Word to your mother
May 9, 2011 11:42 AM   Subscribe

If your not-quite-yet-born self could give one or two pieces of advice to your soon-to-be mom about how not to screw up you and your relationship with her, what would it be?

I read on here a lot about how difficult moms are to deal with. Overly critical, histrionic, self-absorbed, drunk, etc., etc. I would really be sad if my 4.5-year-old daughter grew up having to write to AskMe about how to be in my presence without harming herself. So, how can I avoid this (beyond just trying hard to be decent and consistent and empathetic). Could any of you say something like "If only mom had/had not done x, our relationship would have been so much better." Thanks!
posted by staggering termagant to Human Relations (116 answers total) 89 users marked this as a favorite
If my mother had consistently assumed the best of my intentions, or, even better not assumed anything of them at all, our relationship would have been so much better. Instead, she always assumed the worst of my intentions, and insisted that simply because she was my mother she knew me better than I did myself, which led to a lot of self-doubt and self-loathing when I was young. I'm thrilled she's out of my life.
posted by amelioration at 11:46 AM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

1. Have a healthier relationship with food/eating/weight issues.

2. Relax.
posted by ambrosia at 11:47 AM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

When you're proud, say you're proud. When you're disappointed, generally, keep it to yourself.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 11:48 AM on May 9, 2011 [18 favorites]

How much can advice change character? If you do your best, your kids will know it. Keep in mind that most of the stuff you read here is just one small part of a bigger picture, one that usually includes lots of familial love.
posted by circular at 11:48 AM on May 9, 2011

Try to understand that your children can be very different from you, but that you can love them and show them the same amount of attention you do children who are similar to you, in interests and personality.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:50 AM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Admit when you make a mistake and show how to repair it. It will teach your children to take responsibility. Seconding tell your kids when you're proud of them, even if it's for something little.
posted by goggie at 11:50 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Practice saying this: "I really don't understand this. Let's find a smart person and ask them to explain it to us."

Then do exactly that.

You know. Instead of assuming it's all beyond you and throwing up your hands in frustration and fooling yourself into thinking that no one in life ever gets what they want.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:51 AM on May 9, 2011 [9 favorites]

Seriously, just that you're asking this question means that you're probably doing a great job. My mom/dad and I have had issues, even to the point that I've written a post about it once (matchmaking, grr) but it in no way means that I don't love them to bits and that I don't think they did the absolute best job they could and always had my best interests at heart. If anything, I feel like I should remember it more (maybe that's just my post mother's day shmoopy..)

I saw a cartoon today that showed an "annual meeting of adult children of normal parents" and there was a huge lecture hall with only one dolt sitting in it." Clunky way of getting a point across, but still, it's a good point.
posted by sweetkid at 11:51 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Avoid asking "Are you..." questions. "Are you wearing that?" "Are you starting the turkey now?" "Are you going to say something to Jr about the nose piercing?"

If you want to throw in your two cents, just come out and say it. The Are You questions manage to not only criticize the decision, but simultaneously, the daughter making the decision.
posted by headspace at 11:52 AM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

"Keep up the good work!"
posted by ghharr at 11:53 AM on May 9, 2011

"Please do not use me as the tool through which you will work out your relationship with your own mother."
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:53 AM on May 9, 2011 [10 favorites]

I wish my mother had told me that it was okay to make mistakes as a child and as an adult. I know that not fearing letting her down would have made me feel comfortable coming to her a whole lot sooner, and saved me a whole lot of grief.
posted by Zophi at 11:54 AM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I wish my parents didn't treat me like a friend, but just their daughter, someone who needed to be cared for.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 11:54 AM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Get a life. Seriously. Have friends. Be independent. Being somebody's whole world is a lot of pressure to put on a kid.

My Mom also always assumed the worst of everybody's intentions. If I left my socks on the floor, it was on purpose to be mean to her and make her do more work. (I'm afraid I see myself doing this sometimes too. Sigh.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 11:54 AM on May 9, 2011 [16 favorites]

My mom didn't have food or weight issues herself, and she never ever put any of that sort of junk on me - we ate healthy, but never once in my life did she suggest that I was getting fat or shouldn't eat something because it was full of calories. We never had junk food in the house and I wasn't allowed to eat it as a kid, but neither was my brother - it was very clearly a health, not weight, thing. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that.

The adult women I now know whose mothers did crap like that had a lot to get over in order to develop a healthy attitude towards food. So if you've got food issues yourself, work on them now and be sure not to project onto your kid; if not, be the healthy advocate there to counter a lot of crap she'll hear when she starts junior high (or whenever that stuff kicks in these days).
posted by you're a kitty! at 11:54 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Take care of yourself. Particularly, your health and your happiness. Don't be afraid to put yourself first sometimes (not all of the time, obviously, but do so often enough). A healthy, happy woman makes for a good mom. And a mom who's truly happy with who she is, is unlikely to overbearing and create complexes for her children.
posted by raztaj at 11:55 AM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

Could any of you say something like "If only mom had/had not done x, our relationship would have been so much better."

x = "wanted a girl."

I think this question is a bit chatfilter, though. You could simply take the premises of a swath of mom-problem Asks: "My mom does x and it's a problem. Advice to Moms: don't do x."
posted by rhizome at 11:55 AM on May 9, 2011

Don't use me as your emotional support starting when I'm about eleven. I know I look and act older, but I'm eleven. All it does is fill me with rage and a feeling of helplessness, because I can't solve or fix your problems, and I'm not yet old enough to know that it's not my job to fix your problems.
posted by rtha at 11:55 AM on May 9, 2011 [18 favorites]

When your child does something not-wonderful, you don't have to tell the world. My mom always told anyone within earshot of my sister and my failings as kids during those times when other parents were boasting about their successes. The same day I won a Latin medal I got my first (and only!) detention. Guess which one everyone heard about? Behavior like that left my sister and I deeply insecure about our own successes but also made it very difficult to trust our mother with personal difficulties.
posted by troika at 11:56 AM on May 9, 2011 [8 favorites]

I wish my mother would have talked with me more about sex, boys, and my worth as a teenage girl. I had sex before I should have and had sex with people I should not have. She allowed my father to abuse her and I witnessed that. She allowed my father to physically abuse me.

I wish she would have been more involved in my life and my feelings. One year, when I was seriously failing in school (age 12 and 13) she didn't help me with my homework or create any kind of routine or study space. I had bad organizational skills, with some probable ADD and serious self-esteem issues. If she had set some rules about homework and study, that would have helped me. She never asked about school or my life. If she did it was about clothes or friends or unimportant stuff. She wanted us to go and do well but that's as far as it went. It was not her to lecture or talk to me so much about important things. Mainly she would comment after I made a big mistake. After it was too late.

She didn't think she was too worthy. She never expected or demanded too many things, including respect . She was always apologizing for things when she shouldn't have.
posted by Fairchild at 11:59 AM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

"Find out what *I* want to do, and then help and encourage me to do it."
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:59 AM on May 9, 2011 [11 favorites]

Get help for any mental health issues. Make sure your kids know they are not the cause of said mental health issues.

Also, don't chase your kid with a knife.
posted by desjardins at 12:00 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

The fact that I'm wearing high top sneakers with shorts and no makeup does not reflect poorly on you as a mother. The fact that you're making a public scene about said high tops and no makeup does.
posted by phunniemee at 12:01 PM on May 9, 2011 [10 favorites]

I have three grown kids ranging in age from 35 to 41. I'm happy to report that they all still like me. I was not a perfect parent by any means.

Things I know I did right:
-no spanking, except for the oldest one a few times until I realized it was not good
-minimal television, and yes, they all agree that growing up in the US without TV was a great thing
-never played favorites, nobody ever felt that I loved one kid more than another
-gave them a lot of freedom to explore and make their own mistakes
-didn't push them like crazy to do well in school
-I didn't do what rtha mentioned above, I didn't lean on them for emotional support
-I fed them well and kept them healthy
-didn't have much money so they weren't overwhelmed with toys
-never told them they couldn't hang out with any particular kid or group of kids
-encouraged them to bring their friends over

Now of course I did plenty of things wrong, some of which I knew were wrong at the time, and some that my kids bring up now, without rancor.
posted by mareli at 12:04 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Agree with the above who mentioned that the fact that you are asking this question means that you are already on the right track.

My mom wasn't perfect, no mother is, but I love her more than life itself because I know that despite the fact that she sometimes criticized, and sometimes didn't trust me, and sometimes insert x here, she was always trying to be the best. And she always let me know, even when I disappointed her, that I was one of the most important things in her life, and she loved me unconditionally.

My mom made mistakes, you will too. The biggest thing is to just make sure your daughter knows that you love her. Be willing to admit when you are wrong. Be willing to apologize when you, naturally, come down too hard on her about something. You are her parent and not her friend, but that doesn't mean that you can't admit to the occasional mistake.
posted by CharlieSue at 12:05 PM on May 9, 2011

I wish my mother hadn't sheltered me. She was so afraid that I, her only biological child, would come to some sort of danger or sticky end or disappointment. She was clearly afraid of The World and never encouraged me to follow my dreams if that meant I was going to leave her. After I was married and had my own child, my little family went to Germany for my husband's work. You would've thought the world was ending, the way she carried on. Even now (I'm 40 and have two kids), she gets all worked up when we travel overseas or even fly domestically.

Give your child a safe place to fall and then let her fall. For god's sake, let her fall.
posted by cooker girl at 12:05 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I love my mom, and we have a great relationship. I am proud of the way she raised me and the values she instilled me with. BUT, she firmly believes that in order to be a contributing citizen of the world, one has the moral obligation to devote their talents to bettering it in some way. Example: I am an enviro science major at a great university, and after I graduate my mom pretty much expects me to single-handedly solve the environmental crisis (at least it feels that way).

"To whom much has been given, much is expected" is the mantra.

Now, this is a great mindset and I agree, but it put a lot of pressure on me to focus on the external world, and as a result, I neglected personal development until just recently. A little bit of hedonism is ok sometimes, especially if indulging yourself will ultimately make you a happier, better, and more productive person. Now that I am spending some time and energy on things that I love (music, art, outdoor recreation etc...), I am able to put the best me out into the world.

This is the only resentment I feel towards her, but if she had allowed me to pursue my individual bliss, our relationship would be even better, and her end goal for me would be reached more organically.
posted by Idafolk at 12:05 PM on May 9, 2011

desjardins: "Also, don't chase your kid with a knife."

Make sure they know how to use it though. I wish my mom had taught me how to cook stuff. I got to college really only knowing how to heat stuff up, put stuff together (like a sandwich), and make pasta.
posted by theichibun at 12:06 PM on May 9, 2011

I am not your sister or your mother and treating me like them when I know the problems you had with them is horrible. It is especially bad when you think my brother is you and we have the same relationship. I was not a monster or a bully at 8 years old and it really hurt to know you thought I was one.

Just generally don't put your baggage on your kids they are individuals no matter how little and they aren't "just like" people you hate.
posted by boobjob at 12:07 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Be happy.
posted by facetious at 12:08 PM on May 9, 2011

Don't bring religion into their lives until they're ready to find it themselves, if ever.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:09 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

There's this thing that some parents do when their kids get to a certain age or stage. It's a long drive or road trip situation and so you think it's a good time, when you and your kid are alone and relaxed, to bring up the Sex Talk thing or the Something Emotionally Painful talk thing.

I had a parent do this to me regularly and I began to dread any outings, because I never knew if I was going to be sideswiped with some confrontation or question about my sexuality or drugs or I would be berated about grades, etc, while trapped in that car. I finally declined even basic errand running because I was anxious there was some agenda waiting -- and there often was. Sometimes, let getting an ice cream just be about getting an ice cream.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 12:16 PM on May 9, 2011 [10 favorites]

One of the best things my mom ever did was get to the point where I could tell her something she did bothered me and she didn't go into the melodramatic bullshit of "I'll NEVER do THAT again!!!!". It took twenty or so years, and it took me understanding that you can love the hell out of a person and not like their actions sometimes.

It really is refreshing to be able to say "Ma, I love you and all, but when you ask me everytime we talk if I got that new job, it makes me want to scream." And to have the response be "I'm sorry sweetie, I'm just curious. I'll try to wait until you tell me what is going on, but could you try to give me an update more than once every few weeks?"

Also, when you tell your child that they can grow up to be anything in the world they want to be, back them up when they turn out less than normal. And don't be surprised if they do.
posted by teleri025 at 12:20 PM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

My mom punished me by making me weed the garden, wash the windows, mop the floor, etc. etc. etc. The end result is that I now see having a garden and/or doing routine household chores as punishment. Don't do that.

Watch Mr. Rogers. Listen to what he says to kids. "I like you just the way you are." "I'm proud of you." "Lets find out together." "Lets make the most of this beautiful day." "Its you I like." "You are special." Then say those words to your child. Every single day.

Everyone wants to be loved unconditionally. Tell your kids you love them, even when you're mad. Make sure they know there isn't anything they can do to make you stop loving them. And mean it.
posted by anastasiav at 12:20 PM on May 9, 2011 [34 favorites]

Oh seconding ink-stained wretch. Definately. In fact, I would say just don't do that ever. Having to talk about things you don't want to when there is NO ESCAPE if you feel you need to walk away sucks.
posted by stillnocturnal at 12:22 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

when they're old enough, acknowledge that you're a flawed human being too (with a messed up background, or whatever), but when they're too young, don't make your kids feel like they have prove through life/actions your parenting skills (or they may be concerned about the appearances of seeming OK rather than actually being OK).
posted by ejaned8 at 12:23 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Somebody already mentioned it. The one best thing you can do to have a healthy relationship with your child is for you to be a healthy, whole individual on your own.
posted by lover at 12:25 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Make your child aware that you will never freak out if they have a problem. My mom would go bananas over the silliest things, which meant when I was going through some heavy shit aged seven that I didn't dare breathe a word to her about it.

Let her disagree with you about things. Yeah, she'll be wrong, but unless it's going to bring her physical harm, let her get on with it unless she asks you for help.
posted by Solomon at 12:25 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Understand the difference between what child-rearing books/early childhood classes/parenting articles/"experts"/etc. all say is best for "typical children", and what is best for your specific child.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:25 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Be careful about the relationship habits you model for your daughter. Regardless of the words you say to her over the years, she'll tend to respect herself exactly as much as she sees you respect yourself.
posted by spinto at 12:25 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Be happy when your kid does something that they are happy about. Do not turn it into an "Oh I am so jealous of you!" situation. You are not, or should not, be in competition with your child. Act like the adult. Let your kid be happy for their accomplishments and share them with you without it turning into a story about you.
posted by jessamyn at 12:27 PM on May 9, 2011 [13 favorites]

Don't live through your child/make them the sole focus of your universe. Have friends who are not their friends parents.

Don't take out your anger at other things on your child when they do stupid things. They will do stupid things. You don't have to hit them to reduce them to tears/make them afraid of you.

Let your child fail from time to time and pick herself up. If you constantly rush to the rescue, there are things she won't learn.

Lead by example. If you want your child to keep herself organized, do so yourself and show her how. I still can't keep a clean room and I attribute quite a bit of that to the fact that I grew up in a messy household. The only room that ever seemed to get cleaned was mine.
posted by Hactar at 12:28 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I thought this was a great thread about being a good parent and what not to do.

1. I wish my mother had been able to trust herself and be proud of herself. It is difficult to trust someone who doesn't trust themselves.
2. I wish she hadn't projected her expectations and disappointments about herself onto me.
3. I wish she wasn't so prone to assuming the worst about me and other people. I wish she'd erred on the side of asking too many questions instead of making assumptions. It undermined my faith in other people's ability to treat me fairly.
4. I wish she'd gotten help for her emotional problems instead of treating them like they were a normal and healthy part of human life.

As I've gotten older, I've come to understand that her disappointment in me was more about the crappy upbringing she had and her own self-esteem problems than her lack of faith in me. I've come to accept that she did her best and I know that she loves me very much. Whatever issues I have now are issues that I have to solve; they're part of my family's history and not the result of malice or indifference. You sound like a great mother. You're not going to be perfect, but if you do your best, your daughter will know it and be fine.
posted by millions of peaches at 12:30 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

1. Have a reasonable number of children - like, say, a number that it is realistic for you to actually raise in a humane manner. Take your age, economic and family situation(s), etc. into account. It honestly shocks me how often my mom says, "I guess I was just too busy at the time to notice that..."

1a. If you are extremely young, extremely old, extremely poor, extremely busy, or otherwise in a really bad situation to bring a child into the world, DON'T FUCKING HAVE (MORE) CHILDREN.

2. Strive to care about and sympathize with your children even if they're not a lot like you or you don't understand their interests/desires/circumstances. Strive to maintain that level of care/sympathy even as times change and they face challenges that are unfamiliar to you. Your children are not mini-me's, and the world is an ever-changing place.
posted by Sara C. at 12:35 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Apologize when you make mistakes or do wrong by your kids. They may refuse to accept your apology (moms are supposed to be PERFECT!) but it's a deep lesson and they'll remember it. (Bonus points for being the kind of adult who apologizes to other people's kids -- kids always look so startled that they're getting that kind of consideration.)

Make a home where your kids feel comfortable bringing their friends at any time. Lack of social shame about one's family and all is a good thing (or so I gather from YA novels) but it also pays off big-time when you know all your kids' friends.

Know the difference between a dirty shirt and a chopped-off finger. So many adults (parents, teachers, etc.) react with the same intensity to a minor annoyance and a major catastrophe. I found that very confusing as a child, when returning a library book late got the same level of reaction as a huge bloody gash to the leg.

Don't worry too much. There are plenty of ways to be a good parent and raise good children.

#1 and #2 are "things my mom did right."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:36 PM on May 9, 2011 [10 favorites]

Actively encourage her to take risks. Not only did my mother not encourage me to take risks, she developed a masterly passive-aggressive approach to stop me from finding the adventure in life.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 12:36 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'd ask my mum to get to know me as an individual distinct from her and this is key: distinct from her expectations of what she thought I was/should be like.
Your offspring are not mini-versions of you, you don't know what they're like but you have to be interested in them to find out.

I'd also ask her to be consistent in her ways and her promises.
posted by mkdirusername at 12:44 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Actively encourage her to take risks. Not only did my mother not encourage me to take risks, she developed a masterly passive-aggressive approach to stop me from find

Hmm. I think this is a useful one. I remember watching a friend's home video of her and her brother climbing all over some statue somewhere, and thinking the whole time, "Wow! My mom would not only not be filming that, she would have been screaming for us to get down because she would be worried we'd kill ourselves." I think it can be hard, but it took a long time and a lot of work for me to be OK with swimming in the ocean, snowboarding, heights, etc, etc, because my mom had this fear that all those things would kill me. It was actually a bit easier for my brother, so that could be a girl/boy thing, although she would have screamed for him to get down off that statue too.
posted by sweetkid at 12:45 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

1. Be active when it comes to your child's education. Make sure they do their homework every night, even when they're teens. Have a defined study time and area. Be there to help if they need it. And if their grades start to slip, make sure their are consequences. I don't think I would have done so horribly in school if my mother had taken an active interest (although to be fair, I had undiagnosed ADHD and my mom is severely dyslexic).

2. Food is not a reward. It's just food.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:50 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

There is not a dangerous child molester waiting to kidnap your kid if you let them play outside by themselves. One of the best things my mom did was let me go out to play from the time I was six or seven - I could go anywhere, as long as it was within calling distance (this was back before cell phones). As I got older (high school), I had no curfew, because I had been able to demonstrate for years that I would be home when I said I'd be home (or when I was told I had to be home by).
posted by rtha at 12:59 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

You can't mould me but I will probably model myself after you (well, the bad parts at least).
posted by WeekendJen at 1:02 PM on May 9, 2011

Understand that you are raising your children not to be a "mini-me."

I will never be as social as my mother. I will never be as obsessive about cleaning as my mother. I would never choose to wear the same type of clothing as my mother. I do not choose to associate with the same kind of friends as my mother. I chose to focus on my career rather than on getting married, unlike my mother.

On the other hand, my mother never told me I was making a bad decision. She told me to accept the aftermath of my decisions. She knew I smoked, hated that I smoked, but never told me to quit smoking. I eventually quit of my own accord.

I am me, she is her. We are similar but different. Acceptance of that concept is key in maintaining a healthy relationship.
posted by HeyAllie at 1:03 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

These come from interactions I had with both of my parents, not just my mom.
  • If it's not going to be possible to continue to send me to one of the activities I've done for years, tell me so. Don't just miss the signups and assume I won't notice. (In a larger sense, explain decisions you're making that are going to affect me significantly. Don't assume I won't understand.)
  • Try to recognize when you're yelling at me because of you and not because of me. Once I realized it was because you were afraid of losing me in a car crash like you lost your parents, I forgave you for yelling at me throughout my childhood when I didn't remember to wear a seatbelt, but when I was six, I didn't understand, and it just made me feel bad and scared.
  • Spanking (even as little and as relatively gently as you did it) never helped anything.
  • A child is not ready to tackle being overweight through Weight Watchers. Especially if you have to take her out of school to attend meetings. Don't worry too much about what I eat.
  • Most schools' sex education programs are inadequate. It is your duty to educate me about sex, and if you leave it to my teachers what I will learn will be incomplete and ineffective, and I will seek to complete that education by learning from my peers, which will lead me to some unwise decisions as I become sexually active.
  • Because you're not an outdoorsy, athletic person, you need to be especially aware of how much outdoor exercise I'm getting. Chances are, it's not enough.

posted by ocherdraco at 1:05 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

Love yourself. Respect yourself. Care for yourself. Be good to yourself. If you don't do that, how will your daughter learn to?

I miss my mom. She's alive, but she's so self-destructive/depressed/anxious/self-loathing that she's impossible to be around. And every inch of that influenced and made an impression on me while I was growing up. I can only imagine the kind of relationship we could have had, as a child and as a grown adult, if my mother had treated herself with the same love and care she had for her kid.
posted by ninjakins at 1:06 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

1. Don't obsess about your weight, your body or the food you are eating. If you insist on obsessing, do it inside your head.

2. Don't restrict my food.

3. Let me make mistakes, do stupid things and fall down.

4. When I do make mistakes and fall on my ass, don't use it as an opportunity to not let me do something in the future.

5. Don't criticize people behind their back just because they intimidate you.

6. Stop commenting on other women's bodies and how food is "good" and "bad".

7. Don't use things I've said to you in the past against me in the future.

8. It's not all about you. Sometimes, it's about me. When I'm very, very sick, all of the attention should not be directed toward taking care of you.

9. Don't make me perform for others to prove what a good mother you are.

Obviously, I've had some therapy so I've worked most of these issues out but there they are.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:08 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

1. Cultivate your own life. Do not use your child as a substitute for that life. It's an enormous, unbearable burden for a child to feel like their activities, successes, and failures mean everything to you and determine your happiness.

2. When you make a mistake, admit it. When you do something wrong, apologize for it. When your child says that you've misinterpreted something they've said, listen. When they tell you what they are feeling, BELIEVE IT.

3. Parent the child you have, not the child you want. Nothing will encourage your child to share things with you less than responding to something they're happy and proud about with "well, I'm happy that you're happy," or "sigh. I guess if that's what you enjoy..."

4. They can make choices you would never make and still be successful, and you can be PROUD of that.
posted by MsMolly at 1:09 PM on May 9, 2011 [9 favorites]

Your child will not grow up in the same world in which you grew up.
posted by casarkos at 1:11 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Praise effort, not "cleverness."

There's a lot of good research showing that saying "you're so clever" has a negative effect, whereas praising hard work has positive effects. Here's an article in the New York Magazine about it.
posted by anadem at 1:12 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you were bullied, and you kept that information to yourself because you didn't feel like you could go to your mom? Then work to break that cycle, and be the kind of mother your mother wasn't, so when your daughter is bullied she will come to you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:20 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't treat her as a 'friend' in her teen years and use her to confide in.
Don't hit her. Ever. This doesn't correct a child, it just makes them fearful of you. I'm 38 and still fearful of my mother.
Tell her she is beautiful, and make sure she believes you.
Let her know that everyone makes mistakes, it a part of life.
Tell her often how proud you are, and when you aren't proud, just keep quiet.
Support her ideas.
posted by Jayes8ch at 1:20 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

And if their grades start to slip, make sure their are consequences.

Better, if their grades start to slip, FIGURE OUT WHY.

It still horrifies me that my parents watched me transition from a super curious straight A seventh grader who loved school to an eighth grader with a report card full of C's who would rather hide in a vacant lot - and did nothing.

Like literally my parents did not even ASK ME whether I was unhappy at school and what about. They just made with the "consequences".
posted by Sara C. at 1:20 PM on May 9, 2011 [14 favorites]

I didn't read the whole thread (TL:DR), but the best thing my mum did for me was work. My mum worked in the Australian military when I was a kid, and she's now working for the federal police. I saw her in uniform every day. I saw strange men salute her on the street. Her staff called her 'ma'am.' She had a significant life outside the home, and it was such a good influence on us as kids.

My sister and I were absolutely one of her top priorities... but we weren't her only priority. It's hard to articulate why this was so important for me, but I think it gave me a sense of independence (my mum loved me and was there for me, but we were separate people) and, as a woman, she was a tremendous role model. She didn't just tell me I could do anything - she showed me. And it also makes me feel a lot more confident about one day becoming a parent.
posted by nerdfish at 1:22 PM on May 9, 2011 [9 favorites]

If you mess something up then consider apologizing. My mom never apologized for anything, even when she was obviously wrong. After a child gets old enough they no longer expect their mom to be perfect. To this day she still never apologizes. You can imagine how fun it is to be around someone who always thinks they are in the right. It's kind of a conversation killer.
posted by quadog at 1:25 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't smother.
Don't treat your kid like an auxiliary spouse.
Don't expect your kid alone to provide you with enough love to keep your soul satisfied.
Don't expect your kid to give up their entire life just for you, because you did for them.

And especially, TEACH YOUR KIDS HOW TO GROW UP. It does your kid no favors to act in such a way that they can never leave you. They need to, even if you don't want them to. What do you expect them to do when they are 50 years old and you die and they don't know how to take care of themselves? And for the love of god, let them move out somewhere between ages 18-22. It seems to me that the people I know who didn't move out at some point during that age range NEVER move out.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:43 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Mom, I will eventually grow up and be an adult. At that point, my life choices will be my responsibility.

If I screw up and go to jail when I'm 21 or 28 or 31 or 37 - it isn't your fault
If I don't wear appropriate clothing to funerals or weddings - it isn't your fault
If I piss away a great job, good money and a loving partner - it isn't your fault
If I am overweight or underweight or getting plastic surgery or losing all my teeth - it isn't your fault
If my own kid ends up in juvenile court at 15 - that isn't your fault
If I end up being a unplanned first time parent at 41 - that isn't your fault
If my partners or friends have tattoos and piercings and not the greatest reputations - that isn't your fault
If I have a drug or alcohol problem or marry someone with either - that isn't your fault

If you feel like your other family members, friends and society at large are judging you for your ADULT offspring's' choices - that isn't my fault so shut up already.
posted by jaimystery at 1:48 PM on May 9, 2011

My parents always had my back, until it was proven that I didn't deserve it. Like, if I was in trouble at school, they always asked me about what was going on before just agreeing with the version they were given. That meant a lot to me. Also, I have no doubt that they will be supportive of anything I choose to do if I do it the best I can - like, if I decide tomorrow to quit being a lawyer and be the dog catcher, they could care less, as long as I'm happy and being the best dog catcher I can be. Knowing that makes me braver. Also, knowing that I can always go back home - I'll never be homeless or starving while they're alive - is a big plus.
posted by dpx.mfx at 1:56 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

I wish my parents had:

• Let me be imperfect now and then so that I didn't grow up with stress-related OCD and a poor self-image.
• Had stronger friendships with people outside of our small family so that I could learn how to keep friends of my own.
• Never stopped hugging me so that I wouldn't have developed an insatiable need for physical contact that lead me to be promiscuous with my body.
• Not focused on my physical appearance so much so that my self-worth wasn't so tied to the way I look.
• Considered deeply that if their work schedules meant it would never be possible for me to have friends over just to hang out like all the other laid-back parents in my school, I would grow up feeling like I was a seriously dejected human being.
• Been upfront about money problems when there were some instead of hiding it from me until college and then forcing me to get a job that nearly killed me multiple times to help them make ends meet.
• Empowered me to learn how to do really basic things like use a knife, load a dishwasher, drive, and do laundry without making me feel like I was going to die at any second if I did them wrong.
• Relaxed more and worried less.
• Not approached problems by entering my room, closing the door, and sitting down on my bed to have a serious talk with me.

And many, many other things.
posted by patronuscharms at 2:01 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Oh, I also wish my parents hadn't had such puritanical and judgmental views about sex.
posted by patronuscharms at 2:02 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

My parents were terrible parents BUT they did one thing right. NO Television in the house!

We didn't own a TV and every Friday my siblings and I went to the library and we each took out the maximum books allowed.

I read so much when I was younger because I had nothing else to do (expecially when it was cold out)

It's practically impossible not to alllow your kids to watch TV-but it's definitely possible to encourage more reading!
posted by duddes02 at 2:05 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

My sister and I had an extremely close, open relationship with our mother -- except about sex. Not the mechanics of it, but actually having it. Our family wasn't particularly religious or conservative, but all she'd ever say about sex was No Sex Before Marriage, full stop; that sex outside marriage screws up girls emotionally, and worse, no exceptions. As a result, we knew we couldn't talk to her about sex, and anything that went with it, including contraception -- because that would mean we were having it.

As we grew older, we realized her oversensitivity had to be a result of her own experiences, and her experiences with our much-older half-siblings (her stepkids); so I empathize, but I can't forget her horrified, alienating reaction when she learned I was having sex at 18.
posted by changeling at 2:07 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't do too much for them.

Yesterday we had a glorious Mother's Day at our house. One of our adult children took the train from 7 hours away and made a surprise visit with an arm full of presents. The other made a charitable donation to an organization that provides clean water for third world children and sent a not how she wanted to help some children the same way her mother had helped her. It was such a sweet day.

My wife's best friend came over in the afternoon for a glass of wine. Her adult children are the same ages as ours. They depend on their mom to make their car and child care payments. Neither did anything for Mother's Day, even though they knew their mom had spent the week with her own terminally ill sister at the hospital. One of the daughters said that if mom "made some snacks" she and her boyfriend might come over.

The contrast was heartbreaking for all involved. My wife's friend did not understand how her kids could be so indifferent when she had "done everything" for them.
posted by LarryC at 2:29 PM on May 9, 2011 [7 favorites]

Your daughter is not your best friend. Not only is that way too much pressure to put on her, she needs you to model female friendships.

Don't ever bring a child into the world with a job to do. Motherhood is not going to make up for all the disappointments in your life.

If you have no one to discuss your problems with other than your child, you have no one to discuss your problems with. It is never, ever appropriate to unload about your romantic problems, trouble at work or fights with your mother to an eight year old.

Learn conflict resolution, and teach your daughter. Ideas like 'Never part on bad terms, you never know when it will be the last time' sound great. If you morph that into 'If we're arguing in the morning and its time to leave for school, we need to immediately settle the argument in my favour and never discuss it again', don't be surprised if your family turns into a mess of simmering resentments.

Understand that the hands-on parenting part is very brief, and you could spend forty or fifty years as an empty nester. You should have plans for that part of your life- friendships, hobbies, travel. The goal of parenting is for your kids to leave home, get jobs, have independent lives of their own. Don't act like thats a betrayal, and make them feel guilty for it.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 2:39 PM on May 9, 2011 [9 favorites]

My mom would constantly belittle herself and say how ugly she was. Then people would tell me how much I looked like her. That was tough on me. If my mom (who I thought was beautiful) was as awful looking as she said and I looked just like her, then I must be ugly too.

Don't make everything about you.

And in case you've forgotten, being a teenager sucks. Try to be understanding.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:46 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Could any of you say something like "If only mom had/had not done x, our relationship would have been so much better." Are you asking how the kids will like you more or are you asking how you can best help them turn out well? I guess maybe those two ideas are somewhat innately intertwined?

Anywho, on your question, I have a great relationship with my mother. We are very close and she did exactly what someone upthread suggested--gave my brother and I a home of unconditional love.

That said, something I wish she had done to help me as an adult is be more empowering. I don't think she "thought the worst" about my intentions on things like someone else staetd, but I do believe she never fully trusted me to know what was best for myself. (In fairness, as an Alpha type, this was her trait with most people not just her kids, lol). But her lack of confidence in my brother and I unfortunately did manifest itself in our adult lives, and trying to gain that confidence as an adult--when it really should be well-bloomed by adolescence--has been a hard road to tow. I always knew she thought I was smart and I got the grades and awards and whatnot to prove it. But when it came to understanding the world and feeling like I could make real decisions for myself in it (like what college to attend for instance), it was clear she thought she knew best.

Don't always know best (even when you think you do). Let your daughter know best sometimes. Let her feel like her opinion is just as worthy as yours (within reason). Empower her now so you won't begrudge her lack of confidence and inability to make decisions and whatnot later.

Great question!
posted by GeniPalm at 3:06 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

- Having no father would have been better than having the awful demented one I had around. Sending me to live with relatives or friends would have been better than living with you and him. Just because you have decided to live your life in crazy land with the devil doesn't mean your children should have to as well. Get them out, be it with you or not.

- No making up rules and arbitrarily allowing/disallowing things just to assert your authority, for example: "No, you cannot go to a movie now even though you did your homework and I said yesterday you could. No reason, you must learn to obey me."
posted by meepmeow at 3:23 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Two things:
1 - Don't say to your son, "you can do anything and be anything. As long as you're happy, I'm happy". Tell him what path you would like him to take in life. Even if you think its not something he would want to do.

2 - Tell your husband to quit smoking and go see a doctor and get a chest xray - like NOW. Not in 5 years when its too late. Kids need BOTH their parents to be around for more than the first 5 years of their life. Remember to take good care of yourself too.
posted by robotot at 3:24 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

A few things, that haven't been covered.

If you notice me doing/not doing something on a regular basis, despite being told repeatedly that I should do it, and why I should do it, find out why I am not doing it, rather than punishing me/yelling at me/scolding me. (I didn't wash my face or brush my teeth consistently as a child because doing both could randomly hurt. Turns out I had Trigeminal Neuralgia, even at a very young age, and doing those things triggered pain attacks.)

Encourage me to do well in school, but don't tie my self worth to grades. Because if you only disprove, and not encourage, I will have a mental break down the first time I fail a class in college. (Well, I did.)

Don't implement new rules very late in my life. (Don't create a hard and fast bedtime and lights out when I turn 14, when I never had one before.)

Do not take away the things I love as punishment for bad grades or miss-behavior. Find other ways to punish that will not lead to anxiety at telling you any small bit of bad news. (My parents would take away my tv - THE WHOLE TV - or a favorite toy or something when I did badly. I developed issues where I would deprive myself of food or social contact when I thought I had done something wrong to punish myself.)

Don't hide medical problems from me. Either about you, or about anyone in my family, including you. (One of the things that drives me nuts now as an adult is finding something wrong with myself - say anxiety, or nerve pain - and finding out after I've gotten a diagnosis that my parents have it, and never told me. Also, if you are sick, don't hide it from me. Especially if you are REALLY sick. That is frightening enough as a child without knowing what is really going on.)

Please, encourage me to meet many new types of people. Don't shield me from people who are weird, or strange. Show me that they exist. (My parents used to take me to places most parents would never take their kids - like to the hippie lady who did pottery classes, or to music classes, and they never shied from introducing me to their friends. My mother used to take me to the Pride parades in the park every summer.)

Please, take me places that are interesting. Not just zoos or museums, but weird junk stores and novelty stores and bike shops and poster stores. And weird neighborhoods. (My favorite places growing up were a fish store, an adult novelty balloon store, and an old book store. I also think I went to my first head shop before I was 12. I had no idea what it was.)

Please, don't hide the world from me. I will find out about drugs, sex, alcohol, and all of these things. If I think they are things that aren't exciting, I will not be as tempted to do them before I am ready. (My parents let me watch R rated movies growing up. I knew what sex was, I knew what drugs were, and I knew the world wasn't a very nice place. But they also explained a lot of things to me, when I didn't understand them, and I thank them for that. They never hid that same sex couples exist, or that sex was fun, or that they drank or smoked before I was born.)
posted by strixus at 3:39 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Don't guilt trip me with "I brought you into this world, I gave you your life" to get your way every time we have a disagreement. I didn't ask to be here.

Don't threaten to lock me out of the house or abandon me while we're out. It will be terrifying for me when I'm little enough to believe you, but my heart will break once I get big enough to realize that you'd be cruel enough to bluff about it.

Don't blame me for making you lose your temper. I'm just a kid, I don't have an adult's ability to stay calm and be reasonable when I'm upset. Neither do you, apparently.

Don't assume I'm being a lazy and ungrateful brat when I'm ten years old and don't want to do anything but sleep. I'm severely depressed and having obsessive thoughts of suicide. If it wasn't for my little sister, I might have tried something.

Don't ridicule me when I'm twelve years old, unbearably awkward, and trying to feel somewhat pretty by experimenting with a little bit of makeup. You're supposed to tell me I'm beautiful even when I feel like a troll.

Don't enable my dad's alcoholism and defend his drunken behavior. He'll say and do things that I will never, ever forget. I will never again be able to feel completely safe and relaxed in his presence.

When I am a kid, I'm not going to know how to defend myself about these things. You wouldn't have listened anyhow. But that doesn't mean I'll forget. When I'm an adult and I bring these things up, don't pretend you don't remember any of it.

The fact that you meant well won't reverse all those years of pain.

I will forgive you.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:42 PM on May 9, 2011 [7 favorites]

Don't beg and cajole your child to tell you what they're really feeling, only so you can berate them for why they're wrong and don't deserve to feel that way.

Don't hit them because you're in a bad mood and hate your life.

Don't look for opportunities to ridicule them, put them down, and make them feel inadequate.

Don't punish them for not being good at housework when they're seven.

Don't give them the silent treatment when they say things that hurt your feelings.

Don't disown them, especially not when they're adolescents.

But all that sounds pretty simple and obvious now that I think about it. So here's what I'm going to try to do if I ever reach a place where I'm ready to have my own children:

Don't think they're the answer to your search for fulfillment -- that comes first. Keep your grown-up problems to yourself. Allow them to focus on their kid problems and treat these with the seriousness they deserve. Never let them forget you think they're the best kid ever. Do fun things a lot. And try to be patient and kind, even when you're tired.
posted by crackingdes at 3:46 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

- Please, mom _or_ dad, don't use me to complain about the other spouse (dad or mom).
When I'm 12-15, it might seem like I'm more mature than most other adults, but that doesn't mean I'm your age, your friend, your therapist, or a wall to bounce your gripes off of. Talk to _each other_, not to me.

- Keep religion out of it as much as possible until I can make my own choices. Don't act surprised when, after years of being "the most Christian person you know", I make a decision, a life choice, to no longer follow your version of how the world works.

- If I end up making that kind of decision, treat it like an adult decision, and don't dismiss it either as me "growing up" or as if it was a way for me to personally rebel against -you-. Even if it wasn't before, now it -does- factor in, especially after you yelled and screamed at me, dragged me to church, then sought to reprimand me on my behavior towards other patrons.

- Try not to bitch, make snide remarks, complain, laugh at, and otherwise gossip about people you had to deal with during the day. Just because my relatives said something bad to you, doesn't mean I should think of them so horribly. Now I can't look at my relatives without feeling "better" than them, to some degree.
posted by DisreputableDog at 3:54 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

A lot of people in this thread have mentioned food and body issues -- I think that this might be one of the hardest things for a well-meaning mother to overcome with her daughter, since it can be so ingrained in women that we don't even know we're teaching it. I know it's something that I'll have to look out for in my own parenting.

My parents never said anything negative about a woman's looks. If there was a trait about myself that I disliked, they would point out beautiful women who shared the trait. For example, I hated that I was tall and strongly built instead of delicate and willowy. So whenever Lynda Carter showed up on TV they would exclaim about how much she looked like me and that we were both gorgeous.

Yeah, I would roll my eyes, and I still spent my teens wishing I could look tragically fragile in flimsy sun dresses, but their comments did make a positive difference in the long run.

In contrast, my father's mother seems to believe that a woman's number one job is to be beautiful. She herself looked like a red-headed Lauren Bacall when she was young, and it's painfully obvious that she hates herself now that she's in her seventies and doesn't consider herself beautiful anymore. Ever since I was little, she showed disappointment in my looks and she still seems disgusted that her only granddaughter is not thin and beautiful. I know she's unaware that she is like this, but it hurt a lot when I was younger and I eventually just grew tired of her crap.

So now my mom is my best friend and I greatly appreciate all the effort she put into raising me, and I forgive her mistakes because I've never had to doubt her love. As for my grandmother, I haven't spoken to her since my wedding and I feel better off without her.

Good luck!
posted by Toothless Willy at 4:08 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't think it's ok to berate, ridicule, or ignore your child just because they are 4 years old and 'won't remember the incident'. Some people have surprisingly long memories.
posted by fix at 4:13 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, one more thing. Accept that I have a different way of grieving about your mother, and my grandmother, approaching death and senility. Do not think I am a bad child because I do not call her every week like you do. I already have accepted she isn't the woman I remember from even five years ago any longer. And I accept that you haven't.

TL;DR: Accept that I am a very different person than you, 9 times out of 10. But that 10th time I still thank you for, every day.
posted by strixus at 4:14 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

It dawned on me a few years ago that my own mother rarely talks shit about other women. Or if she does criticize women, she criticizes them in the same way she criticizes men. She never ever spoke ill of another woman's body, relationships, or sexuality. To be fair, my dad rolls the same way, but it's very powerful to have a mother who is a role model against the notion that all women want to tear each other down. I've never understood this idea that women innately hate each other, probably because I never got that vibe from the first woman I ever knew.
posted by mostly vowels at 4:15 PM on May 9, 2011 [12 favorites]

I want to reiterate what nerdfish said: My mom always had her own career, always had her own friends, always had her own exciting adventures. I was clearly an important and well-loved part of her life, but she did not "live for me", nor was having a child her crowing accomplishment, or being a Mom her sole identity. I am so PROFOUNDLY grateful to her for that, because basically I know that she'll accept whatever path my life takes me, as long as I'm happy and self-sufficient. What an empowering gift to give your children.
posted by mostly vowels at 4:33 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

My mom and I have a complicated relationship, but some things that she did totally right was:

1. Make me do chores, early. I was doing my own laundry (under her supervision) in elementary school and was doing it on my own by fourth grade. If I didn't have clean clothes or matching socks, it was my own fault.

2. Taught me to swim at a very young age. Sound stupid, but I have a friend who can't swim and is terrified of water, and feels bad she can't teach her own daughter how.

3. Talked about sex early and often. The more you talk about sex, the more she's going to think about you when the subject comes up. When she's mature enough not to be completely skeeved out by the idea, she'll be mature enough for sex.

4. The day before I went to college, she sat me down and we had a very awkward conversation in which she said it was okay if I was a lesbian and if I wasn't a lesbian, that if I got pregnant in college, she'd want me to get an abortion (and then told me to go on birth control).

One thing I would recommend:
Do not smoke. Do not smoke. Do not smoke. Your kid will try to smoke if you do. Do not do this.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:40 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding these:
1. Have a life.
2. Don’t treat your daughter like a friend or confidant.

And adding:
3. Yet, paradoxically, DON’T LIE TO YOUR KIDS OR HIDE FAMILY DRAMA. THEY ALWAYS FIND OUT. It’s so much worse when you think everything’s normal, or the reason why mom and dad are fighting or big sis is crying is some lie your mom made up that wasn’t even close to the truth. This destroys your childrens trust in you and your family unit. Always tell the truth about important things, especially terrible or embarrassing things. Your kids will find out. You don’t have to tell it in a personal, emotional way, or even tell the whole truth, but get some form of the partial truth out there and DON’T LIE AND HIDE, especially in response to direct questioning. The truth is a great gift to give your kids.
4. Remember to actually teach your kids things, especially small practical things like using the dishwasher and oven. Take the time to teach them how to drive, how to pay bills, how to use a credit card. Talk to them about sex. My parents were horrifically bad about this. They never had the sex talk with me- I looked ‘sex’ up in the dictionary in third grade, and then was scolded for knowing what it was. They never had time to teach me how to drive. My dad tried to teach me how to drive stick exactly twice, and was terrible about it, and wouldn’t just teach me standard first like I asked. This caused tears. Neither of them taught me how to cook or do laundry. They literally just never talked about it or were too busy with their own drama to remember I wasn’t born knowing how to do things. This led to a lot of me either learning how to swim by jumping in the deep end, or avoiding things altogether. Not good. Kids don’t learn this in school these days- there’s no home ec or whatever.
posted by Nixy at 4:51 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

A few people have mentioned not restricting food, and I have to disagree with that just a bit. You should differentiate between food and occasional treats.

When I was a kid, my parents didn't keep soda or junk food (chips, pre-packaged cakes, candy, etc.) in the house. My parents never explicitly told me I couldn't have these things. We'd even occasionally get them as a treat (root beer floats with my dad, a donut on Sunday, candy at holidays). But keeping these foodstuffs out of our house greatly influenced my food choices as an adult. I don't have a problem refusing junk food, I don't drink four or five cans of soda a day, and find myself nearly immune impulse buying at the store - behaviors I see in a lot of my peers who grew up with junk food in the house.

And, especially with the candy for holidays, I knew it would be a while before I got more, so I had to teach myself moderation. It started with my mom doling our Halloween candy into separate envelopes, one for each day or couple of days, and transitioned into me doing it myself when I was old enough. Moderation is a great tool to teach your child.

Some other points:
* Keep the house in order so your child is comfortable bringing their friends over - and encourage them to do so.
* Admit your mistakes and encourage your children to do the same, even in situations where lying seems easier. Telling the truth is always the best policy.
* Teach them even the simple things - cooking (even in the microwave), cleaning, laundry, sewing, how to change a tire, whatever. I'm appalled at how many friends of mine can't do these things for themselves. (On preview, what Nixy said.)

I want to say something about bullying, but am having a hard time finding the words. I feel that's the one major area in which my parents (love them both!) could have done better raising me. My mother's advice was to ignore them, but that really made it worse.

When I came home and asked for a particular jacket or a pair of shoes (because that's what the popular kids had), I was told not to focus on something so materialistic. That's true, but having the cool jacket might have prevented that boy from telling me my jacket looked like it had dog fur on it and that I must be a bitch because I looked like a dog.

At the same time, conceding all the time could turn your kids into brats that don't know how to work for anything. I suppose it's about instilling self confidence, but I feel like I had that at home and lacked it in social situations. *sigh* I don't know what the right answer is - maybe someone else here has better input.
posted by youngergirl44 at 5:02 PM on May 9, 2011

"Please don't constantly tell me that I would be pretty if I would only lose weight."
posted by Foam Pants at 5:08 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Giving your child the simple luxury of your respect for their own private space. Knock before entering their bedroom, even from a young age. Respect a closed bathroom door, a desk space, a tentatively expressed opinion. Don't read your daughter's diary.

Also, eat together at a kitchen/dining table - not in front of TV. Involve your children in food creation and table setting. Let food and its creation be a blessing and joy in your home. Encourage tasting, let your child participate in food creation - say, growing vegetables, tossing the salad, making lemonade etc. It is okay for people at the table not to eat everything on their plate. Or to dislike certain foods.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:37 PM on May 9, 2011 [8 favorites]

This is a small thing... but give your kids responsibilities. I mean things like contributing to the household chores. Going to the grocery store. Taking the car to get its oil changed. Don't overload them, but teach them that these are things that have to be done and they should get into the habit, and also how to do them.

Teach good study habits early, even if they're bright enough to skate by without studying. If school isn't challenging enough to offer opportunities for home study, invent some--maybe learning a foreign language, for example.

I was sick through a lot of my teenaged years and as a result my mom coddled me a little bit too much, and I didn't learn how to do some basic things. When I moved out I was baffled by some basic daily tasks. Nothing major, but it caused some anxiety, because I felt nervous about looking like a fool. And it's been a struggle to learn me the discipline I didn't learn as a kid.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:53 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

My mother, also known as the egg donor, was a junkie who abandoned me. So try not to do that. I've spent so much time and emotional energy wondering what it would be like to have a mother. And odds are that my life would've been even more difficult with her in it. But rationalizing doesn't get rid of the void.
posted by mokeydraws at 6:58 PM on May 9, 2011

Your daughter may very well be told she is pretty by a lot of people. She may have a lot of attention paid to her physical appearance. Depending on what your relatives are like, she may actually hear people tell her things like, "Oh, you don't need to worry, because you are pretty enough you can just marry whatever rich doctor you want one day" or maybe "you should model. why don't you model? haven't you thought of modeling? it's such a waste that you don't model." Even if she doesn't hear this from her family, she will probably hear it from others, including her peers.

And assuming she ever wants to do something with her life that doesn't involve a marriage of convenience or smiling in front of the camera, you NEED to let her know that there is so much more she can do than just sitting around being a pretty face. Being constantly told that her entire worth depends on her physical appearance will have a huge impact on her romantic relationships, career, body image, and self-confidence.

Despite what some people think, constantly having positive attention on your attractiveness is not really a good thing, especially if it tends to push out other feedback.
posted by sock puppet of mystery! at 7:02 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

We might be poor, but don't make me feel guilty whenever I need new shoes or clothes, or ask for some penny sweets from the corner shop. If you do, I will end up with issues with money and buying things in adulthood.

When I start skipping school, find out why. I will be miserable there and a fresh start might be better than going to the nearest school.

Do more to keep an eye on my health. I ended up half blind because a bad eye was not caught until I was halfway through my second year of school.
posted by daysocks at 7:54 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

As a mother, be responsible for your own happiness and actively work to be happy. Don't play the victim of your boss/ex/circumstances/parents/children. The point is to teach me that I, also, am responsible for my own happiness.

On a related note, don't encourage me to think of myself as a victim and continually prompt me to feel put upon by my husband/father/boss in the hopes that you and I will bond by lamenting our victimhood.
posted by Knowyournuts at 8:05 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is more coming from my experience as a kid-therapist, honestly, but:

For every ONE critical statement you give, you need to give SEVEN praise statements to a kid. That's how much impact a single criticism has.
posted by so_gracefully at 8:24 PM on May 9, 2011 [7 favorites]

Don't be an alcoholic.

Don't make your child fear you.

Be there physically and mentally. There's no such thing as benign neglect in child rearing.
posted by deborah at 9:49 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

One thing I haven't noticed here. To make a daughter's teenage years easier, do not ever speak about her body in her hearing to others, even (especially) family members, i.e. grandma, aunt, sister-in-law.

So many Thanksgivings and Christmases I would be sitting in the living room with my cousins and I would hear, floating from the kitchen, "She's just so busty! She can't find shirts that fit right... We don't know where she gets it from!" Which lead, of course to the classic "Moom!" At which point I would be told to watch my attitude.

So much humiliation could have been avoided... Even if you're genuinely worried or proud or just wanting to share your family life-- don't. Avoid it. Your daughter will be perfectly aware that her breasts are larger (or her acne worse, or her tummy chubbier, or whatever) than other girls her age, and talking about it will only make that self-consciousness worse.
posted by lockstitch at 10:09 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

- Let your children help make their own rules. If you have to tell your child "no," don't just say no, tell them why not. "Because I said so" is not an acceptable answer. Help them learn to make responsible choices.

- I read once that 75% of conversations that parents have with their small children are corrections of their behavior. Don't be that parent. Talk to your kids, don't treat them like adults, but treat them like people. Besides, they have interesting things to say.

- Take an interest in your child's education, help them keep up with everything, but don't nag. nagging doesn't help.

- Be one of those family's that does things together. Have dinner together each night. Cook it together, even. Let your kids eat what you eat. Do art projects, sports, traveling, whatever it is, together. Be silly together. When the house needs a big clean up, clean it together.

(These are actually almost all things my parents did right. No one's perfect, but I had and have a wonderful relationship with my family. I'm my own independent person now, but I still want to be just like them in a lot of ways)
posted by one little who at 10:13 PM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

I love my parents and have a good relationship with them. They did many things right: first and foremost, I always knew they loved me and would be there for me no matter what.

However, I do wish they had taught me that although it is good to be considerate of other people's feelings and needs, it is important to recognize the times when it's necessary to put my own needs first. It's not selfish (in a bad way); it's healthy. In other words--it's important to teach children that there are times when it is OK/necessary to say no.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:08 PM on May 9, 2011

Stop apologising for yourself - you're awesome.
posted by greenish at 3:16 AM on May 10, 2011

One more, then I'll be quiet. Honor your daughters feelings about people and events. Take them seriously.

I played softball for a couple of years in early grade school. I hated it because the coach made me incredibly uncomfortable - comments about how cute I was, soliciting hugs and being so overly friendly that my kid radar was dinging madly. My mother (and father's response, to be fair) was to tell me that he was just being "nice" and that I was overreacting. Well this "nice" guy was quietly removed from coaching girl's softball several years later.

My mother said this about a lot of things I reacted to - my feelings were never "appropriate".
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 3:32 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Food has been mentioned a good few times, but I'd say the same about money: if your relationship to money is to keep a budget and plan and be realistic about your means and needs, this is going to be amazingly helpful to your child's own relationship to money and also how they see you financially when they're becoming a separate adult. This was more my father's role in my family, and I'd like to have learned about it from both of them, that it's a skill every adult has to learn and use.

A thing that I can see was great, now that I'm an adult and know that it wasn't a universal experience, is being praised for hard work and critical thinking rather than for grades or awards. It makes it a lot easier to approach things I'm naturally good at and things I find hard with equal effort, rather than thinking "oh, I'm a creative person, I can't be good at _____" and using that as a cop out.

I have a really good relationship with my mum (I'm in my late 20s) and now that I'm an adult, feeling like I know her honestly as a person makes that easy - I've met her friends, I know her hobbies, I know who and what frustrates her and why she tries to be patient with some people in spite of this, and I know that she deals with mistakes by owning them and apologising and trying to make amends. In return, she also deals with me as the person I am, even though I'm not the same as her. She talks to me when she's frustrated about work or friends, and she lets me do the same without trying to counter everything with a solution when she can see I just need to vent. Support and acceptance and honesty are amazing, great things.
posted by carbide at 3:56 AM on May 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for this input. I honestly can't choose a best answer because I've learned something from every single one. One thing I've learned is that it's not that hard to be good parent. It's amazing how obvious some of these comments are. You mean I shouldn't be a junkie and hit my kid and tell her she's fat? No disrespect at all for people who went through this. It's just a constant revelation to me what people are subjected to, and then they still turn out to be decent, strong people who try hard and care about themselves and others. Another thing I've learned is that I'm doing OK! I think I do many of the things people are suggesting moms do and I avoid many of the things it's best to avoid. Phew!

I think, for me, the advice I'll take away is to relax more and worry less, and to always try to assume good intentions on the part of the kid. That's so hard when you've told her for the fifth time to stop petting the fish, it needs to go back in the tank. Surely, she's just messing with me because she sees I'm about to pass out from fatigue and as soon as I do she'll steal my wallet and car keys and be out of here! No, that's probably not why. She's probably just curious and that fish is way too shiny. Anyway, please comment more if you have more to say. This is a thread I'll read and re-read as my daughter grows and our relationship changes.
posted by staggering termagant at 4:46 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had really great parents, and now, in my mid-20s, I have a great relationship with them. They did a whole lot of things right - and made mistakes, but they're only human, and the mistakes are completely outweighed by the good stuff, so I don't mind them. The most important thing they did was tell my sister and me constantly that we were so important to them, that they loved us SO MUCH, that they were so proud of the good human beings we were, and that they loved being around us. They said it so much (and acted accordingly) that it was impossible for us to doubt that they really, really meant it. I don't think I have had a moment of doubt about their love for me in my whole life. They encouraged us to follow our interests and never once tried to force us to take on activities/courses of study/hobbies that THEY liked. They created a healthy family culture - healthy home-cooked food, lots of time outdoors, no television, lots of books and music - but didn't worry if we ate unhealthy food sometimes or sat around playing video games at a friend's house or something like that.

Oh, and lastly: they brought us to a very open-minded Unitarian Universalist church as young children, but didn't insist that we went. Neither of them EVER told us (until we asked, as older teens or adults) what their religious beliefs were, nor did they ask us about ours. They ONLY required that we be kind people. Both of them had some sort of "mild" prejudices towards certain groups which, I am very proud to say, they seem to have acknowledged and then given up over time.
posted by Cygnet at 5:43 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I saw several comments on what to teach your kids, and I don't think it's possible to teach them EVERYTHING they need to know; I've known competent international travelers and money managers who are puzzled by laundry; good cooks who don't know how to buy a train ticket; fix-it gals who don't understand credit scores; etc. Teach your kids what you can, and what seems important ... and then be available for them to call when they move out at 18 or 22 or whatever and say, "Mom, my A/C isn't working, what do I do?" "Google for HVAC, sweetie, and call the HVAC guy." Or, as needed, "Wow, I don't have any idea, but here's $5 and the address for ask.metafilter.com ..." ;)

Parental knowledge and experience of the adult world becomes so important when you are out on your own, things come up, and it's good to have a trusted person on your side you can ask for help. If they can always come to you growing up, and you help them solve their problems but don't do it FOR them, they'll probably keep coming to you for advice as they launch into independence. It's saved me a lot of expensive mistakes!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:46 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

carbide brought up money; I have something to add to that.

...Fix your own relationship with money, if you think you have issues. It's one thing to teach your kid the value of a dollar. It's quite another to be so fearful around the subject of money and anxious about trying to save it, that what your kid learns about the value of a dollar is that it's higher than the value of her own happiness.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:15 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

My mother did a lot of things right and a few things wrong, but one thing that really sticks out as something she taught me well is interpersonal skills. My mother is a people person, and though for many years I felt that I was introverted and not good with people, I soon realized that this was just in comparison to my mother.

There were many days when I was a child that I was annoyed with my mother for making me do something that pushed me out of my comfort zone, when it came to interactions with people, but ultimately these skills are essential in the adult world.

For example, how to request something from people, in a way that makes it likely that they'll say yes. How to get someone to be on your side, willing to do a little bit extra for you. If you feel that someone has it in for you, how to take a deep breath, and nip the conflict in the bud, by apologizing if necessary -- be the bigger person! How to schedule events -- follow through, follow through, follow through. I heard this all the time when I was a kid, and I would roll my eyes, but after seeing how many of my friends' events were poorly attended or fell apart because of lack of planning and reminders, I am grateful for her advice. How to apologize sincerely. How to write good letters. How to deal with authority figures, in a way that is not too defensive or too antagonistic -- an essential skill for getting out of trouble with the least amount of damage. Finally, in her relationship with my father, she modeled perfectly the kind of relationship I would want to have with a man -- someone who had my back and treated me with the utmost respect. I've been in three committed relationships so far, and while two of them didn't work for various reasons, it's never been because the guy was in any way a jerk to me. I have this built-in jerk-o-meter, because I can always think to myself, would my mother tolerate this?
posted by peacheater at 8:36 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Please, please, PLEASE take good care of your health. It will save me so much anxiety and fear in life.

Also, drink less.
posted by corn_bread at 9:09 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Be consistent with your rules and your enforcement of the rules. Even if the rule itself is arguably fair - be consistent with it, from child to child, and from situation to situation.
posted by pluot at 10:00 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Expose your child safely to many different kinds of ideas. Rodeo's and Hippie feasts both have value, but they teach very different lessons. If a parent only shows a child one way to live/one set of values, the child will grow to hate and resent it later
posted by becomingly at 11:30 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, never say "She's Shy" as an excuse for being rude, or not saying hello. Social skills have helped me out a lot as an adult and your child will thank you later
posted by becomingly at 11:32 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

1. Don't push religion on me.

2. Don't worry, fret and rage so damned much. It's going to screw you up, and screw us up too. Please lighten up and enjoy a few vices. We're going to like you best when you're loose and happy.
posted by Decani at 11:34 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Another thing my parents did really, really wrong was constantly judging my friends. I can understand parents worrying if their kids start hanging out with a bad crowd or if one friend is proving to be a bad influence, but my parents disliked all of my friends by default. Their dislike stemmed from rather extreme paranoia. For example, if I went to to mall with a couple of girlfriends, we would be mistaken for a gang, or one of them would shoplift, and we would all be arrested and my life would be ruined forever. Or if I wanted a friend to sleep over at our house, she might accuse my dad of molesting her and my dad would go to jail and all of our lives would be ruined forever. My parents made outlandishly insulting judgments and assumptions about my friends at every opportunity as an attempt to keep me from trusting anyone else. When I defended my friends, my parents literally told me that I was too stupid to see that none of my friends truly cared about me, all of my friends were fakes and phonies, and that one day my friends would all betray me and I would finally understand that my parents were right all along.

This was toxic to me in so many ways. First, I totally lost respect for my parents' judgment. Their fear mongering about the Real World was so crazy ridiculous that I no longer trusted them to know what was good or bad for me. Second, their judgment of my friends was just as much a judgment on me. If I like these bad people, then I must also be bad, or stupid. And their insistence on keeping me at a distance from the people who made me happy and feel good about myself (as a stark contrast to my parents, who made me feel alone and miserable), only reinforced that my parents had no clue what was good for me. Third, their attempts to actively sabotage all of my friendships really hurt my self-esteem. It really hurt when my friends stopped inviting me out because I could never go anyway. At school they'd talk about how much fun they all had doing this or that, and making new plans to hang out, and I'd have nothing to say about it. I missed out on a lot of healthy bonding experiences and fell way behind in learning to be comfortable in new social situations. Finally, my parents really only succeeded in further endangering my life since I learned to tell them as little as possible about my friends, lest they use the information as future ammunition. When I got older, I started lying to them about where I was going and who I was with. If I ever did get into real trouble, my parents would've had no idea what or who or where.

OP, I know this and my other post sound a bit out there, and I don't think any mother who would ask your question in the first place will end up being like my parents, but my parents honestly thought they were doing an A+ job of raising me "the right way." I guess what I'm saying is, the continuum between being a really terrific parent, and the kind of parent whose kids end up starved to death while locked in a closet, is enormously vast. There are all kinds of parents in between, a lot of them doing their best and fucking up anyway. Many fuck ups are totally forgivable, some aren't, and it all looks completely different depending on where you're standing. I believe that if my parents had put down their pride for just one moment, stepped back, and tried out some other perspectives, they might have done a few things better. This thread is a treasure trove of healthy perspectives. Great AskMe.
posted by keep it under cover at 12:10 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

If your child turns out to be gay, please PLEASE PLEASE don't judge them, tell them how much God hates them or how they're going to burn in hell for all eternity unless they change. Please do not kick them out of the house, threaten to tell their friends and teachers or send them to re-education camps.

Thousands of gay children have killed themselves because of treatment like this.
posted by Avenger at 6:50 AM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

First - and this is important - I have to agree wholeheartedly with everyone who has said to get your body issues in check, particularly if you have girls, but hell, I know a 15-year-old boy who is skinny but seems to have inherited his mother and/or older sister's body image issues. He constantly calls himself fat and threatens to stop eating if girls don't think he's good-looking (which he is). Please make food a non-issue, but do teach them basic nutrition so they'll know what to do. Do not put them on a "diet". Intentional self-deprivation is not a concept for children. Do not teach them to count calories. Never put your own self down in front of your kids or they will learn to judge and mistrust themselves as their default setting. Demonstrate self-confidence and self-love. Help them realize (and continue to remind them) that they are an awesome and unique and cool kid whose head should be held high. A girl dumps your teenage son? "I'm sorry honey - her loss!". His grades are suffering? "This just doesn't seem like you, you're so smart, is there a particular problem you're having in that class? Something I could help you with, or we could research together?"

Secondly - and this is even more important - DON'T teach them to blindly trust/obey all adults and/or authority figures. Take this from a victim of abuse by several different authority figures. Teach them to trust their feelings about people and teach them no one should touch them in places no one should touch them. Don't assume that no one in your home could ever be a predator (this goes for anyone works in your home in any capacity, and unfortunately sometimes family members). This would have completely changed my life and saved me from horrific abuse, so I figured I should pass it along.

Don't stop praising your child for doing well at specific things they're good at just because you're used to it.

Don't send your kid to timeout without telling them when they can come out, while threatening that if the child asks or talks, timeout will be extended. That's unfair, and feels like abandonment. Give them a timer so they can think about what they did instead of worry you're never coming back for them.

Do not spank. Do not threaten physical/corporal punishment or public humiliation.

Play with your kids. I longed for a parent to play with me, at home, at the beach and everywhere. They never would.

If your young child has an extremely adverse reaction to being around a specific adult, don't ignore it. It's probably something.

Don't praise your child for things over which they have no control, such as being "popular". That gives kids fucked up values, and what if they move from middle school to high school and aren't so popular anymore? Or what if a younger sibling isn't considered "popular" but has heard you praise the older sibling for it? Don't treat it like a virtue, because their friends already do, and that's a lot of pressure. Praise them for making good decisions, choosing good friends, following through on things they say they'll do, for being kind, etc.

Let them try things and let them quit things, but encourage them to give it a real chance.

Tell them you love them every day. Love them every day.
posted by jitterbug perfume at 11:09 AM on July 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

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