typical male you may think :).
So how can you help your children to express themselves? To be a bit flexible and remember your own puberty years. When is it possible to express yourself when you are an adolescent? Not at school because your friends opinions matters to you. Not on your bike to school. If you cannot release at home, how and where would it be possible? So I allow them to express themselves at home.
You can talk to me about anything
One of my adolescent daughters (the same that said "do it myself" above) looked absolutely beautiful and highly fashionable, according to my standards. She however felt she wasn't wearing the right outfit. She was angry, very angry. She was using the f-word and the s-word and some more of the Dutch equivalents. I could have been strict. I don't really like swearing from such a young mouth. But instead I remembered how I felt exactly the same when I was her age. So I just helped her. "What do you need so you can leave for school?" I helped her with her lunch, water in a bottle and that scarf that was in her room.
She left her rage at home, by expressing herself. Out that stuff!
That afternoon she came back from school and told me: "Daddy, I was a bit harsh this morning... Sorry." I said: "I love you, you know that?".
I am only opening doors here. I don't expect my children to talk to me. But if they do I am, OK try to be, completely nonjudgemental.
From 1) You have your own path; I learnt to trust my children and their path. They learnt they can trust me. From 2) You can talk to me about anything; we can both practice that mutual trust. They know they can express themselves, through music and playing instruments but also through anger and tears.
And the side effect is that our household is relatively quiet and peaceful.
Makes me happy....
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