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What Really Matters in Parenting

By Nancy Jergins

What Really Matters in ParentingI recently visited Washington, D.C. and ate the most delicious cupcake I’d ever had in my entire life.  Not only did it taste amazing, it was cleverly wrapped too. Later, as I wondered about what made that cupcake such a standout, I concluded that the baker must have figured out just the right ratio of the essential ingredients. When it came to cupcakes, he definitely grasped what really matters.

What really matters in parenting? What are the essential ingredients? There are three, and if we can include these elements in most of our parenting, we’ll have gone a long way in getting this mom thing right. It can be tricky to get the right ratio, but just like baking that cupcake, it can be done. Here’s what matters most in parenting.

The ingredient that we must mix in throughout our parenting is wisdom. That means that we must be wise to exercise wisdom.  To become wise, we have to base our beliefs on something worthy of guiding us. For me, it’s my faith in God and his teachings. As I compare my parenting and the way I live my life to his standards, I can be pretty clear on whether I’m acting wisely or not. Of course, parenting experience will add to our wisdom, too. A wise mom learns from her successes and her failures.

Making wise parenting decisions shows up in how we speak to our children, how we discipline our children, and how we guide our children.  And the way we live our life — wisely or not — will impact the ability of our children to make wise choices. How? They are watching us.  They are watching how we live our life. If we make wise decisions, they’ll have a pattern for making wise decisions. We are their instructional, real-life video for how to function in this world.

If wisdom is the actual cake of parenting, kindness is the icing. Kindness is what softens and sweetens our wise instruction. Kindness is what draws our children to us. Unkindness will turn them away from us, and whatever wisdom we’re trying to impart.

Kindness is evident in our patience with our children, and in our apologies when we are impatient. It is seen when we discipline with firmness, instead of harshness. It is having expectations in line with the age and abilities of our children.

See the inset for five ways to be a kinder mom.

Staying with our cupcake analogy, love is the wrapper that holds the cupcake, the wisdom, the frosting, and the kindness together. If our kindness and our wisdom are encompassed by a wrapper of love, we will have the essentials of what really matters in parenting.

And love isn’t just the immense feelings we have for our children, it’s what motivates us to do all we do as moms, and to do it cheerfully.

Love is what helps us look ahead and plan our parenting accordingly. Our children’s future will be better and more secure if we focus on them more than we focus on our phones and iPads, or anything else that threatens to distract us from realizing that the most important thing in our lives is to give our children a stable, peaceful home, because children get only one chance at a happy childhood.

Even though love is the essential motivation for what really matters in parenting, without wisdom, love can actually lead us to make some pretty poor decisions. For example, love without wisdom leads us to give our children what makes them happy, even if it’s not best.

If we can make sure that our parenting includes these three ingredients, everything else, as they say, is just icing on the cupcake.

So now that we know what really matters in parenting, take the pressure off of yourself to provide the “extras” — the material things that matter so much less.

Five Ways to be a Kinder Mom
What is the best mom advice you’ve ever heard? A good friend gave me some excellent advice recently. “Life will beat up your kids enough when they leave home; so while they’re with you,” she said, “build them up and make them feel loved and confident about themselves.”

Every mom can be kind—feisty moms, quiet moms, loud moms, all moms. Kindness doesn’t mean being wimpy; it means choosing our words and actions carefully, with the thought of doing good for our children in the forefront of our minds.

Her advice was timely. I want my children to be gracious and humble, but I can go too far in that direction, neglecting my role as their biggest cheerleader and fan. Here’s another bit of advice you can take with you today: If you want to be a good mom, you must be a kind mom.  Here are 5 ways to be a kind mom.

1. Don’t yell.
Let’s face it! When we scream at our kids, we basically send kindness blasting out the window. Yes, there is a time to yell at your children—like when the house is on fire or they forgot their backpack and you need to get their attention before they climb on the bus, but most of our communication can be conveyed just as effectively without yelling.

2. Be considerate.
Kindness is all about showing consideration to others. So when it comes to being a kind mom, we need to be considerate of our children.  That doesn’t mean that we say yes to their every whim or wait on them hand and foot. It means that we consider them and their feelings as we make decisions that will affect them. We consider where they are emotionally and respond to the needs we recognize.

3. Be loving.
The love passage so often read at weddings applies to day-to-day “mom life” too. (Love is kind.) Love is what will motivate us to be kind when we’re exhausted, in PMS, or stressed out about finances. So instead of taking out our frustrations on our children, deal with them kindly.

4. Give a disclaimer.
There are some days when we feel like our kindness well has run completely dry. At those times, be honest with your kids.  “Kids, I am having a really bad day.  I don’t want to be mean or grouchy, and I’m going to do my best to be kind, but I wanted to warn you in case I seem a little off today.”

5. Give hugs.
It sounds simple, and even a little corny, but hugs are healthy. Not only do they actually help us physically—lower blood pressure and calmer minds—but they help us connect with our children, too. So laugh about it, if you must, but do it.  My children are 10 and 8, but I’ll still say, “Okay, I need my 10-second hug.” Those hugs are like making a deposit in your “kind account.” When you hug your child, you feel more loving to your child, and ultimately, you are kinder to your child.

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