+1 Parenting Skills?
June 5, 2012 5:22 PM   Subscribe

How were your parents awesome?

My son is nineteen months old. This is such a cool age! He's learned that words have meanings and is starting to communicate really well, and he follows simple directions, and is basically becoming more an adorable little person and less an adorable little blob every day.

So, I'm thinking a lot about how I can be a fantastic mom, now that I'm finally catching up on my sleep. Of course: love him unconditionally. Be sure he has all the things he needs, and some of the things he wants. Support him in his endeavors. But this question is inspired by an answer to another question, which began "The best thing my parents ever did for me was..."

What was the best thing your parents ever did for you? In what ways did they best support you? How did they help you become the person you are today?
posted by woodvine to Human Relations (72 answers total) 234 users marked this as a favorite
The best thing my parents ever did for me was letting me choose my own spiritual/religious beliefs. They were not religious themselves, but they let me pray every night with my Catholic grandma, learn Buddhist teachings from my other grandma, and go to Sunday school every weekend with my Christian best friend. I consider myself to be a secular humanist now, and knowing that this was entirely my choice is something that I'm really glad for.
posted by keep it under cover at 5:29 PM on June 5, 2012 [7 favorites]

The best thing my parents ever did for me was instill in me a strong work ethic. My parents always taught me to work hard (so then I can play hard) and that I have to work with what I've got. Its helped me reach many of my goals and allowed me to live a more fulfilling life, I think. I'm always glad to lay my head on my pillow every night know I worked hard for everything I have, was able to provide to those who needed my help, and made some difference.
posted by xicana63 at 5:35 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: my parents never refused me a single book- not even one. not even if it was a comic book.

if it couldn't be found at the library they would buy it for me or find someone to borrow it from. they never failed me in this regard even once and i still think it's one of the reasons i turned out pretty damned okay in this world.
posted by jammy at 5:40 PM on June 5, 2012 [40 favorites]

For the most part my mom trusted me and let me be my own person. She did have to step in some times, when I didn't really understand consequences ... but about the big things, she just let me be. She let me choose my own religious beliefs, dress the way I wanted within reason, etc. She didn't HOVER and try to mold me into the person she wanted me to be.

So of course I turned out to be very much like her anyway.

One thing I wish she had done differently was to give me more responsibilities when I was younger. I wish that I had formed simple habits like picking up after myself, doing my own laundry, etc. She tried but I was very sick for a lot of my childhood so I could only do these things inconsistently and I resisted pretty hard when I felt like she was making me 'work' on my good days. Now I still struggle with self-discipline. I think this stuff needs to be started early.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:42 PM on June 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

My parents sucked in a lot of ways, but one thing they did right: our house was packed with books, and we were allowed to read anything we wanted. (I apparebtly taught myself to read at age 4.) We also went to the library religiously, and came home with armload of books.

Pretty much everything I am today is because of something I read. I may do a lot of my reading online now, but it all started with it being freely available during my childhood.
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:43 PM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Things I think my parents did right:

-We always ate dinner (which my mom made almost every single night despite working full time) together sitting at the kitchen table. The TV was always on, someone was always reading or doing homework, and it wasn't super duper family time or anything, but at least it was one constant. There was no retiring to your room with plate--you ate with everyone at the table, or you didn't eat at all.

-Learning was THE most important thing. We were always encouraged to take whatever classes we wanted, we were always offered trips to the bookstore/library/museum/whatever, and homework was a priority. There "wasn't money" for video games or TVs in the kids' bedrooms or fancy sneakers, but there was always money for nerd camps and college visits and extracurricular classes.

-Summer vacations consisted of road trips across the US. There was no such thing as a relaxing vacation. We piled in the van, stayed in budget motels, ate made-in-the-car-on-your-lap sandwiches for lunch, listened to the same three tapes over and over and over, and got pretty sick of each other after day 2, but damnit we saw nearly every National Park and most important historic sites the country has to offer. At the time it was a drag (especially as a teenager), but I wouldn't trade it for anything. I feel sorry for friends who did things like spend a week at Disney instead.

-We paid for (most of) our own (used) car when we turned 16. Parents paid for insurance until we did something stupid that caused the rates to increase, then we were on our own. I'm still (more than ten years later) driving the same Rav4 I've had since I was 16, and since I've never gotten so much as a speeding ticket, my parents still pay my insurance (thanks!). Because of this, I was way more responsible than my peers who all had their cars handed to them.

-Modeled good, healthy behavior. My dad is the most productive person I've ever known--he's never content to just relax if there's something useful that can be done. He does the laundry, does the dishes, and does all of the household maintenance DIY (even plumbing!). He coached our sports teams, was always searching for ways to get us Involved! In! The! Community!, and goes out of his way to help others, even strangers, just because he's a nice guy. My mom is also really hardworking, and is one of those people who can joke and get along with just about anyone. They may fight all the time between themselves (which is a topic for another day...), but as for the way they interact with the outside world, I couldn't have asked for better role models.
posted by phunniemee at 5:46 PM on June 5, 2012 [16 favorites]

My parents made me do chores from a young age. I learned how to sort laundry in kindergarten and was responsible for doing my own laundry sometime in elementary school. If I didn't have something clean and ironed, it was my fault. I could not believe it when I went to college and met kids who didn't know how to wash their clothes.

One thing I wish my parents had done was made me work more. They both grew up in extremely frugal homes and once they became more financially stable (middle class, but mind-blowingly wealthy compared to what they were used to) they swore that their kids would not have to work until they graduated from college. I remember wanting to have a job in high school and my dad TALKING ME OUT OF IT because he wanted me to enjoy being a kid. In retrospect, I think it took me longer to develop a work ethic (I had long since figured out that the easiest way to minimize chores was to keep my space clean to begin with, so I wasn't in the habit of doing major housekeeping jobs, either).
posted by elizeh at 5:50 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

My parents taught me to be polite, and to thank people who help me, even to the most minimal degree.

They forced me to attend etiquette classes which I absolutely hated; despised beyond comprehension. Not sure about this, but it it certainly didn't hurt.

I grew up on a multi-generation family farm, but they didn't pressure me to come back to the farm, despite at least 100 years of family tradition.

Also, when I fell off of a moving tractor at age 12, my dad saved my life by hitting the brakes a fraction of a second quicker than was necessary to keep from driving over me. I did have the imprint of tractor tires across my upper body for several months, but no serious injuries.

My mother, a librarian, taught me that the suppression of educational resources from anyone is arguably the most heinous crime that society can commit.
posted by imjustsaying at 5:53 PM on June 5, 2012

I want to add to the books and reading theme. Even though my mom spoke English as a second language and was very self-conscious about her English, she read English books to me every day from when I was a couple months old until I could read them by myself. Then she started taking me to the library every two weeks, and she let me pick out however many books I wanted, on whatever subjects I wanted.

I looooooove reading. It's very Reading Rainbow of me to say this, but reading opens a neverending array of new worlds and I will never get enough of it. I'll be forever grateful to my mom for instilling this in me.
posted by keep it under cover at 5:56 PM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have had my issues with my parents over the years, but one of the greatest things my parents (more specifically my dad) taught me, was to donate a little something to people you see with a hat or box asking for change. That is, he would give me 50 cents or a dollar, and make me give the money directly to that person - not just watch him do it. He would safely watch me from a distance (10, 20, 30 feet or so - more as I got older), and encourage me to walk up to them alone, and give them change completely by myself. I remember doing this as young as 4 years old.

My dad was truly the "American dream" - a motherless child of war, refugee who grew up in immense poverty, and was homeless for most of his own childhood. Education got him out and eventually to America, where he later started his own successful business that gave him (and us) a good life.

My dad wasn't just teaching me the importance of giving and being appreciative for what we had - but the importance of not being fearful of people who were homeless, or down on their luck, or who had issues they hadn't worked out (which we all have). These people weren't scary or frightening or something to avoid. There is rarely a need to guard your children away from a homeless person or cross to the other side of a street, or quickly scurry by pretending they're not even there. I don't pretend to know how to solve homelessness, as there are many different factors that affect someone's circumstances. But acknowledging their humanity is free. That was what my dad was trying to teach me - it wasn't just about the 50 cents or dollar.

I remember feeling a little awkward at first as a child. But as an adult, that sticks out as being one of the greatest lessons he ever taught me.
posted by raztaj at 5:59 PM on June 5, 2012 [9 favorites]

My folks took us EVERYWHERE when we were kids. We knew how to act in a nice restaurant, we visited every historic marker in town, we went to plays and free concerts in the park, we did EVERYTHING. I'm pretty sure that my folks really enjoyed doing these sort of kid-friendly things themselves...but that's a reason to have kids, right? Nobody looks at you weird when you go to the Children's Concert or the choo-choo train museum.

My folks insisted that I get a job in high school. Even though it was just a day or two a week, it was really good for me.

My folks valued education above all else: they supported me through K-12 and helped me through undergrad.

My folks did not let me move back in when I graduated from college, had no job, and was just aimlessly wandering the country. Sure, it would have been easier to let me move back in and take care of me while I found my comfortable path towards self-reliance. Instead, it was like being thrown into the middle of a foreign country after years of being taught the language and customs in a classroom. I had the tools and the education - now fly, little bird. The nest is no longer your home. Go make something of yourself!! It was terrifying. It was awesome. I'll never forget how mad I was at them for not letting me move back in, and I thank them for it every day.

I take great pride in being scrappy and self-reliant. It's because they made sure I had the tools and knowledge I needed, and they helped me to realize that I COULD survive and thrive in this world.
posted by Elly Vortex at 6:02 PM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: They created a warm and comfortable family home where I was never ashamed or afraid to bring my friends, and where my friends always knew they were welcome. It wasn't a party house or anything (my parents were really rather strict), but somewhere were it was always clean, there were always snacks, you could play video games or legos without being in anyone's way, there was always enough food for you to stay for dinner, my parents always acted interested in and friendly to their kids' friends, handled crises with aplomb and calm, and were generally there as empathetic adult authority figures who were honest and straightforward about questions or problems my friends brought to them and rarely acted like it was a crisis. (And, of course, told you they were going to have to call your parents if you were in serious trouble, but they would drive you home and help you tell your mom or whatever.) When I was in college I was talking with my mom one day and she told me creating a home where we always felt we could bring our friends was a conscious choice on her part.

So I need to remember to tell her when I talk to her, a bunch of my facebook friends from high school were just looking at some old photos and had a discussion about how my house had been the "coziest" to hang out at "because your mom was just so nice and it was so comfortable at your house!"

I think it's a good goal.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:04 PM on June 5, 2012 [37 favorites]

Little things and big things:
-Got to pick out what to wear, as soon as I could. Wore some crazy things as a kid and loved it!
-Got to read as many books as I wanted. Mom even let me take out books on her card because my 10-year-old self would "max out" mine.
-Got to eat pretty much whatever I wanted. Feel like I have a much healthier relationship to food than my friends who had lots of restrictions.
-Had no curfew. My parents were smart: they looked cool, and they knew all my other friends had curfews so I wouldn't actually stay out late cause I'd be all by myself.
posted by manicure12 at 6:08 PM on June 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

My parents treated me and everyone around me like people, right from the start. That was, and continues to be, super awesome.
posted by rosa at 6:09 PM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was going to chime in with the exact same thing as keep it under cover, but from the opposite angle.

The best thing my parents did for me was letting me choose my own spiritual/religious beliefs. They are both fairly religious, and I grew up as probably the most observant Episcopalian it's possible to be. That said, they always answered my questions honestly, encouraged dinner table theological argument debate, and understood doubt. They exposed me to as much religious diversity as is possible in rural Louisiana and let me read anything I wanted.

And then, when I was fourteen and it was time for Confirmation classes, they actually bothered to ask me if I was interested. And when I said I wasn't, they were perfectly fine with that. And when I finished the sentence by saying that this was because I was considering becoming a Wiccan, they kept straight faces.

I will always thank them for that.
posted by Sara C. at 6:10 PM on June 5, 2012

My father never made me think that I couldn't (or shouldn't) do something based on my gender. There was no "X is for boys, you can't do that" in my childhood. My mother was very sex positive, she never made me feel that sex was dirty or wrong, and I went into adolescence and then adulthood with no sex-related hangups. I think those are the things that I'm most grateful for now.
posted by crankylex at 6:14 PM on June 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

- Always encouraged my love of reading, and made sure to take me to the library every time I asked (and I asked a lot).

- Were conspicuously amazed and proud and excited for my every achievement.

- Sacrificed a hell of a lot to make sure I got the best education possible.

- Been shockingly non-judgmental and supportive and sympathetic when I most needed it (like the time I got into an accident and totaled their car)

- Conversely, they were never afraid to lay down the law when I did something unacceptable. They were NEVER interested in being my friends when I was a child - they were very clear on that, and very consistent disciplinarians, which made their approval all the more valuable to me. In fact, they are still the first people I call when I achieve something, and their approval still means the world to me.

- Never once (to this day) have they said "No" to me in a time of serious need. I know that if I need it -- should a medical crisis hit; should I lose my savings; should I hit really hard times -- they will be there for me. And that's so wonderful to know.

- That said, they do expect me to stand on my own feet now. And I do, not least of all because I know it will make them proud to see me do so.
posted by artemisia at 6:29 PM on June 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The best thing our dad did for us girls was teach us how to fix anything, he did for us what he would have done for a son. I can change my oil and throw a perfect spiral. All this while still being okay with playing tea party.

The best thing my mom did was write a letter to each of us every month of our lives, and gave them to us when we graduated high school. It is a record of my childhood, but also a record of her love for me.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 6:33 PM on June 5, 2012 [20 favorites]

I think the best thing my Mom ever taught me was to go and find out. And to THINK.

When I was in the 'Why Why Why' stage as a little kid she'd always answer "I don't know, let's go to the library and find out." (Pre Wiki/Google how did we survive??) But it's no small thing to grow up actively figuring things out and learning, instead of passively letting all knowledge come to you. I'm shocked as an adult how many people in my field (which involves root cause analysis and problem solving) just kind of scratch their heads and go "Oh, it must be X" without doing any research or verification.

When I was older... like early teens, it was hugely important to me that my dad and I just talked about what was going on in the world and vaguely philosophical things. He treated me like I had two brain cells to rub together and my opinion was valid and worthy of consideration. I can still vividly remember the two times I said something that made him rethink his position. I'm not saying you have to treat your kid like, completely equal, you'll have a lot more perspective after all. But it was so nice to think that I was being listened to.
posted by Caravantea at 6:42 PM on June 5, 2012 [9 favorites]

My mother always insisted I see the other side of things. I could have strong opinions but I learnt from an early age that there was always another side to things that very little is clearly black and white.

She taught me to see little things. Ants carrying a leaf back to their nest, we'd both get down and watch it for hours. A pretty weed flower breaking through a crack in a pavement. How the rain smelt. The sound of birds. Picked up pretty feathers and rocks with me. Thanks to her I learned to see what was beautiful was all around and that so many people rushed by it and would stop to see just how amazing the world is if you really look.

She taught me manners. Respect for privacy, that you always asked before going into someones room/purse/mail. That you have to try a new food, even if it was just one bite. If you don't know something, ask. To talk to strangers. To get lost and find my way home again.

Most importantly I knew no matter what I did (well bar say killing people) she would love me and that no matter what you do you can always go home again.
posted by wwax at 6:48 PM on June 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

1. They made me work for my money. I had a summer job starting at 11. It was at our neighborhood pool, so not super strenuous, but there was a real paycheck (the perforated kind with your YTD statistics on the stub), W-2s, and so forth. I worked some nights and at least one day a weekend at the bookstore in the mall starting when I was 16. They still bought my school supplies, fed me, housed me, clothed me to a very reasonable extent, but anything frivolous or not-really-necessary (or secret, haha, also important) I knew was up to me. I have been able to support myself since I was 18 because of this. I didn't always have to, but I could have.

2. They put me on one of their credit cards as an authorized user when I was old enough (16?). I had a card with my name on it and I understood it was only to be used for things I could pay them back for by the end of the billing cycle. I had a checking account and I was expected to write them a check for anything I put on the card. (I'm sure if I had ever had to charge medical expenses or something similarly dire it would have been fine, but it never came up.) When I was old enough to have my own credit card, I had the beginnings of a credit history and understood how to use credit properly. I'm now 31 and I've never paid interest or late fees on a credit card in my life, knock wood.

3. Despite these pretty stringent financial expectations, they paid for school/resume-related things and indulged my reading habit with few questions and with their own money. Science Olympiad trip to Chicago, done. Summer trip to Italy and Greece after junior year of HS, helped with greatly. Fees for math club, quiz bowl, piano lessons, AP exams, TIP, The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Catechism (not that that stuck, but it was good for me to meet people from other schools and other backgrounds) --- if it was legitimately something that made me more educated, tolerant, or sophisticated, I knew I could ask for the money and it would be provided. I understood the line. E.g., Outward Bound I mostly paid for myself because they didn't really get it, and because the work and the saving was part of the experience.

4. My mom taught me to read super early. I cannot remember a time when I was unable to read. Among many, many other benefits (first of which is a genuine, lifelong, and inextinguishable love for reading), there is no better way to prepare your child for the verbal portions of standardized tests than for them to read early, widely, and voraciously.

5. They bought me two really really crappy, enormous, steel-bodied American cars --- a 1978 Cutlass station wagon at 15 (you could get a license at 15 in my state then), and a 1985 Ford LTD II after I wrecked the Cutlass when I was 16 or 17. I don't think my dad paid more than a grand for either of them. (They made sure I knew how much they cost, for my own future reference.) There is no freedom in a mass-transit-free city like the freedom of having your own car and not having to borrow the parents'. Also, this enabled me to get to and from my jobs, volunteer work, after-school crap (see above) without worrying about burdening my mom, who had plenty of other stuff to be dealing with.

(The reason I mention the age and construction is just that they were hideously cheap and fairly safe --- I'm sure most used cars, or whatever will be a standard cheap, safe used car when your child is old enough, would be equivalent. The point is that it was not a crazy life-destroying tragedy if I wrecked them and the insurance was cheap (since I had to pay for part of it). The gas was cheap then; it will not be when your child comes of age. Adjust accordingly.)

6. When I graduated high school, they bought me a 1999 base model NEW car with a standard transmission. The benefits were three-fold: I could afford the insurance, I learned to drive a stick, and I had a very healthy appreciation for non-flashy, reliable, A-Z transportation that you will drive until the wheels fall off. My younger sister drove it too, after I moved to a place where I didn't need a car. For all I know it's still running and someone else is driving it. (She also moved to a non-car city.) When I needed to buy my own car in 2006, I bought almost exactly the same thing (later model year of course) and I'm still driving it with no maintenance to speak of other than oil changes and tires.

7. This is the last one, and it will sound a little strange... They told me that there was no money saved for me to go to college. I'm not entirely sure if that was true (probably it was). I do believe that if I had chosen to go to an expensive school that they would have done their best to help me, but there would definitely have been loans, loans, loans. Probably for them and for me. I chose to go to my state school on a free ride and it's never, ever held me back. On the contrary, I'm seriously the only one of my friends that doesn't have student loans, and that includes people who are pushing 40. If you are young, healthy, with modest savings and no debt when you are in your early 20's, you can do a lot of fabulous things that make the rest of your life better. But by that time your work should be done --- it will be up to him.

Good luck :)
posted by slenderloris at 7:00 PM on June 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

*Don't love the first-born so much that they turn out to be a brat with entitlement issues.

*Don't ignore the middle-born so much that no matter what they do, they are always invisible.

*Don't let the last born think that the entire family will be ready to catch them when they decide to be irresponsible or reckless.

Oh, and it helps to trust your kids. Or fake it if you don't.
posted by xm at 7:08 PM on June 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

My parents also let me read anything I wanted. Wear almost anything I wanted (they drew the line at see-thru shirts). One of my favorite things about them was that they always had a reason for the things they told me I couldn't do, they would never say no to me without a good reason.

They made sure to take leadership roles in childhood activities, like coaching sports and leading my Girl Scout troop. They also modeled community service for me by doing volunteer work and taking me along. We participated in programs like Big Brothers/Big Sisters. We participated in foreign exchange programs and had the students come to live at our house. We even had some refugees come to live at our house for a while.

They made me work for my allowance starting at a young age. They gave me a larger allowance than most kids got, but I had to earn it and I had to use it to buy myself things, like clothes or pet supplies, or snacks. I knew how to budget from early on. At the time I always used to be terribly jealous of the fact that my friends could just say "hey mom, I'm walking to the ice cream shop" and their mom would just throw them a $20 bill. I had to use my own money and sometimes I couldn't afford to buy myself the soda and chips that they were having because I hadn't budgeted enough. This was one of the smartest things they did, and they also ensured that I started savings and checking accounts really early and knew how to use them. I'm still very good with money and so are my siblings.

To return to the original theme, I always felt like they would support me in whatever I wanted to do in life, and that was invaluable. Never felt like they were judging me for my career ambitions or second guessing what I chose to do with my time.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:11 PM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

My father showed me by lifelong example that everyone has / is of value, from the duke to the deckhand. He also encouraged me to read incessantly, to develop a curious mind, to indulge my sense of humour, to be careful of others feelings, to be slow to anger, and quick to apologize when wrong. He taught me how to behave well, no matter what the circumstances.

These are a few of the things I wrote to thank him for, when I knew that he was not going to see the year out. Happy Father's Day, Dad.
posted by henry scobie at 7:19 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My mom did a lot of really great things, but best thing she taught us was something that will stick with me forever: Whiners Get Nothing.

I will never forget standing in the kitchen, watching my little brother throw a temper tantrum because he'd been told he couldn't have a cookie. "I . . . want . . . it!" My mom was unfazed, never even blinked. "Honey, what do whiners get?" My brother stopped crying for a second, because even at three years old, he knew he'd been had. He started wailing again and replied as he ran to his bedroom, "Whiners . . . get . . . nothing!"
posted by WaspEnterprises at 7:20 PM on June 5, 2012 [34 favorites]

Wow, my parents were awesome in so many ways, and my Mom still is, but perhaps the most important thing they ever did was always be honest with me and never made a promise they couldn't keep. Also, hugs and books make for a wonderful childhood.
posted by katemcd at 7:28 PM on June 5, 2012

Lots of contact with grandparents. Sex education.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:50 PM on June 5, 2012

nthing books - letting me read anything i wanted

music - my dad had a ton of records and I love music still - being exposed to a variety of music since being little was great for me. It encouraged me to be in band for 6 years.

letting me go to camps/classes i as interested in. They were usually art related but one year I got to go to farm camp. I guess supporting my interests.
posted by abitha! at 8:13 PM on June 5, 2012

They made a point to set very clear, defined, fair, and reasonable expectations and they were very consistent in their guidance and support. They appreciated and nurtured creativity. They laughed and smiled a lot. They took us on a LOT of road trips, and as a result I'm pretty patient and never bored. We decided to hike up a 14K-foot mountain together when I was five and they made sure I walked every step myself (with a lot of encouragement!) even though I was cold and wet and tired, and it's still something I'm proud of.
posted by mochapickle at 8:18 PM on June 5, 2012

Information! All the information I wanted, not sugared up or watered down - and plenty of non-judgmental conversations to help process it.

Other folks may differ, but I think one of the primary killers of good parent-child relationships is feeling like you have to hide serious things from your parents. Not that you can tell them anything because you have no rules or boundaries or consequences, but because you know that they won't flip their lid and freak out.
posted by clerestory at 8:43 PM on June 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

"We trust you until we have a reason not to." I apply the same logic in my relationships with others. It's served me pretty well.

Sex ed early (if I remember right, my first sex talk was around age 3 or 4, probably when I first started asking questions), and then frequently. This lead to me feeling comfortable (albiet a bit nervous) approaching my mom and having the "hey, boyfriend and I are planning on having sex, what should I know/I need to go on the Pill" conversation... something I'm really glad happened, looking back.

Teaching me good manners -- pleases and thank yous and writing thank you notes for gifts and so on.

Being my parents, not my friends. My parents and I ARE friends now, esp. my mom and I, but they are still my parents. They don't bend over backwards to please me now, and certainly did not when I was a kid.

Treating me like an adult when I started to become one. I still had a curfew when I was living at home, but aside from that there was gradual but definite shift in my parents treating me like a child and my parents treating me more like a peer (NOT like a friend -- see above). It's even more that way now that I'm in college (I'm almost 22 now) -- I come to them for advice (another pro of the childhood filled with openness, trust, etc.) and they are more than happy to give it to me, but they also realize I'm going to make my own decisions.

Supporting me in my interests is a huge one that many others mentioned. I'm an art student. Yeah, maybe not the most profitable venture in the world, and my dad was all "Why can't you be a doctor that draws?" for a while. They still were and are emotionally and financially supportive (the former being the more important of the two) of my decision to go to art school, I think because they know me and my tendency to bust my ass for what I want -- another good quality of mine that is totally their fault.

Trying out a bunch of different foods is something I think is great. I eat just about everything now, as my dad would often get me to eat something like, I don't know, calamari, without telling me what it was until I had already eaten it. I don't think I would have been a picky eater otherwise, but an expansive palate is a joy to possess.
posted by jorlyfish at 8:48 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, one more. My dad is/was all about "Question why things are the way they are." As a kid it instilled curiosity of the "Why is the sky blue?" variety, as a teen/adult its more about critical thinking, "questioning The Man", etc... also good things.
posted by jorlyfish at 8:50 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

nthing books.

Also, when I was little and we went to the gas station (this was...back when you couldn't pay at the pump?), my dad would frequently come back to the car with a Reese's peanut butter cup or a lollipop.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 8:56 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Great question, and I recognize my own parents in a lot of the answers thus far.

One of the best things my dad could do for me and my sisters was spend the money and time to make sure we visited distant extended family, and often. I can't count how many times we traveled (by car) to Florida or Minnesota or Indiana (from IL). My cousins do not have the memories I do of our aunts and uncles and grandparents.
posted by katyh at 9:17 PM on June 5, 2012

One thing I really appreciate and respect about my parents is that they let me think for myself. They never tried to impose, or keep me from, religion. They tried to answer my questions honestly, and they let me read whatever I wanted, "age appropriate" or not.
posted by asynchronous at 9:24 PM on June 5, 2012

Let me read anything and everything I wanted-that, and the fact we lived in an area with no cable or tv reception made me the voracious reader I am today.

Traveled with us, including a 2 year stint living overseas when we were middle school aged. We still love traveling with my folks, and I'm 42, with three kids.

Loved each other. A lot. I always felt so fortunate to have that. And when it was time for us to move out, they supported us and loved us-and were also happy to see us go and get time together again. No clinging and weeping as we went off to college.

Insisted we go out of state for college so we. Kyle have that experience.

Maintained lots of contact with my fabulous extended family.

They were social, and entertained a lot-but it was a very 70s, outdoorsy, western kind of entertaining. My mom loved to cook (another gift she gave us) and there were often lots of people around, talking and laughing.

Speaking of, mom taught us to cook. Man, this is something I would give to every child in the world if I could.
posted by purenitrous at 9:31 PM on June 5, 2012

Your son may be a little young to appreciate things like this, but most vacations my family took when I was a kid were to national parks/neat geological sites (Grand Canyon, etc.) in the western U.S. and it furthered my interest in geology at a relatively young age. They also encouraged my rock collecting habit. I've been fascinated by geology ever since, and am studying geological engineering now!
posted by cp311 at 9:36 PM on June 5, 2012

My mother treated my brothers & me as the individuals we were. Gifts, activities, treats, punishments -- they were pretty much all suited to the recipient. Of three children, we each believed we were her favorite (and would probably still argue over it even though she's been dead for awhile now). She proved over and over that she not only loved us, but genuinely wanted to know who we were as people, at every stage of our lives.
posted by Rocky Mtn Erica at 9:43 PM on June 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

They encouraged my brother and me play OUTSIDE....in the DIRT...chasing each other around the block with water guns!! None of the alcohol hand sanitizer stuff everywhere in the house. Yea, just from running past playgrounds, I feel like lots of kids miss out on the dirt and spontaneous outdoor play experience. Too many hovering/over concerned parents.
posted by astapasta24 at 10:40 PM on June 5, 2012

Best answer: The many awesome things my parents did could fill volumes, but the very most important piece of awesomeness was something they said when I was behaving badly:

"Jennifer, I love you very much and I always will, but I don't like the way you're behaving right now."

That one sentence that taught me that people can be angry with or disappointed in something I've done while still loving fiercely the person that I am, and that I can do the same in return.

That one sentence encompasses so many huge ideas that kids navigate as they grow to adulthood: trust, boundaries, love, respect, safety...

Nothing has made me a more emotionally functional and nuanced adult, and I'm grateful every day for it.
posted by jesourie at 11:08 PM on June 5, 2012 [25 favorites]

Great responses. Here's mine:

Both parents talked to me in interview format once every six months to a year. I'd be walking down the hall past Mom & Dad's bedroom and I'd hear, "come here a minute, son." I'd walk in and they'd both be smiling. :-) :-) Which made me smile, too. :-) It's really painful to have to smile when you're shy, but it was pretty rare to see them both smile at me at the same time, since I came from a big family. So the smile forced itself upon my face.

Anyway, they'd ask me how I was doing, tell me things they noticed, and give me encouragement and advice.

We had our rough times, but those interviews really felt like the genuine article. I always knew they were talking about what they really felt and weren't faking.

The other thing is, they let me be a part of the family business. They found a way I could contribute, made sure it paid better than a standard minimum-wage job, and encouraged me to do things that would look good on a job application after I left for college. As a result, I got valuable experience that kept me out of menial jobs. At the time, I was embarrassed because I felt so spoiled--all of my friends were mowing lawns and delivering papers--but now that I'm older, I would do the same for my kids in a heartbeat.
posted by circular at 11:17 PM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Sang to me when I was little. Built me monkey bars and play houses. Left a lot of interesting books around. Taught me to swim and ride bikes. Rarely pressured me or judged me. Took me travelling. Made me work for my own money. Let me take serious risks and get hurt. Let me be alone.
posted by ead at 11:40 PM on June 5, 2012

They let me make mistakes and let me fail at things. The glory was in trying, not in winning. They taught me basic life skills to be self sufficient. Dad, fixing things around the house and mom cooking and other chores. They gave me a great education from the neighborhood public schools to paying for college. They taught me love and respect.

Basically, they spent the first 22 years of my life teaching me to be able to live the remaining 78 years.
posted by AugustWest at 11:55 PM on June 5, 2012

Things my mother did REALLY right --

1. Complete honesty about herself, our family, and her past, including any drug use.

2. Made me learn home skills -- cooking, cleaning, etc. (This sounds basic, but there are many families out there of varying class where only one person cooks, cleans, etc.)

3. Taught me to stand up for myself by standing up for herself. (I guess "leading by example.")

I'd like to add something else -- what I think my husband's parents did right:

1. Everyone eats at the kitchen table every day. We waited for late comers (unless they were late by 45 minutes or more). We ate in front of the TV ONCE when I was there.

2. Never let my husband feel poor despite not always having a lot of money.

3. Helped my husband and his relatives manage money from a young age. My mother didn't do well at this and I'm still struggling at age 30.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 2:36 AM on June 6, 2012

1) Kept a consistent schedule. Young children benefit from routine and it was comforting to be integrated into the day's rhythm.

2) While they didn't have much money, they actively worked as a team to manage finances. They could have argued about money, but instead they took collective ownership of the household budget.

3) In general they managed day to day anxieties without involving or exposing me and my siblings, but they were also perfectly honest about discussing times when they faced hardships or challenges. It was infinitely more instructive to know how they navigated adversity last year than seeing them fret about it in the present tense.

Those are some of the things that were important as a child, but they flowed through into our adult relationship. My parents are diseased now but as I became friends with them I didn't worry about them. I have friends who have suffered relationships with disfunctional parents and it creates a deep wound. I'm a parent now and I'm supremely grateful for what my parents taught me through living example:

Be a functional adult who lets kids be kids and eventually lets grown kids be friends.
posted by dgran at 6:18 AM on June 6, 2012

My parents took my brother and I on a lot of driving vacations and field trips, pretty much all up and down the East Coast. Most of these were nature based and staying in more cabins than I could ever remember.

My favorite was when we drove up to Nova Scotia and stayed in a cabin very close to the beach. I learned to stay away from curious predators in the day time (fox - might have had rabies), that my dad had some serious crazy stupid balls for walking up to a dozing male moose to get a picture, how beautiful whales looked after a hike up to get to the overlook on the cliff, that sea sponges could dry up and blow inland, and how big seals really were when we came across a skeleton on the beach.

Then we went home and wrote a couple page long reports about something particular we liked up in Canada; my brother wrote about eagles and I wrote about moose (did you know there's a moose poo festival???).

Anyway, yes: go on trips. Explore with your kids. Randomly say, "Why, there's a waterfall! And a trail! Let's go walk around."
posted by DisreputableDog at 6:58 AM on June 6, 2012

Pizza and a rented movie every Friday - even after college when I moved back in. It was a family ritual I had with my dad and brother (I come from a single parent home with my dad).

"As long as you did your best, that all that matters"

Corny family trips across the country - make sure to stop at every attraction!

Talk to your kids. Talk about current events in the news. Explain things and tell stories.

Teach your kids to love food and to cook. I have my three year old mix and pour things for me.

Always have books around the house and always read.

Messes aren't important. Let your children walk around with dirty feet, play with paint. Everything can be cleaned, don't get angry over that.

Show your kids how much you love your partner, and strive to be a couple that they can base their relationships on.
posted by Danithegirl at 7:58 AM on June 6, 2012

My dad, who has a tree business on the side, always made me back up his huge work trucks down a 500' narrow driveway and park them in our barn in the back. To this day I can drive in reverse and park better than anyone I know.

They taught us that you always have to work hard and Dad took us along with him to tree jobs to drag brush, rake leaves, do basic laborer type of work. We were paid for it, but we also couldn't turn it down.

They coached basketball and softball. What they didn't coach they helped drive us and other kids around. My mom was a girl scout leader until I reached junior high. We had a membership to a local semi-private beach and we would spend entire summers down there.

My parents busted their butts at their jobs so we could go on a family vacation every Christmas - of course, as kids, we much rather would have stayed home and had a "normal" Christmas at home like our friends, but you don't know a lot sometimes when you're a kid.
posted by getawaysticks at 8:09 AM on June 6, 2012

Access to books and reading material, as many have mentioned upthread. We didn’t have a lot of books in our house, but my parents took me to the bookstore or library whenever I asked (which was constantly), or whenever they were going. Even though they didn’t have a lot of time to read themselves, they ALWAYS let me browse the shelves as long as I wanted, and they would buy or get for me any book my heart desired.

Travel. We took road trips every summer and I had seen just about every national park, historic site, and monument that America has to offer before I reached my teens. They also helped me pay for two separate trips abroad after my sophomore and junior years of high school.

Chores and home skills. I find keeping a home very easy and mostly enjoyable due to so much practice as a kid. The only thing they didn’t teach me was how to cook, but my mom absolutely hated cooking so that’s kind of understandable.

Nightly dinners together as a family. I never knew until I got older that this was optional in some families.

Made zero issues out of weight and dietary choices. My mom always swore when she was growing up that she would never, ever force her kids to eat anything they didn’t want to, and she didn’t. My dad would often bully us to eat foods we didn’t like, even if we had demonstrated over the course of years and years that we really and truly didn’t like them, we weren’t just being picky, and my mom coolly put a stop to it every time. Today my brother and I have healthy and varied diets and few issues around food.

Challenged me to step outside my comfort zone and learn new skills. Your kid is going to be who they’re going to be and like what they like and that’s great and should not be discouraged, but nothing wrong with introducing them to new things once in a while, even if by gentle force. My dad in particular thought I spent too much time locked in my room reading crap books (a lot of Sweet Valley High) and he occasionally paid me to read and discuss certain books with him that I would never have touched otherwise. He also enrolled me in a hardcore outdoor skills and canoe camp at age fourteen that remains one of the most challenging things I’ve EVER done and resulted in stories that can shock most adults when I tell them about it.

The ability to surprise me. My parents were pretty diehard disciplinarians, far stricter than any of my friends’ parents, but every so often, they would bust out with something that was so far from the usual tirade of safety and rules and blah blah blah that I had come to expect that it left my jaw hanging open in awe and gratitude. Like, my mom had always been firm that I was never getting my ears pierced until I was 16, but one day when I was 13, we were walking through the mall and she asked out of nowhere if I would like to get my ears pierced that day. (This was probably her plan all along, but I had no idea back then). Another time I had some friends over for a sleepover and my parents were the ones who suggested we go down to the lake and go night swimming—without adult supervision, even!—because they thought we would find it really fun. When I crashed their car six months after getting my license under circumstances that were completely my fault (driving too fast in a snowstorm), I cowered in fear, fully expecting heads to roll, but they just looked at the smashed-up car and my white face and shaking hands, sighed, had it towed to the body shop, made me pay the $200 deductible, and never said another word about it. Wha?
posted by anderjen at 9:04 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am quite proudly an obvious product of my two awesome parents. A few things that they did wonderfully:
Kept their opinions and beliefs to themselves. They wouldn't tell us who they voted for, how they worshiped (if at all), anything. The first time I went to a church service was for my cousins wedding in high school. Half way through college I discovered their seemingly out of character stance on abortion. My brothers and I have varying political viewpoints, but everything we believe is something we discovered held water on our own. That's pretty cool, and pretty powerful.

We got to be outside, independently. We would disappear into the woods for the entire day, ride our bikes to school every day, tap the maple trees in our yard, pick peas barefoot from the garden, get poison ivy and eat weird things we found. My dad thought it was awesome when we made my little brother a harness out of rope and hauled him up into the loft of the garage with a pulley. We always went camping on vacation because hotels were too expensive. Dirt wasn't a bad thing, and neither were scabs.

Every night, my mom made dinner, and we would all eat together. Sometimes it was rushed to get to a soccer game, or a little late because of a meeting, but it happened every night. My brothers and I washed up after dinner. Complaints about dinner got us double dish duty.

They let me get my first dog when I was in 4th grade. It wasn't a family dog, it was mine. I had to wake up an hour earlier before school and rake leaves or haul firewood for a month before they believed I would get up and take care of my dog. When I got my second dog in high school, I was then responsible for vet bills and dog food. They were willing to give into their little girl whining for a puppy, but they damn well didn't want one of their own. And because I couldn't provide a solid pony-care plan, I never got my pony.
posted by Grandysaur at 9:16 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

My mom is amazing in a million ways but when I compare my parents to the parents of my friends what stands out to me are some things my dad did:

1. My dad just hung out with us a lot. We would sit on the floor of my bedroom and count change (to which I credit my math skills), we would play catch, we would go watch trains in the rail yard. I could ask him anything about how the world worked and he would give me patient answers. I don't know of many other dads that spent so much quality time with their kids.

2. My dad was a vocal feminist. He talked about equality a lot and encouraged me to do many things that were stereotypically "masculine" - play with trucks, play sports, do math and science. He acted like it was not big deal so that's how it felt.

3. My parents fought a lot between themselves but they never fought about us. Being parents together was the one area where I could always count on them to be on the same page, reliable, no drama.
posted by mai at 10:41 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

My parents

--didn't push a religion or ideology on me other than the golden rule;

--taught me to read by reading aloud to me early and often, following the words with a finger so I'd follow along;

--let me make mistakes even when they could see them coming;

--gradually increased my freedom but maintained firm expectations when I was a teenager;

--made me help around the house as a child, then get summer jobs as a teen.

My parents didn't finish college, so they wanted me to. They emphasized academic achievement and performance above all, which I appreciate. It's taken me far. However, because I got all A's, they thought I was working much harder at school than I really was. So they didn't push me into sports/activities, music, or other extracurricular activities.

Looking back, I wish they had. I sheltered myself because I didn't push my social boundaries. Also, while I made solid habits out of reading and thinking, I didn't develop habits out of being physically active or slowly developing skills through practice.
posted by Boxenmacher at 10:53 AM on June 6, 2012

My father never denied me sheet music, and to this day it's one of those things that almost makes me teary when I think about my dad. Any sheet music I ever wanted, he would buy for me.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:05 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

My parents did an amazing job of balancing structure and independence. Our home always felt very safe and secure because there were certain things that were just taken for granted - that we would eat dinner together (this changed a bit when my brother and I got older, but it was still fairly constant), that we would speak to each other with respect, that my parents would be home in the evening.

On the other hand, they trusted us to do our own thing and make good choices, at developmentally appropriate levels. When I was 8 or 9, I started being a latchkey kid, and I thought I was getting away with something big by spending the first hour or so every afternoon watching Nickelodeon instead of doing my homework. I'm sure my parents knew, but as long as my schoolwork got done, they didn't try to control how I spent my time. Likewise, I was allowed to walk to and from school every day, to my friends' houses, or spend hours in the woods near my house - I think this kind of independence is important for kids that age.

Then when I got to high school, my parents trusted me to stay out of trouble - I was allowed to have a social life and they never raised an eyebrow about any of my friends (and in retrospect, some of them were kids I would not want my own kids hanging out with!). They just trusted me to make good choices. I honestly think this stability and trust is one of the things that kept me out of significant trouble when I was in high school - besides being a bit of a cautious nerd, I really, really did not want to let my parents down. It didn't hurt that they'd been pretty open about their own involvement in 60s counterculture - rebelling becomes a lot less appealing when you know that you will really never be as cool as your parents were!

Oh, and we all read A LOT in my house. The house was full of books and people were always reading. My brother and I used to bring books with us to restaurants to read while we waited for the food. Some people might think that's bad manners, but my parents really instilled a love of reading in us.
posted by lunasol at 11:28 AM on June 6, 2012

My parents stayed together. People underestimate that one all the time, but was a big big thing. I know now that my parents were unhappy in their marriage for months or years at a time, but they always stuck it through. Now they are approaching fifty years of marriage and they are happy, world traveling fools.

other things they did:
1) Had a big focus on learning and playing thinking games.
2) Played games all the time. Taught us sportsmanship, strategy, and how to be gracious in victory and defeat.
3) Good Schools. At two separate times my parents moved simply to put my brother and I in a better school.
4) They were there. My Dad was smart enough to be a climber in his career, but he only wanted the kinds of assignments that would keep him close to his family. So he was there. Just as my mom was. Soccer Coach. Den mother. Y Indian Guides. Playing catch in the front yard. The whole suburban parents gig.
posted by cross_impact at 12:30 PM on June 6, 2012

Best answer: My parents were fab when I was a kid (surrounded by books, love, and progressive politics) but they really shone when I was a teenager.

- I wasn't allowed to get piercings or tattoos, but I could do anything I wanted with my hair. Dye it blue, shave it off, use honey to make hideously ill-advised dreadlocks. Anything. Their rationale: hair grows back. Same anything-goes policy went for clothing, as long as I could pull it together for family gatherings and special occasions.

- I had a one-time-only get-out-of-jail-free card for illegal substances. They told me that they wouldn't get mad the first time something happened, be it drunkenness or being caught with a joint or whatever, they would just work with me to ensure that it never happened again — not the getting caught part, but the overindulging/abusing. If it happened again, then hell would break loose. I never actually cashed this in (thanks to a lot of their parenting decisions, I was never a big drinker and never really got into drugs at all) but it was really nice to know it was there.

- My mom was very clear on the fact that I could use her as an excuse to get out of any situation that made me uncomfortable. Didn't want to go to a party but wanted to seem like I wanted to go? My stupid mom is making me play family games night on Friday. At a friend's house and felt pressured to drink or go TPing or play truth or dare? My mom wants me to call her at 7 to check in; oh hey, she really wants me to come home, stupid sucky mom. This saved my social position (nerdy as I was, I could have theoretically fallen lower) on multiple occasions.
posted by firstbest at 12:51 PM on June 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

I could write a book about the stuff my parents did right. The older I get the more I realize how lucky I was as a child. One general theme that's on my mind today is trust, so maybe I'll just give a few examples of that quality.

1. They trusted me on the internet. I began using the internet as a 10-year-old in the mid 90s. My parents had absolutely no idea what I was doing online - I knew much more about computers than they did. Perhaps they would have worried if they had known anything whatsoever about the internet, I don't know, but for whatever reason they trusted my judgment. I spent 99% of my online time doing totally age appropriate things. When I occasionally stumbled on to less savory things (in the early days of AIM, some guy tried to initiate cyber sex, creepy message boards, etc.), I was pretty uninterested. It wasn't forbidden, exciting territory or some terrifying underworld - just a bunch of creepy adults doing things I wasn't interested in. They did make sure I never gave out my real name or contact info. I was able to have a whole private life online - online friends, online journals, informational websites they didn't know I was reading, etc. None of it was inappropriate, and I never got in to any trouble because they made sure I understood how to take care of myself in general.

2. They trusted me to pick friends. Never EVER said a bad word against my friends. Later found out they really didn't like a few of them, but they never told me. I ended up coming to the same conclusions as they did, it just took me a little longer when I was very young.

3. Trusted me to climb trees, bike miles from the house, use tools, use knives, cross streets, and cook unsupervised by the time I was ~ 8 or 9. I was a very cautious child, and they had of course educated me on all the dangers involved. Once they were convinced that I understood the risks they made me responsible for my own safety. I later found out that my mother was always nervous when I was on long bike rides, and that they secretly watched or worried often - but they wanted me to grow up feeling confident and empowered, so they didn't let on.

4. Trusted me to make all my own decisions about religion.

5. Trusted me to pick my own interests. Never forced me in to anything I didn't want to do, nor did they belittle any of my interests.
posted by Cygnet at 4:47 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I was 4, me and my Mother were coming back from a trip to Hong Kong and Japan. My mother was visibly part of the punk sub-culture, and had a prior charge for possession of marijuana.

She did the mental calculations, and assumed that she would probably be stopped by customs officials, coming back into the country.
Therefore, while still in Japan, she told me what the plan was for going home.
I.e. that we would be going on a plane again, just like we did coming over, and that yes, I could have all the tomato juice I wanted on the plane (I asked the air attendants everytime they went past, which lead to about 4 glasses at one point??), and then at the airport back home we might go into a room for awhile while Mum would talk with the grownups, and that if we did, I didn't have to talk to the grownups there at all, and if they asked, all I had to tell them was my name, age and that I was a kindy kid (ie name, age and occupation - ha!), and then Nana & Grandad would be picking us up, and we would all go to their house for dinner.
And y'know what?
Everything happened just like she said!

We were actually held for several hours at the airport (*sigh* Poor Mum...), but I was happy (if bored), and safe in the knowledge that everything expected, normal, and was going according to plan. My mother treated it like it was normal around me, so I wasn't scared.

That is a fantastic example of how to deal with situations that might be upsetting for a small child. Children don't usually have the context for unusual situations, they get upset based off how upset the adults are.

My Mother had a knack for making sure that grown-up's problems didn't become my/children's problems, and I think that is a fantastic and necessary skill for a parent.

On the other hand, I have friends who were deeply afraid during childhood, because they were from an upper class background, and a divorce was moving them to middle class. Talk of losing the house had them convinced that they were going to be literally homeless, because they didn't have any context, and their parents were audibly worrying about grown-up issues around them, or worse, seeking emotional support from children.
Don't put kids in that situation.

You'll have enough problems with a responsible kid trying to assume the role of adults when they don't need too.
Example: When my Grandfather died, I decided that it was now my job to look after my mother and grandfather, and that I should avoid worrying them or upsetting them by telling them I was being bullied etc. A counterpoint skill to the first skill, is letting kids see that you do go to other adults for help/assistance/support with problems. You can tell kids to come to you with any issues they are having, but they learn much better by example.
For small children, I often have somewhat overacted conversations in front of them with other adults, where we model and display example behavior. I've had many conversations of this type with a friend where we discussed what to do if I made a mistake, and that I would come tell her and get her help with it, in front of her 3-4 year old, who would then join in the conversation as an equal participant.
posted by Elysum at 5:33 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

My parents:

- Encouraged my thirst for knowledge in pretty much anything. If I wanted to learn about airplanes, they'd get me a book about airplanes. Next day it was dinosaurs - have a book! Want an animal encyclopaedia? Sure. As I grew older, they lent me their old HTML/CSS textbooks instead of telling me how to do things, which led to me learning a lot more.
- Were not scared of my friends' families or my friends. I was allowed to go over to people's houses quite often, have sleepovers, so on.
- Were genuinely interested in my friends and my interests (even if they didn't understand). For all that they sometimes couldn't keep everyone straight, they made me feel like they were interested in my life. As a result, I felt comfortable bringing friends over and talking to my parents about what I was up to.
- Gave me a ridiculous amount of freedom as a teenager. I had a curfew of 10 PM but was supposed to call home if I wasn't coming home right after school. Tying into the above, I felt comfortable enough with them to tell them who I was with and where I was going.
- Made it very very clear that if I was in a bind, they would pick me up with 0 judgement. I would be held accountable and we would have a discussion about it after I was safe and more relaxed, but I knew that if I was stuck - no matter how, where, why, or with whom - they'd move heaven and earth to come get me and make sure I was OK.
- Insisted on having family dinner every night, no TV in the room unless it was a show multiple of us watched. This is a habit that we cherish as adults and now that our parents have passed on, because we know how to talk to each other over dinner and we can relate on that level. It seems kind of silly, but I think this helped us develop the ability for small talk and amicable disagreements. Sure, there was a lot of angry stomping off when we were teens, but I really cherish those memories.
- Insisted that there was nothing girls couldn't do (in terms of interests). They could have taken this farther in terms of gender neutrality but they planted the thought in our heads. My brother and I have utmost respect for women (even throughout high school), are baffled by our sexist compatriots and never belittle our baby sister for being the only girl (we tease her about being the baby a lot instead). My sister is also a fiercely independent young woman.
- Played games with us. When we were little, we'd go on family bike rides (complete with singing songs as loud as we could... in hindsight, that was likely obnoxious as hell) or explore the houses being built in new developments nearby. We'd go to the park and feed ducks. I'd climb trees. We'd play soccer, baseball, swim, etc. My dad built a swingset and had every single one of us help as best we could for our age level and interest levels. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer and we were all little, she'd have us help her with puzzles.
- Involved us in what they were doing. Fixing the car? Bring me that wrench. Nice try, the other wrench... no the other other wrench. Installing a pool? Stand here and hold this. Sewing? Help me cut out these pieces but leave (way more room than necessary) outside the lines. We were never told that something was an adult's job or that we couldn't do it - they redirected us to something else if it was dangerous, often by telling us so directly (ie. "that's more dangerous than I'd like, I don't want you to get hurt, how about you do X instead for me?")

My parents weren't perfect but I loved them fiercely. Best of luck raising your soon-to-be-ex-blob!
posted by buteo at 5:40 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I love this thread. I had a single mom and absentee dad, so this list is pretty mom-centric. Much like others above, I was taught to read early and allowed any book I wanted, had chores and got a job at 13, etc. I also did not have a curfew and was given a lot of freedom, trust, and responsibility. She isn't perfect of course, but here are my takeaways...

-Fun traditions. Once or twice a year we would have a "Family Skip Day" where she would let us stay home from school and we would take the entire day to play games, make meals together, cuddle, whatever. My sister was 1-2 days away from perfect attendance every year, but we always thought it was worth it.
-She never talked badly about my father. When he chose to come get us on a rare weekend and we got excited about it, she encouraged that without any sarcasm or shitty remarks.
-She was always helping someone, but had healthy boundaries. My mother is the master of lending a hand and laying a smackdown if she's being used.
-She was always very clear that we were in charge of our own bodies. There was no forceful "Give creepy second cousin Kevin a hug" while we were squirming to get away business.
-I didn't find out until I was an adult that she had several short term relationships that did not work out while I was in grade school. She didn't bring home every single guy she dated to meet us. I work with families and children now and I see a lot of my clients introducing kids to their new daddy every other week. It makes me really appreciate my mom's commitment to giving us stability. When she introduced us to the man who became my stepfather, it was after some pretty serious vetting.

Best of luck to you- I'm going to go call my mom now :-)
posted by shes_ajar at 6:11 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Other kids had a lot of uncertainty: divorced parents, remarried-and-divorced-again parents, harried mom and a series of unsatisfactory boyfriends, distant dad and a series of unsatisfactory girlfriends, out-of-work parents, roaming parents who forced their kids to change schools and lose friends, parents who seemed to be just other kids in parent suits, drunk parents, hard-partying parents, parents who seemed to forget they were parents too often.

There was never any doubt for the five of us that our parents would always be together, that they would work for us, keep the house together for us, feed us, defend us, and not fritter things away on whims and bad risks. They were adults, solid and honest and sober, and they were parents by intention, not just people who happened to have five children along the way.

If you can provide anything even close to that, everything else will be almost incidental.
posted by pracowity at 11:34 PM on June 6, 2012

Such a great thread! I'm teary-eyed with gratitude reading through all of these responses.

I've got great parents. Here are two of many things they've done for/modeled for me while I was growing up and grown:

1. They taught me to take care of older people in the family and in the community. My mother was a steady caregiver to her mother (who didn't seem to appreciate it) and her uncle (who did). My father, who worked a lot, didn't have the same flexibility of time that she did but always encouraged her and supported her in doing this work. And he did what he could, too. But it wasn't just people they're related to: my parents have always helped elderly friends, neighbors, and members of their synagogue--taking them to doctors' appointments, visiting, getting groceries, calling. They don't draw a lot of attention to it. They don't do a lot of wrangling about it. They just do it. When I was growing up, they didn't force me to take over these duties, but they did encourage me to talk to these older people, ask questions, and show interest in their lives. I live far away from my parents now and miss the multi-generational world they live in. I'm not religious, but I sometimes think about joining a synagogue to build these kinds of relationships.

2. My parents were vocal about believing in me and wanting me to succeed--and then backing that up with action, however modest it might have been. On one occasion, when I was in my late-ish 20s and in grad school and was certainly old enough to be financially independent, they gave me $2000 to put in my savings account as a safety net. I tried not to take it--told them to invest the money for their own retirements. They said, "You are our diamonds. You are our stock. We would rather invest money in you than in anything else." My parents both grew up in poor immigrant families and worked hard to make it to the middle class. They never had a surplus of money lying around. $2000 was, even then, not a small sum. When they said that to me, I burst into tears, not just because I could use that safety net (as a grad student whose stipend was $12,000/year, $2000 was a lot of money) but because they had captured in words how they treated me my whole life. I was (am) their diamonds. They would rather invest in me than in anything else. It's easier to move in the world when you have people who believe in you that much.
posted by pittsburgher at 12:29 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

A great thing my mother did, when I was an adolescent, was tell me that I could always "use her as an excuse" -- that is, if I ever felt that I was in an uncomfortable situation, I could say "oh man, I promised my mom I'd be home by X o'clock" (or other fake reason) and call her to come get me, no questions asked. This made clear both that I should trust my gut when things don't feel right (something we don't convey often enough) and that I could rely on my parents when it was really important -- that they were more interested in keeping me safe than in passing judgement.

I think there was a related thing in a later sex-talk along the lines of "I'd rather you wait, but if you're not going to, I'd rather we made sure you have everything you need for safety and prevention of pregnancy," which is a tough conversation for a parent and also valuable.

Honesty and approachability on difficult topics, combined with a clear message that you've got your kid's back when it matters; throw in some bedtime stories, and you're doing pretty well!
posted by acm at 8:54 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

The best thing my parents did for me was not be my best friend. They were my parents.

If I was doing something they didn't like, they would tell me to stop doing it and change it. Too many kids nowadays it seems are buddy-buddy with their parents to the point that they have no boundaries and can come and go as they please. With this loss of boundaries, the kids come to disrespect their parents when the parents do try to discipline. By then it's too late. It seems that parents nowadays are afraid of hurting the feelings of their kid by not letting them go see a movie or hang out with friends when they have homework that's due, and the more this happens, the less they respect you, the less they value hard work and education, and over value reward. Don't give your kid everything because it makes you feel good. The warm fuzzy feeling you get from letting them have the thing instead of them working for it is fleeting. They'll ask you more and more for something that they didn't work for and lose the meaning of hard work and effort and reward. Don't do that with your kid. It's okay that they'll be mad at you; it's only temporary. I tried this with my parents a few times and just found it easier to do the work needed first and the feel good about getting a reward for hard work I did.

My parents were not my friends. My parents were awesome. The best I could ever hope for. They loved us and respected us and allowed me to grow into the person I am today without judgement. But if I steered too far away, they would step in and lead me back on the right path.

My parents didn't argue in front of me and my brother. Every now and again it would boil over, but if a child sees his/her parents fighting all the time, it changes them.

I have a child on the way now and I thank my lucky stars that my parents instilled a work ethic and personal worth into me. I'm glad they weren't my friend. I'm glad they didn't let me do stupid shit and leave the house and fuck whomever I wanted. Children need structure and routine, and within that, all the love and support you can possibly muster to shape them into the most awesome, loving, caring, respectful, happy human being you can.

TL;DR: Don't be your kid's best friend. Be their parent. They'll respect and love you more because of it.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 10:35 AM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Brain usage is mandatory, in all aspects, in all situations.

The biggest disappointment I could ever do to them was to do something bad because "I didn't think about what would happend". Always think a few steps ahead on the chess board. When I became a teenager, I was so used to this that I didn't need to get any safety instructions on how to use an axe, because I was able to see the consequences in my head before using the axe, so I could figure out proper usage ahead of swinging it. I used a lot of dangerous tools, but was never injured because of the mandatory usage of the brain.

Dinner time was discussion time. Always everybody at the table. Good arguments win, even if the kid provides the argument – the adults has to accept they lost the discussion. Let the kids argue for their case. Ask "why do you...". Let them figure out stuff on their own. Don't be a helicopter mom.

Very, very seldom disciplined (in fact, can't remember any). Always explain why it was bad. Instead of saying "Don't swear", then make them understand why it is worse for them in the long run when they swear, how they loose social status, how teachers react to it. Like herding cats: you can't dictate what they should do, but you can make them interested in doing things the good way. Just like it was your brother: you don't discipline your brother, you explain why you are disappointed and how it hurts you.

No limitations on books from library. Got all the books I wanted from book club: as long as I read them, they payed them. Contemporary version: no filter on internet. Talk with your kid about stuff out there instead of blocking. Talk at early age, before the kid gets interested. Talk about sex with boys before it becomes about girls. Start with how animals reproduce.

Chores are important. Easy chores must start at a very early age. Never treat kids as if they're staying at a hotel. Let them sort their dirty clothes, let them put toys away themselves. Never do it yourself, even when it's 100 times faster.

Tasted alcohol from 5-6 years old. Result was that I was never interested, was never "the forbidden fruit". Ended up as the guy who never saw the point of trying to get alcohol in secret like the other kids in class.

Kids aren't incomplete humans. They are full humans, just young humans. My mom was a teacher and she was good at telling me how a teacher sees the world, just like if I was another adult. It helped me a lot in school that I was able to view the class from our teachers point of view. I knew how to convince teachers and what arguments they would fall for. The other kids were amazed at hearing a kid talk to a teacher like it was two adults talking.

(In many other ways my parents were pure shit, but in the above aspects they were good)
posted by flif at 12:44 PM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

- My family had five kids, which could get pretty hectic and made it hard to have one-on-one time with a parent. For a few years we had a family tradition in which one kid and one parent got to go out to dinner alone together (I don't remember how often these happened - maybe every other week?) on a rotating schedule, so it worked out that every couple months each kid had the opportunity to have some real quality time alone with one of the parents. This set-up didn't last long, but I still treasure my memories of it. Other than that, we were always an "eating dinner together as a family" family, and that's something that was definitely important to me.
-God forbid you should ever get divorced, but one thing about my mom that I remain in awe of to this day is how she pretty much never made mean or insulting comments about my dad or stepmom to me and my siblings - from what I've seen of my friends who have divorced parents, this is extremely rare.
posted by naoko at 12:45 PM on June 7, 2012

n-thing the book thing. The only books my parents ever denied me, in my entire life, were DnD manuals (which, looking back on it, was probably good for that whole "virginity" and "awkwardness" thing, anyway). We went to the library religiously, and my parents would buy me any book I wanted that wasn't available at the library. Our household even had a rule "Don't ask for toys. Find a book, instead." I am an avid reader to this day, largely because it was ingrained in my lifestyle from an early age.

My parents grew up in a rural part of Oklahoma and don't have a particularly broad worldview. However, any time I wanted to push the boundaries of educational opportunities in my backwater Deliverance-esque hometown, they were my fiercest advocates. They were kicked out of a school superintendent's office while trying to create a a program so I could start a policy debate team at my school (they kept at it until they succeeded, I might add.). If your kids have drive and passion, support them. I'm not a lawyer (or even close), but I use the skills I developed from my love of debate and public speaking every day. It's hard for parents to understand how great it is to have unquestioning support of seemingly small details/passions.

My parents also came to EVERYTHING I ever did from Kindergarten through Senior year of high school. Every terrible band performance, every public speaking engagement, the quiz bowl tournaments, they watched me sit on the bench in 5th grade basketball. Without question, at least one parent was there. This sounds bizarre and much like a helicopter parent, but it goes so far with instilling confidence in kids who might be just a touch afraid to go out there and "do it big." Little kids have a hard time understanding how parental units can care more about work than their awesome performances in the 3rd grade play. Don't ever give them a reason to question that relationship if you can possibly avoid it.
posted by conradjones at 5:46 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

My father helped other people. He helped his friends, gave away his labor for free, gave people money, gave people (often outcasts or people with no alternatives) a place to stay. He didn't have much, and he often gave what little he had away to someone who needed it. He taught me how to care about other people.

My stepfather always, always acts with integrity. He succeeds on his own merits and never tries to shortcut the system or take the easy way out. He unfailingly treated me fairly as a child and with respect as an adult. He's become a better person with age. He taught me honesty, self-respect and self-discipline.
posted by cnc at 1:37 PM on June 8, 2012

One other thing. My dad told me very plainly and explicitly to always value experiences over possessions.

That was one of the more useful bits of advice in life.
posted by ead at 11:39 PM on June 10, 2012

Things my parents did right:

1. Never, ever took a book away from me or my brother, or questioned our choice of reading. Even if this meant that I was reading the encyclopedia at age 8, or my brother was reading nothing but Sports Illustrated all through high school. The one and only time I ever remember my parents challenging me about something I read, it wasn't an accusation that I was reading something that was "too old" or anything like that -- it was about whether I'd really read something as quickly as it seemed I had. (I'd gotten 15 chapters into Watership Down in the course of two hours, and my father thought I was skimming and gave me a pop quiz; I not only was correctly able to identify that it was Blackberry who found the raft, I was able to explain to Dad that Thlayli and Bigwig were the same character. He apologized.)

2. My father liked to take the devil's advocate side of conversations; partly for fun, becuase he liked a good debate, but partly because he was subtly trying to teach us to accept that the other person's perspective was often just as valid as yours, and the key was both of you working together. You didn't win a debate with Dad by getting him to agree with you, you won when he said, "....oh, hey, yeah, that's a good point."

3. My mother is fairly devoutly Catholic, but she never had a problem with people of other faiths -- quite the opposite; if a friend asked me to sleep over on Saturday night, she'd say sure, just go to church with them on Sunday if they go, and then when I got home she'd ask me what it was like -- with appreciation. She was endlessly curious about how other people thought and what they believed, and sought out those other expressions of faith or just life. It wasn't a sort of spectator-y "isn't it quaint that those people think this way," it was more of a sincere, "what a wonderful way to express that, I hadn't thought of it!" That taught me a curiosity for and an appreciation for diversity.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:44 AM on June 12, 2012

The best thing they did for me was never paying for any of my stuff. College was not paid for...I bought my own car...if I wanted money, I had to work. Made it much easier to manage my finances once I was independent.
posted by swedishmarsh at 7:34 PM on June 12, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, guys, for all the amazing responses. It was really hard to pick the best answers. I have a lot to think about. I can tell you that I've already looked at my tantrum-throwing kid and said both, "I love you very much and I always will, but I don't like the way you're behaving right now" and "Whiners get nothing!"
posted by woodvine at 12:18 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

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