Becoming a parent is a very exciting, but pretty scary milestone. From the time the nurse at the hospital tells you it’s time to go home, the full impact of your responsibilities to this little person hit you. Each sleepless night is spent ensuring that you are meeting the needs of your precious little bundle while worrying that you’re doing everything right. To add to your worry, friends, family members and strangers in the commissary all have the “best” advice for how you should be taking care of your child– no matter what the child’s age.
That’s why instead of just trying to make it through day by day, you and your spouse should have long-term parenting goals.
What does parenting with a long view look like? Here are 5 suggestions.
Look in the Mirror
Before you can chart a life course for your child, you need to take a look at yourself. Are you just making it day to day? Dreading the next PCS? While we don’t have control over where our spouse’s military career may send us, we have control of ourselves and how we choose to adjust to change or fight change. It’s very difficult to try to guide someone to have a successful future when we are having a hard time finding our own successful path. Like the old saying goes, you have to take care of you first before you can take care of anyone else.
It Takes Two
While you may be the must-have parent, your spouse is also your child’s parent and plays a very important role in their lives. It’s imperative that the two of you sit down and talk (or Skype if distance is a factor) about what kind of person you wish for your child to be and what kind of values you want them to have as an adult.
It may be easy to try and bypass this step because you both “know” that you want your child to grow up to be self-sufficient, kind, honest and successful. But “knowing” isn’t the same as knowing. How do you know if you and your spouse are really on the same page unless you talk about it? Being successful might mean one thing to you and something completely different to your spouse. Being resilient during a PCS or deployment can have many different meanings to both of you.
When you and your spouse have conflicting values you wish your child to have as he grows up or have conflicting definitions of said values, further discussion is needed to come to a compromise. Looking at what values are absolutely important to both of you is a good place to start, then you can compromise on some of the other conflicting values or meanings. Once you are both in agreement, it will be much easier to make parenting decisions. You’ll have a consistent plan to go by and your child will see consistency between you and your spouse. We all know children take advantage of the parents not being on the same page at the first hint of disagreement!
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Children have a natural tendency to imitate what they see. While it may be cute to hear a one year old say, “oh shit!” if they drop their pudding on the floor, that can also be an “ah-ha!” moment when we realize that they really do listen to everything we say and copy what we do.
Gone are the days of telling your child to “do as I say, not as I do.” You are the example for your child. If one of your values for your child is for them to be well-adjusted, you need to be a model for them. PCSing isn’t easy but you have to hold it together for your child. How can you expect them to welcome change into their lives and not be afraid of moving if you throwing a tantrum yourself about moving?
No one is perfect, and we all have our limits. So if an upcoming PCS or deployment really has everyone on edge, don’t try to hide it from your child. Include them in conversations (age appropriate) about it and work through it together.
Your Tribe is Their Tribe
The people you depend on to help keep your sanity, those you spend a lot of time with, and the people you try to avoid, all play an active role in shaping your little person, for better or for worse. Your tribe becomes like a family for your mini-you, and they will look up to them and imitate them as well. Examining the impressions your friends will leave on your child may cause you to re-think or re-structure who and how often you hang out with certain people. This can be a good time to talk to your little person about making friends and help her to build a positive tribe to help her grow.
It’s Not Stinky Diapers Forever
I know it’s so hard to think about your child leaving home to go out on their own while you’re still wiping their butt and spending all day goo-gooing and ga-gaing, but it’s not stinky diapers forever. While it feels like some days will never end, each phase of raising a child is only temporary. And it flies by so fast. As I write this, I am planning my baby’s first birthday. She can’t be! Not already!
They grow up fast, whether we want them to or not. Having a long-term parenting view from the beginning will help you guide your child to the best future they could have and can help you to parent with a purpose.