Help us not screw up our childrearing
July 25, 2011 5:28 PM   Subscribe

Are you a person with an excellent relationship with your parents? Or perhaps you are a parent with an excellent relationship with your kid(s)? Care to share?

My daughter is 5, my son is 2.5. What should my husband and I be doing now, and in later years, to ensure we have an excellent relationship with our kids during their tweens, teens and beyond? Thanks everyone!
posted by hollyanderbody to Human Relations (47 answers total) 103 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I am 45 and my mother is 79. One of the things that made our relationship much stronger is when she apologized for a mistake she had made when I was a teenager. This was years later, but it was very important to me.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 5:39 PM on July 25, 2011 [7 favorites]

I think I have a good relationship with my parents (in my 30s, parents in their 70s). My mom has always said that backing each other up in parenting and presenting a united front was essential. I don't remember a time when any of my brothers and sisters ever tried to play one parent against another; it just wasn't gonna happen.
posted by cabingirl at 5:41 PM on July 25, 2011

Let them make mistakes.

Teach them to clean up after themselves.

Teach them that they're special, but not any more special than anyone else.

Don't sacrifice your personhood to them, or they'll be expecting other people to do that for them for all their lives.

My parents did all these things right, and I'll never stop being grateful.
posted by Corvid at 5:44 PM on July 25, 2011 [11 favorites]

My dad taught me that apologising when you're wrong is something to be proud of, not ashamed of. His interactions with me - whatever their flaws - have always been characterised by intellectual curiousity, imagination, integrity and generosity that continues to humble me.

I think, if you can be a person you would admire, you kids would admire that too.
posted by smoke at 5:49 PM on July 25, 2011 [11 favorites]

Love your child more than your desire for control or need to be right. This applies much more to older children and adult children, but I find most strained relationships caused by parents usually involve some inability to do this.

Also, apologize to them when you're an ass. Own up to it. So many parents just never apologize to their kids it's sad. Children are incredibly forgiving creatures, but they also crave justice. A little goes a long way.

And finally, make them active participants in your family. Don't parentalize them of course, but treat them like humans. Children might be pre-adult, but they don't have to grow up to be human.
posted by milarepa at 5:50 PM on July 25, 2011 [17 favorites]

Spend time with them. Apologise when you make mistakes. Acknowledge when they are trying to do something and getting better at it -- don't just notice the parts still not done. (Cleaning up, say.) Mostly, spend time with them.

Also, don't expect to have a good relationship the entire time, if by good you mean happy and friendly. Teenagers can be teenagers -- they will grow up.
posted by jeather at 5:50 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't talk down to them, talk with them. Don't tell them you don't have time to answer a question, no matter how insignificant it may seem.

Have your own life; don't make them the center of the universe. You won't be doing society or them any favors if you do. It's good for them to see you enjoying things other than them.

Let them make mistakes and help them learn from them. Don't shelter them to the point that they're paralyzed by decision-making when they leave for college.
posted by cooker girl at 5:57 PM on July 25, 2011

I'm 28. I have a wonderful relationship with my mother and step-father. Not only do I respect them and love them, I consider them both friends. In fact, my mother and I are planning a trip to India together. Despite having no actual desire to go to India, my step-dad may decide to join us because he doesn't want to be left out of all the fun. Because there will be fun. And philosophical discussions. And incredibly silly inside jokes. And exasperated arguments. And hugs and 'I love yous.' Yeah, my step-dad is SO gonna crack and come on the trip. Because it's going to be amazing.

So that's how things are now. Silly jokes and exasperated arguments and lots of hugs. My parents are the best. They tell me they think I'm pretty awesome too.

You cannot ensure you'll have and excellent relationship with them throughout their childhood. Seriously, some teenagers are just hormonally programmed to hate everyone. They can't help it. I certainly couldn't. My brain/emotions were a war zone. My mom tell me now that her mantra at the time was "It's worse for her than it is for me." You really never know. One of my oldest friends was diagnosed with severe OCD and borderline schizophrenic behaviors during puberty. Before that she and her parents were incredibly close. I think the feeling that they were "losing her" nearly killed her dad. They were, well, not close during her worst years. She loves them both deeply, though, and will tell anyone who asks what amazing wonderful parents she has. Her parents did the best they could, as did mine.

I think what I value most from my parents is that I never, not once, no matter how awful I'd been, thought to worry that they wouldn't love me anymore. They were always honest with me when I'd screwed up, whether or not I wanted to hear it, but they were very careful never to tie my "performance" to how they felt about me.
posted by JuliaIglesias at 5:59 PM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

I can tell you one thing: you can go too far trying to do everything 'right'. My mom (and my relationship with my mom) is great, but she was very focused on having me do and experience everything she valued (and often didn't get herself), and was quite driven. So driven that it was hard for me to really select my own activities or make my own mistakes. So yeah, let them figure out what they like and then support it, and let them not figure out what they like, and offer options.

I really did enjoy all the exposure to lots of culture and activities, though. My mom was my window into the world. She introduced me to lots of books, plays, movies, ideas. She talked to me like I was an adult (that is, never talked down to me), and actually listened to me sometimes (this is starting at age four, actually, in some ways). Intellectually, she always treated me as my own person, and that's been invaluable. Do not assume you know better than your kids, especially when they're teenagers, but even earlier. At age 10, sometimes I knew things about myself my mom didn't notice or pay enough attention to when making decisions. Adults have a way of dividing the world into 'adult' and 'child', and when push came to shove, my mom did that. Realize that kids may make their own mistakes and are perfectly fine learning from them, but mistakes our parents make-- in not paying attention to our desires/needs as expressed-- take years to forgive.

My favorite thing about my mom is that overall, she did-- and does-- value my input. Sometimes-- a lot of times-- she was really stubborn, and insisted she knew what I had to do. Honestly, that must be really tempting. I mean, there's homework, doctor's appointments, classes to get to, places to be and so on. But pick your battles, and make sure that everything does not become a battle. Control must be so very tempting, and letting go of it so very difficult. I can say that I appreciate some of the times my mom insisted 'for my own good', but most of our most insane conflicts were because of this push-and-pull, especially when I was a teenager (but even before). Especially in terms of beliefs or behavior that affects only themselves, err on the side of allowing your teenager freedom with support. In my case, it mostly translated into being able to read-- and think-- whatever I wanted, but that's a lot. No opinion was 'forbidden'. To this day, I can easily talk about anything with my mom, including politics, even though I'm a Progressive and she thinks Obama's an idiot and says positive things about Fox News. The foundation for that was laid when she not only let me watch tons of Star Trek in our studio apartment, but watched it with me. She even became a fan! She got me into mysteries, I got her into science fiction. She got me to the dentists' office, I got her to the fast food place later.

Even when they're little, respect your kids' intelligence and individuality and try to engage them in the world as much or more than simply protecting them from it. That's what my mom did for me.
posted by reenka at 6:01 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Children like to see their parents genuinely happy.

The well-being of yourself, your husband and your relationship is important. I know a lot of women who cease being a "woman" when they become a mom. Those who don't shine. Their children also seem to have a great sureness of themselves.

Let them play in dirt.

Roughhouse with them. Children need to know where their bodies end and the rest of the world begins. It also helps them to understand how to push back.

Also, step up and defend them if they are hurt by someone else. Kids need to see that a parent is willing to protect them.

If they have inquire about sex be honest and open with them. It's healthy and good. This may require some negotiation with your personal beliefs.

Seconding Looker Girl, literally. Get down to their level when you speak. Squatting or on your knees. While my parents did not do this I am forever grateful to Chuck Jones and company for making such cool cartoons that did.
posted by goalyeehah at 6:02 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

My Dad is in poor health, and has been in & out of the hospital ever since the day after Christmas this past year, when he had a heart attack in my brother's front yard & belly flopped on the ground.

Strangely enough, this has helped us grow closer as a family (parents are in their 60s, I, the youngest child, just turned 30). We talk about more stuff now, because I don't want my Dad to die, and then I hate myself for the rest of my life because I didn't have the courage to bring something up while he was still around to talk about it. We also don't argue near as much any more, because is it really & truly worth it? Do I want my memories of his last times alive to be full of unpleasantness, petty arguments, stupid stuff, etc.? Hell no.

/YMMV, etc.
posted by AMSBoethius at 6:06 PM on July 25, 2011

I am 26 and my parents are just in their sixties now. We have an excellent relationship. I'm not always sure what they did so well, but man, they did something really, really right.

Something I know they did well was to firmly establish that they are my parents, and not my friends. Are we buddies? Sure. But they never cared what I really thought of them - if I thought they were cool, if I wanted to hang out with them. They're my parents. And what that meant to me is...I will never disappoint them; they will always love me; there is nothing I can do that will ever change that. And they've proven that in a thousand ways, both small and big.

They never made me feel embarrassed about who I was. They still don't. After two and a half decades, I still can't remember a time where I didn't feel comfortable in front of them. Less than two weeks ago I showed up at their house and cried on their porch. They were cool about it. Even when I was very young, I wasn't picky or over-sensitive or just bitchy; to them, I was "finely-tuned" and "highly selective." Instead of teasing me for my oversensitivity, they helped me deal with it.

They didn't miss a chance to demonstrate that they trust me, even when I had failed them in the past. This isn't to say they trusted me blindly; they took precautions, at times. But on the whole, they thought that I was worthy of their trust. As an adult, now, that means a lot. And, even though they did/do trust me, they give me the space to fail. I've got a permanent safety net, and that lets me get out of my comfort zone.

They didn't ever burden me with their marital issues. In their 35 years together, I'm sure there have been a lot of problems, but I barely saw them. That was really a blessing - I never doubted my parents love for each other. It has been truly awesome to see them work on their relationship.

They were unabashed in their love for me. We are not hugely demonstrative people, but my parents never failed to show their love - in notes, in little presents, in hugs and good-night songs. They delight in me. It's nice.

So - love the heck out of your kids, and remember that they are the kids, and you are the parents. And love each other, as much as you can.
posted by punchtothehead at 6:17 PM on July 25, 2011 [11 favorites]

A couple things I'm glad my mom and dad did and makes our relationship easier now:

Force me to be independent. When I was 5 I couldn't have a dessert while out without buying it myself (parents money but I had to go up and ask for it and pay), when I was 8 if I didn't do my laundry I didn't have clean clothes. This progressed and literally was what allowed me to move to another country at 17 and survive on my own. I always knew I could ask them for help but they gave me confidence in myself. I feel like this is what allowed me to feel as a young adult and now adult that they weren't my minders but my supporters.
Another thing they did is let me be a kid/teen and all the bad behavior that comes with it. Loud parties were expected, some (relatively safe) shenanigans were tolerated as long as my shit was still together. Now that I'm an adult their attitude is pretty much that I have shown myself to be on track and they will support me even if I'm still not making the best decisions in their eyes. I think that you just have to realize that you are training your kids to be adults rather than moulding perfect children. They will soon have independence and be totally out of your control (maybe not quite as soon for the little one) and realizing early on that best for them in your eyes is not the same as what's actually best for them is key to maintaining a good relationship. Also good cooking.
posted by boobjob at 6:19 PM on July 25, 2011

Both my brother and I have a great relationship with our parents, which is awesome. While I had the normal rebellion teenage years, that didn't last long and didn't have much of an impact in the long term, despite the many "I-hate-you!" pronouncements I made to my mom. She was very cool about it, despite how horrible I was, which I'm eternally grateful for.

My parents set rules that were clear and reasonable, but also firm. We spent loads of time together as a family, and we kids had real input on our activities - like helping to plan for a vacation, rather then just being dragged along. They actively listened to our opinions or questions, and we were allowed to participate in conversations with other adults without being shooed away. From an early age, we were allowed to take on small but significant responsibilities (steering the boat to shore, being in charge of certain meals, doing grocery shopping, etc.). They showed that they trusted us with most things, despite us screwing up sometimes, which made us want to live up to their expectations.

We were allowed to be independent, to do the things we were interested in, to have different opinions, to follow our own path. Meanwhile, they were always there to offer support and encouragement, or consolation, depending on what was needed.

tl;dr - Listen to them, respect them, trust them. Let them have at lest some say over their own lives.
posted by gemmy at 6:47 PM on July 25, 2011

My parents are the best! I always, always know I'm loved. I think Jeather really said it well. I think my parents always encouraged me to "Find Out." When I was in the "Why-Why-Why" phase my mom would always say "I don't know, let's go to the library and find out." (Lucky you, you have google) And my dad always acted like my dreams for the the future were achievable, as long as I worked for them.

When I got a little older, I had things I did with my mom, and things I did with my dad, special time for just the two of us. I took Tae Kwon Do with my dad, and we were equals, and he was very good at treating me like an equal in that context. Mom was the parent I could be a little silly with, singing and dancing together.

They taught me to be independent. By the time I moved out I had almost all the life skills I needed. (Even if they had to drag me kicking and screaming at times because I'm an awful coward)

Goalyeehah also has a good point that it's good for you not to be Mom and Only Mom forever and ever amen. You are still a person with interests. And so is your husband. Your kids may want to get involved in those, or they might care less. My mom is in her late 50's now and she's just taken up Archery. I'm really proud of her and love to cheer her on. Let them be proud of you too.

And yeah, the teenage years were not the best between my mom and me. But now we're best friends, so hang in there when it's bad. It won't be forever.

Don't bring anger home from work, or between you and your husband to the kids. My teenaged years I thought my mom was angry at me all the time, but it turned out that she was still stressed out from work. I think that was a big factor in us not getting along when I was a teen.

But you know, if you're even thinking about this, odds are you're doing just fine as it is.
posted by Caravantea at 6:50 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had the good fortune to grow up on a family of unique individuals. We talked at the dinner table all the time about whatever - your viewpoint was heard and taken for what it was worth.

Only after gaining the perspective of hindsight did I realize how beneficial this was. You see, our parents loved us as we each needed it - unequally at times (depending on what each child needed at the time) but always unquestionably.

My parents were examples of their expectations for us: try anything you are interested in, learning happens by making mistakes and finding ways to do it differently next time, always do your best, leave things better than you found them, appreciate people for who they are. They treated us this way as well as others.

Most of all, they were calm and unwavering in their love for us even when we had done something wrong. As kids we never had to compete for love and security so that gave us freedom to find out who we were while knowing there was always someone in our corner who didn't have their own agenda.
posted by mightshould at 6:57 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Last night we had a group of people over for dinner that we met through our kids and have known for about 15 years. There were six "kids" between the ages of 19 to 23 and five older folks over 50. At one time during the night, one friend commented on the the fact that my two kids were both totally engaged in conversations with other older adults (45 to 55), while the other youngsters were ALL isolated and futzing with their phones. It made me feel great to know that mine would rather engage with real people. Teach them the art of conversation by listening to them. Teach them to be tolerant of others by listening to them. Give them a natural curiosity about the world by listening to them. I could go on for a long time, but you get the idea.
posted by raisingsand at 7:03 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think my parents did a lot of things right and I have a great relationship with them now (I am 25 and they are in their mid 50s). I'm an only child.
One thing that I am eternally grateful for is that they really modeled a good romantic relationship for me. They always presented a united front, and there was a great deal of affection, joking around and stolen kisses behind doorways and the like. I never had the sense that they were just sticking with each other for the kid, they have always seemed to be very much committed to each other. They each have their weaknesses (my mom especially can be quite controlling) but they're aware of them and complement each other well. There was never any meanness, no fights about money. I have a very good idea what "love" looks like, and I've always felt comfortable expecting that from my partners.
I was encouraged to be intellectually curious. Books were all over the house, heaps and heaps of them and I was rarely barred from any. Conversations ranged over a wide variety of topics from politics to relationships and sex. I could sit on the living room floor, doing my homework, while the adults talked, occasionally joining into the conversation.
They had lots of adult friends and a whole life apart from me. I enjoyed getting a glimpse of adult life through their activities. I was perhaps the most important thing to them, but they always had their work and other priorities -- I was never an all-consuming thing to them. I think that's important as well -- have a life besides your kids!
posted by peacheater at 7:09 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Pay attention to the human beings they turn out to be. Notice as they develop their own interests, passions, senses of humor, and priorities, instead of projecting your own on them. Learn as early as you can to interact with them as independent people; little people, but people nonetheless.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:13 PM on July 25, 2011

my parents are pretty awesome.

the best thing was knowing my parents really meant it when they said i could go to them for anything, any time... at a party and you need a ride home at 2 am? call us. worried about a problem at school? we'll try to help. problems with money during university? we're here for you. that kind of thing. i really knew they would help me no matter what the situation was, and i'm really grateful for that because if that weren't the case i wouldn't have known where to go for help when i had problems with my mental health.
posted by gursky at 8:15 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

When I was younger, my parents were (and still are!) very happy to spend time as a family, but also extremely accommodating and understanding when I wanted to do things with my friends. This meant that family time didn't entail missing out on other plans, and was something I genuinely wanted to experience. Also on the friend-side, they are and have always been very polite and interested in talking to my friends but never try to make the conversation all about them. They have a great sense of humor in these situations; I know they might say something a bit silly but they would never actually embarrass me.

They have never told me what I ought to be doing with my life but instead have supported me in whatever I want to do--in my choice of college, major, job, etc. Since I feel all quarterlife-crisisish these days, I sometimes half-jokingly wish someone had told me what I ought to do, but I really do appreciate the freedom to make my own decisions.

They let me read whatever I wanted and gave me access to tons of books, whether the classics or The Babysitters Club. I credit them with my voracious reading habits and my intellectual curiosity, such as it is.

They listen to my problems, and offer advice if I ask, without being overbearing or judging. My mom is usually the first person I call when I am worried about something. She just came to meet my coworkers the other day (we live in the same city) and they said that I was like her and I was so flattered.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:34 PM on July 25, 2011

I have a fantastic mom who was a single mom through most of my childhood (my parents divorced when I was 11). One of the things I've always loved and appreciated most about her is her dedication to her career. She took it seriously, did lots of ongoing education, talked about work, took me to meetings and conferences. I got to know a few of her coworkers and see her in action now and then, which taught me to respect her as a person with value beyond being my mom. Sure, she "had" to work as a single mom, but she never ever presented it that way. Her example has been one of the biggest and best influences on my life so far. She gave me something to look forward to and work towards as a young adult, made me feel empowered by example, and encouraged me to go to college and find my own career path.

Of course, we also visited the library every week, had a solid church life, had close relationships with family and friends, etc. She scraped together money to buy my violin when I was 12 or so. She built a community for my brother and me, modeled good life skills, and encouraged me to follow my dreams.

I'll be 40 soon, and when I have a bad day I still want to talk to my mom first.

Be yourself, follow your own passions and dreams, and give your kids space and support to do the same.
posted by hms71 at 8:50 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

A good friend of mine has a terrific relationship with his kids. The thing that never ceases to impress me is that he kept in mind throughout their childhood that he was looking forward to knowing the adults that his kids would become. Because that's the point.

This is in stark contrast to my father, who apparently took the phrase "having a child" a bit too literally and thinks that my lifelong job is to validate his authority. (I would advise those who yearn for this to consider just getting a puppy.)
posted by desuetude at 8:51 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Have the courage to be imperfect. Own your mistakes and apologize for them.

Also, recognize that you're not necessarily going to have an excellent relationship with them through all of these phases, and that this doesn't represent some sort of great failure. Be there consistently, be patient... they'll usually come back around. That's one of the things I most appreciate about my Dad. Even though we have been through those rough patches, he has always been there, I know I can trust him, and now that I'm an adult, we do have an excellent relationship.
posted by scandalamity at 10:10 PM on July 25, 2011

Make sure you listen to your kids, especially as they get older. My dad usually approached our conversations with an agenda in mind, and as long as he was convinced I heard what he was trying to say, he was done communicating. I'm not a perfect kid, but it caused a lot of problems in our relationship.
posted by hootenatty at 10:11 PM on July 25, 2011

I'm 24, and my parents are in their early 50s; my little brother is 16. My parents and I immigrated to VT when I was brother was born here. They came from a completely different culture (they grew up in Communist China).

Yeah, there have been difficulties and struggles between us, but they have always put my needs ahead of theirs. They have worked tirelessly in so many ways to give my brother and I the best life possible.

Just listen to your kids and discipline them as needed. Basically, be selfless. They'll realize it eventually that you're a good parent.
posted by skybluesky at 10:22 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Be level-headed and even-keeled; demonstrate good coping skills when circumstances are tough. In discipline, be consistent. Be kind; be honest; be willing to laugh at yourself. Don't let your kids get involved in disagreements you may have with your spouse; resist the temptation (if you have it) to "score points" off other family members for any reason.

Demonstrate the importance of respecting and taking care of your elders and anyone weaker than you in the family (make a priority to visit older relatives and neighbors when they need it, never griping about it). Make these things fun and positive.

Demonstrate the virtue of "doing what needs to be done", whether that's doing your job well, keeping the house in ok shape, following through on social obligations, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:04 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Really, truly, genuinely accept and love your kids for who they are.
posted by Space Kitty at 11:17 PM on July 25, 2011

And I agree with all the people above who said: pursue your own hobbies and activities, let the kids see you having fun doing things. (Also do fun kid things too, of course.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:23 PM on July 25, 2011

I have an excellent relationship with my mother (and did all through my teens) and a pretty good one with my dad, too. I'm 25 and they are in their late 60s.

Pretty much echoing other comments, but: tell your kids you love them no matter what, tell them they can call on you for help no matter what (time it is at night/they've done wrong/etc), but also let them be independent when they want to, and talk to them like human beings. Let them make their own decisions or make decisions as a team with them, instead of doing it all for them backstage.

I think one reason why I was never a proper rebellious teenager was that my parents were always open to discussion about how things had to be. They're strict, don't get me wrong, but they would listen to arguments and sometimes change their minds about the rules. I never really felt like I didn't have control about my life, and I think that's why I never felt the need to scream and yell and be terrible. (Ok, well, not much, anyway.)
posted by equivocator at 11:57 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Teach them to read. If they're not reading, find something that they will enjoy reading. I think education is the most important thing in the world - it's how we managed to get the species to where we are today. Reading as a child opened my brain to the big wide world and is one of the few things that I genuinely thank my parents for.
posted by Solomon at 12:37 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do not be afraid to give your kids chores/teach them how to have an actual life. I've met college kids who can't do their own laundry, handle money, wake up to an alarm etc. without mommy/daddy holding their hands. (I know a 29 yr old who still lives at home and whose mother still handles his paychecks. You do not want to be this parent)

Don't give your kids "gender chores" i.e., your daughter always helps in the kitchen & with housework while your son gets the yard & car. Maybe that seems a little obvious but I have friends today who do this because that's how they break up the chores w/in the marriage. Your daughter should know how to cut the lawn, your son should know how to mop a floor.

Never use the phrase "my husband is babysitting the kids today" or any other phrase that makes your husband's parenting seem like a favor to you or to your kids. A father isn't a 'babysitter' anymore than a mother is.

Missing a meal or two won't hurt your kid if it means they have a diet that goes beyond chicken nuggets, french fries and ketchup. All kids go through that phase, try your best to make it just a phase and not a lifestyle choice.
posted by jaimystery at 5:13 AM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Mr. Rogers had the right idea. "You are OK and I love you just the way you are. Be who you want to be."

As they get older, keep talking to them, even when you think they might not be listening. Some children are able to maintain a great relationship with their parents as they grow up. Others take a little work.

When I was about 17, a family friend who is bit older said something I will never forget. Please excuse the language. He said with a smile "You know, I couldn't figure out. From the time I was 16 until I was about 25, my Dad was the dumbest mother fucker I had ever met. I didn't think the guy knew anything. Then all in the sudden, when I get to be 25, he became one of the smartest guys I ever met."
posted by Silvertree at 6:46 AM on July 26, 2011

I'm 25; my parents are in their mid-50s. I have a 22-year-old sister.

Both of us have, and had, great relationships with our parents. I didn't really clash with them at all during my teenage years (I think we argued once), and although my sister did some, I think they handled it pretty well, and conflicts were always resolved within a few hours.

I don't have much time, and there's no way I'm going to be comprehensive about why I had a stable childhood and a good relationship with my parents, but here are a few tidbits that I feel particularly grateful for:

1. Both parents, but my mom in particular, made a huge effort to create special family times. Holidays were AWESOME - not because of the holiday itself, but because of the wonderful traditions we made and the time we spent together.

2. My parents had no unexplained rules. They NEVER said "because I said so".

3. I was never steered towards being a particular kind of person, nor did I ever feel like they were secretly hoping I'd turn out other than I did.

4. They never fought. Home was always a safe place.

5. As I got older, they became progressively more open with me about the difficulties they face in their own lives. In my opinion it took them too long to be honest about their own challenges, but it happened. When I was a young child I had no idea my mom was depressed, that there was little money, etc.

6. They tell my sister and I that they are proud of who we are, that we are the most important/best thing in their lives, etc. that it's almost a joke - but of course it isn't, really.
posted by Cygnet at 7:11 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's a lot here that I won't repeat, but the greatest things my parents did for my sister and me were:

--love each other first and best
--give me, a fiercely private person, my privacy and autonomy (when possible - kids of course need parents around)
--basically do the opposite for my sister - she is a true community-decisionmaking extrovert, loves to share every detail of her life, had anxiety when left alone, insecure if she didn't feel peoples' presence, etc.

It will likely become apparent what your kids need more (in addition to a lot of what everyone else has said).
posted by Pax at 7:13 AM on July 26, 2011

Respect above all in all situations.
posted by txmon at 8:38 AM on July 26, 2011

Let your kids see you make mistakes and not beat yourself up for it.

Teach them about money. My parents gave us a small allowance so we could save up if we wanted anything, but always 1/3 went to savings, 1/3 to a charity my sister and I got to pick out, and 1/3 could be spent as we saw fit. They never gave us everything we wanted, thank goodness. One thing they would ALWAYS give us though was books, as many as we could read, from the library or bookstore.

Incoporate them into what you do already. My dad always liked to read the comics in the Sunday paper. My sister and I kept asking him to tell us what this one or that one said (we were too little to read at this point) so finally he just sat down on the couch with us on either side of him and read us each comic with voices. It became a Sunday tradition and even after we had both learned to read, all three of us still curled up and read the "funnies" together.

Listen to your kids, my parents never dismissed anything I said. If they thought it was silly or stupid, I never knew it. They asked me about my day, why I felt a certain way, what I felt like when xyz happened, etc.

My sister and I have the 2.5 year age difference your daughter and son do. She and I are very close and of course loved to be together as a family but also liked to get attention seperately. My mom and dad would have Mom/tigereyes dates and Dad/sister dates (and of course vice versa) where my parents could really concentrate on the child they were spending the day with. It has left me with awesome memories of both parents.

As your kids get older, take into account what is going on in your life and their life before getting angry. Let me dad was VERY sick for about 4 years of my late teens/early 20s, like oh maybe he's not going to make it sick. A week after my 21st birthday, a close friend invited me to the mountains of VA to a house party, a bunch of our friends would be there with no parents. The party was going to be 3 hours from my house. I lied and told my parents I was going to stay at my close friend's house 20 minutes away. While in the mountains, I broke my leg really badly and ended up staying in the hosptial 7 days. I was TERRIFIED to call/see my parents. I KNEW just KNEW how disappointed and mad they were going to be at me for not only lying but then getting injured all while my dad was sick, how selfish I was. WRONG. Nothing, not one word, has ever been said about my lying to go to the mountains. My mom showed up and immediately took over the parent role of assessing the situation and comforting me. I think both my parents knew how hard the past few years had been and that I just needed to get away from the area a little. I cannot ever tell you how grateful I am for the way they handled the situation. This has really impacted the way I react to less than ideal situations.

Don't be afraid to get dirty. Paint with them, run through the sprinkler, crawl into their fort even when it seems impossibly small. One of my favorite memories is my mom being caught in the fort my sister and I made and not being able to leave even when the phone was ringing because she couldn't get out. She knew it was work calling and for some reason my sister and I thought it was hilarious, we laughed and laughed until we cried and she didn't get mad, she just joined in the laughing :)
posted by whitetigereyes at 9:24 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

respecting them as individuals has been key: even though I was brought up in the controlling Irish matriarchal culture where we were chattels, we were valued only in so far as we reflected well on our Mother, and that depended heavily on who she was trying to impress at the time.

We talk about our own interests and listen a lot. We try as hard as we possibly can to never judge, although that is almost impossible, but we admit when we don't "get it".

I've really valued how my children can teach me, I "book" appointments with my 13 yr old on iPhone tips, or my 21 yr old on the latest in linguistics, we learn from them all the time.

I was just reflecting on how impossibly happy my kids make me when you posted this: My Aspie son offered to be our house-cleaner while she was on holidays to earn some extra bucks and today was hilarious teaching him what to do. We laugh a lot together, the 2 of them were joking at bed-time last evening and we eventually had to kick them out of our room so my bladder control wasn't wrecked.

They are great friends for the other, despite the gender and age gap.

But you know what? I've known amazing people who's children did not turn out well and one thing you can't ever take for granted: They are often born with a particular personality type and I know every single day that we lucked out. Our kids are amazingly good-natured and even tempered. Being a drama queen & control freak myself, I'm extraordinarily grateful to the powers that be for that fact.
posted by Wilder at 9:30 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Love them no matter who they grow up to be or what decisions they make. And not "I love you" with a lecture, but a real, true "I could not be happier for you to be my son/daughter even thought you are a completely different person than I thought you'd be."

I grew up in a pretty religious household, and as I've become an adult I haven't followed that path or most of the rules it proclaims. I also have tried really hard at school, but have had a hard time figuring out what I want to do and have wasted a lot of time and money changing majors and figuring things out. For none of these things have my parents ever judged me, and they really, truly accept me for who I am. This is the only reason that we have a good relationship today, and I'm actually very close to my Mom.

They've always been my biggest supporters no matter how many times I've changed direction.
posted by sherber at 9:37 AM on July 26, 2011

Oh and the biggest mistake we made with them? Not giving them a good sense of the value of money or budgeting.

Because they were never greedy or demanding of new & expensive things, we usually had no problem getting them what they wanted or telling them that we couldn't afford X Y or Z.
They accepted things either way BUT when our daughter went away to University she had a real problem the first year budgeting or managing finaces or financial decisions for herself.
posted by Wilder at 9:38 AM on July 26, 2011

Move a lot. That will force your family to bond, and your kids to become stronger. But because that's not feasible for most families, planning family trips together, and including the little ones in some of the decision making is good. If possible, limit time with personal entertainment (in-car TVs, iPods, portable game players). Sing-alongs can be fun.

Regardless of where you are and what you're doing, be open and honest with them, but don't unload the whole of your adult life and thoughts on them when they're young - ease into it. At some point, they'll be adult enough to have serious conversations with you, and it may not be clear to you when that day comes. Don't hide how you feel - saying that you're fine when you aren't makes communication hard, and your kids can be left wondering what is really going on, or if you really are doing well when you say you are.

Help them troubleshoot their problems, don't solve them all or leave them on their own to figure it out. Help them to see the positive in their situations, or at least see some ways out, and help them to think of what next, not to dwell on the current issues that have them down.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:54 AM on July 26, 2011

Apparently, when I was still a baby my mother decided that if she told me to do something or not do something and I asked "Why?" she had to have a reason. If she didn't have a reason for what she was saying (and "because I'm the mommy, that's why" was not a reason) she had to back off. Because my experience from the beginning was that she didn't give me orders arbitrarily I never got into the habit of rebelling against them, and on the very rare occasions when she did tell me to do something "because I said so, and we'll discuss it later" I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and do it without question.

If it's something that's not going to harm the kid or cause harm to anybody else, it might be best to go ahead and let them do it. If a four-year-old wants to pick their own outfit and it's stripes plus polka dots plus plaid, what harm does that do? Make a little "I dressed myself today!" sticker for their lapel and they're good to go. Purple hair on a teenager? Mom's friends were appalled, but Mom's reply was "It's her hair. Besides, she knows that if she wakes up Monday too embarrassed by it to go to school, she has to go anyway."

My friends, in turn, were appalled when I would phone Mom to say "We're going to put on bathing suits to sneak into the jacuzzi at the Holiday Inn by the mall, then go hang out at Colleen's" — they expected her to respond "You come home immediately young lady or you're grounded for a month!" But Mom's reply was "Don't get arrested, don't get pregnant, don't catch any diseases. Call if you need help." (And, incidentally, that was about the level of my trouble-making hooliganism. Not feeling a need to rebel = less likely to do stupid dangerous things in the process of rebelling, I think.)
posted by Lexica at 10:52 AM on July 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

I get on really well with my parents largely just because they're great people, but specific things I really appreciate are:

- my Dad listens to and remembers every single thing I say. It slightly freaks me out at times, because he'll sometimes come out with stuff I have no recollection of saying (and an awful lot of what I say is deeply inane), but it does amaze me just how much attention he pays to me. Occasionally I'll remind him of something he said once that he thinks I've forgotten and I can see how delighted he is by it. Also, he laughs at all my jokes, however lame they are.

- my Mum is very sensible and conventional and proper and put-together, and yet she positively delights in how far I am towards the opposite end of the scale. I've always been scruffy and tomboyish and generally a bit of a mess, and she appears to approve thoroughly. This sounds like quite a small thing, but it's something I really appreciate - my sister-in-law (who is much tidier, girlier and appearance-conscious than me) is always being nagged by her mother about her weight, her clothes, her hair etc, and knowing that my Mum thinks it's really funny that I have been known to walk around with plastic bags on my feet because my shoes were hurting is strangely comforting.

- it took me a very long time to realise it, but they love how different I am to my brother. For a long time (mostly due to unfavourable comparisons from teachers) I assumed I was inferior to him because I was so much less outgoing, but my parents were always very keen to point out that I had different strengths that were just as valid as his.

Both of them have also done something I can't really articulate well but I think is really important. As a teacher, I meet an awful lot of parents who are shocked, horrified and utterly incredulous that anyone could possibly say anything remotely negative about their child (and they generally assume that if the child is doing anything remotely negative, it must be the teacher's fault). My parents have always made me feel that although they think I'm completely fantastic, I may need to put in some effort to convince other people that this is the case. I have absolutely no doubt that as far as they are concerned the sun shines out of my derriere, but I'm really glad I never grew up believing I was the centre of the universe as so many kids I meet seem to have done.

Oh, and one other thing my Mum does that may horrify many of you: she has always maintained that, as much as she would lay down her life etc etc etc for us kids, my Dad will always come first to her. I believe this is some kind of abominable heresy amongst parents, but I so, so admire her for it - and one of the best things about being around my parents is seeing how tremendous their relationship is and how much fun they always have together.
posted by raspberry-ripple at 11:02 AM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

Oh, and one other thing my Mum does that may horrify many of you: she has always maintained that, as much as she would lay down her life etc etc etc for us kids, my Dad will always come first to her. I believe this is some kind of abominable heresy amongst parents...

Same here. And I always thought it was sweet and somehow made me feel less pressure to be any one thing or to not let them down.
posted by Pax at 11:44 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Teach them to be self-reliant, disciplined and courteous. Teach them your values, which hopefully include education and respect. Teach them to be the best person they can be, which may not be what you expect. Be kind, loving, listen as much as you can, spend time with them, pay attention. Set a good example in your marriage and in your individual life. Then be prepared for them to head in directions you could never expect.
posted by theora55 at 12:54 PM on July 26, 2011

My mom is the best ever. She had me at 19, and raised me as a single parent while slowly completing a PhD. When we were too poor to keep the heat up in the winter, she would iron my sheets to make them warm before I got in bed. I didn't have any siblings, but she gave each of my stuffed animals a voice and personality and I was never lonely. As a teenager she told me that if she ever found my journal, even if it was lying open on her bed, that she would never read it unless she thought I was in danger or deep trouble. She threw out our tv when I was 8 and read to me every night. She has supported me so unconditionally that when I started questioning my sexuality she was one of the first people I talked to about it. She has her flaws, sure, but has always tried not to let them affect me. I've been a very high achieving university student, and was shocked to find a junior high report card of mine filled with B's and such. I asked her why she hadn't pushed me harder in regards to school, and she replied that she wanted me to have a balanced life and didn't see a need for me to waste my youth striving for A's, like she did. Overall she's just fantastic and I feel eternally blessed to have her.
posted by whalebreath at 1:17 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

There've been times when I've royally screwed things up for myself. They made it clear that they thought I could have done better, but moved mountains to help me fix things.

Having done all that, they don't let it colour their judgement of me now; they deal with me as the person I am, not the person I was.
posted by muteh at 3:41 PM on July 27, 2011

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