From time to time, through anger or oversight, you may blunder in doing justice to your children. Nobody’s perfect. Whenever this happens, follow up with an apology. If you imposed an excessive punishment, then retract it and scale back to whatever seems reasonable. Don’t ever be afraid to say ‘Tm sorry” to you children and to explain why. Never fear that you’ll seem inconsistent in their eyes. You really are being consistent in what matter most – your heartfelt determination to treat them fairly. When you apologise, you teach them a valuable lesson: you put justice ahead of your ego.
What are we talking about here? In all of this we’re really talking about the way responsible grown-ups try to treat each other. You, like anyone else, would expect other adults to respect your rights to privacy, presumption of innocence, personal dignity, just punishment and so on. You’d expect this treatment from your spouse, your employers, and the law. So, what you’re really teaching your children is ethical conduct among responsible adults. You are treating your children as adults-in-the-making, and you begin by respecting them as people.
Between husband and wife
I used to ask ‘veteran parents’ (people whose children bad grown and flown the nest) what warnings or other negative ‘know-how’ they’d pass on to younger parents. In paraphrase, here is some of the hard-earned wisdom they shared with me:
Don’t neglect your wife. She needs what we all need: understanding, affection, gratitude, support and appreciation. For sure, she doesn’t get these from the children when they’re small. So if she doesn’t get them from her husband either, then she doesn’t get them at all.
You can tell you’re neglecting her if she starts complaining about small things around the house, one after another, circling around the central problem: your apparent unconcern for her. Wake up. Pay attention. Listen to her opinion, help her out, tell her she’s great, hug and kiss her from time to time – all this goes a long way. Every time you kiss your wife in front of the children, you are, in effect, kissing each of them in tum.
Don’t undercut your husband. Do all you can to lead your children to respect their father and his authority. He simply cannot lead as a father without his children’s abiding respect. Your children’s growth in character, their lifelong happiness, can rise or fall on how deeply they respect their dad. So lead them, by your example and your praise for him, to view their father as you do: a great man, a model of masculine strength and accomplishment, a self-sacrificing hero worthy of the whole family’s gratitude and honour. Your children’s respect for their dad develops directly from your own esteem for him, and this is crucially important to his influence on their lives.
Listen to this story from a man in Midwest America: “I was the youngest of five children in a single-parent home. My dad died when I was an infant, so I never knew him. My mother raised us as a widow and she was a great woman. Every now and then, when I was getting out of hand as a boy, and even as a teenager, my mom would take me aside and say, “Jimmy, your father would never approve of what you’re doing right now! He would be very upset. So stop it…” This never failed to touch me, not once. It always brought me to my senses and made me straighten out.”
Do you see? The father of this home continued to influence his children for good, even after his death, because of his great wife’s love and honour for him. Because he was still alive in her heart, he was still the father of this family.
Come down to your children’s level, but don’t stay there. Children are children, and you have to come down to their level to take them by the hand. But your long-term goal is to bring them up to your own level – to lead them, patiently over time, to think and act like mature grown-ups. So live like a grown-up. Enjoy being an adult on top of life, and let them see what this means. If they see you enjoy living as a confident, productive adult, they’ll have a life to look forward to.
Finally, don’t underestimate your children. Have high ambitions for their swift, step-by-step growth into maturity. We all tend to become what we think about, and children tend to become what their parents expect of them. Even when they sometimes let you down and you have to correct them, make them understand that you see this as just a blip along the way. You have no doubt, none whatever, that they’ll someday grow into excellent men and women. You’re proud of them, confident in them, and always will be.