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Now that our children are getting older, how do we know if we are doing a good job as parents?

brother & sisterThere is a whole history to your parent-child relationship that began at the moment your youngster was born. To help you better understand the present, try to gain some insights into where you have been as a family. Think back on your experiences with your child when he was a baby, a toddler, and a preschooler. Ask yourself:

  • How active a parent were you in those early years? Did you play a major child-raising role in the family, or were there other demands (such as long hours at work) that kept you from being as involved as you would have liked?
  • What were your most enjoyable parenting and family experiences during those years?

Since those first years of your child’s life, your parenting techniques may have changed. Perhaps you were quite anxious as a new parent but gained confidence as the months and years passed. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What have you learned as a parent? What were the hardest skills to learn?
  • What were your best traits as a parent of a young child? What were the areas in which you had the most problems? For example, did you find it difficult to relate to your child before he started to talk? Was it difficult for you to set limits when he entered toddlerhood? How did he respond to you in your parenting role?
  • What did you want to change about yourself as a parent as your child grew? How successful have you been in making those changes? Keep in mind that as your child grows, you and the entire family need to change too. In essence, you are proceeding through your own development as a parent.

Even if you made mistakes during those early years, you can amend them now. If you missed out on certain family experiences because you were working too hard, you still have many years to enjoy your spouse and children. In general, children are understanding and forgive their parents for shortcomings and faults. And if you weren’t there when your child took his first steps or rode his tricycle for the first time, you can be there for other special events to come, like your child’s school play and his soccer games.

Your Current Parenting Experiences

Spend some time thinking about how you are doing as a parent during these middle years of your youngster’s childhood. This is a challenging time, in which your child is seeking more independence and is questioning the family’s rules. And, from time to time, you may have to help him with school-related problems. He will be developing more peer relationships, too, and his interactions with siblings may change.

How well are you parenting your child during this time in his life? In what areas are you doing well? Where do you think you need more help?

Your Current Life Issues

For many men and women, the stress in their lives interferes with their ability to parent. If they are unhappy on the job, for instance, they might return home preoccupied and tense at the end of the day and be unable to handle the tasks of running a family as effectively.

Take a moment to assess how you feel about these and other important aspects of your life.

  • Your career and occupation
  • Your relationships at work
  • Your living conditions, including your home and neighborhood
  • Your lifestyle, including time for yourself and leisure activities
  • Aging: growing older, slowing down and experiencing changes in your body
  • Your relationship with your spouse or partner
  • Your relationship with your parents and siblings
  • Your friendships

Evaluate problems in these areas, and how they might be influencing your family life. Whenever possible, find ways to deal with these difficulties in your life more effectively, so they will not interfere with your parent-child relationships.

For example, if you are like many parents, your day is so filled with job and family responsibilities that you have absolutely no “down time,” when you become a priority. Keep in mind, however, that most parents are happier people (and thus better parents) when they make time for things they find pleasurable. As your children move through their school years, they will develop interests and responsibilities (from friends to homework) that can provide you with more time for those activities that you find enriching. You do not need to devote every free moment to playing checkers or baseball with your children; in fact, as long as you are also setting aside some time for your youngsters, they will probably feel good knowing that you are pursuing interests that you really enjoy.


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Parenting Tips: Giving Your Children the Gift of Time


Today’s parents talk quite a bit about spending quality time with their children. Some parents believe that if they’ve spent an hour of “quality” time with their children, they’ve done enough. This hour is usually focused on an enjoyable activity: watching t.v., going out to eat, going to the movies, etc.

Although today’s world turns at a frenetic pace and parents are often overwhelmed by all they have to do, our parenting tips will highlight the importance of spending both quality and what I call quantity time with your kids.

To illustrate the difference between the two, let me share a brief story.

The other day at the supermarket, I ran into an acquaintance. In order to protect his identity, we’ll call him Joe. After we exchanged greetings, I asked about his nine year old son, Sam. Joe is divorced and has custody of Sam every other weekend. He told me: “Let me give you a parenting tip. Every time I do something with Sam, I make sure it’s something fun. Last weekend, I took him to Disneyland. I’m spending quality time with him all right … yeah, that’s what I’m doing.” When I asked how Sam was doing in school, Joe stammered for a moment, then waved me off, “That kid’s got the world by the tail.”

Let’s begin by recognizing Joe’s efforts to spend time with his son. Given his situation, time constraints and his understanding of what Sam needs from him, he’s trying to be a decent father. It seems, though, that his need to make sure that Sam is always entertained might stem from feelings of guilt over spending little time with him. It’s a modus operandi that I refer to as “guilty parenting.” Here’s the first of my parenting tips: when you feel bad about your inability to do something for your child and try to make up for it through some compensatory action, you can create an ill affect.

Instead of being honest, we overcompensate and act like peers, rather than parents. It’s important to note that this phenomenon isn’t unique to men, even though traditionally they have had less time to spend with children. Suffice it to say that guilty parenting overcompensates and causes children to view themselves as victims. This happens because children model our behavior and point their fingers at the parent who points the finger at himself.

That said, let’s talk about the concept of time. From my bag of parenting tips comes this quote: “Time is the most precious thing you own.” Because our lives are so full of hurry, worry and activity, we often stress the importance of spending “quality time” with our children. But this may stem from the guilt of knowing that we often push our kids to the bottom of the list. Yes, we assure them, I’ll spend some time with you, but only after I finish this and that. Spending time with our kids becomes another item on our laundry list, as if they were a “thing to do.”

Some years back, I saw an interview with actor, Paul Sorvino, who talked about how proud he was that his daughter, Mira, had recently won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. He remarked that he had been a hands-on father who had always been there for his children. He ended by saying that there’s no such thing as “quality time.”

Parenting tips: The quantity of time that you spend with your children matters just as much as the quality of that time.

While I understood what he meant, I think that we shouldn’t alienate parents who have less time because of jobs or circumstances beyond their control.

The point is that quantity time matters just as much, if not more, than quality time.

While it’s okay to take your kids to Disneyland, it isn’t a substitute for good parenting.

Parents need to be there–they need to be a witness to their children’s lives. That means creating good times, but more importantly, it means being there when things are tough. It means being an active participant in your child’s everyday struggles.

For example: working with a child who is dyslexic to help him sort out his letters, helping a child who gives up much too easily to learn to try again, teaching a child who is quick to anger how to channel his intensity into something positive. Helping a troubled kid or troubled teen learn how to correct maladaptive behaviors. This, of course, requires time, patience and a willingness to participate in a long-term process. This is quantity time. Quantity time requires that we be there. Quality time ends once the weekend trip is over and Sunday evening rolls around.

We speak in terms of quality time because we live in a society where money and things have come to rule our lives. The solution to this is simple: make a decision that family matters. Once you’ve made family your priority, it’s fairly easy to weed out the activities that take up too much time and create parenting plans that serve the interests of the entire family. Maybe when you were single and had no children, you could do it all, but having a family has changed all that. As parents, we have to make hard choices. This means saying “no” more often to the people and activities that aren’t central to our lives. As always, it’s a balancing act, but the more we choose, the clearer our priorities become.

In our fast-paced society, we often forget that relationships take care and time. Spending time with your children shouldn’t be seen as “doing time”—it shouldn’t feel like a prison sentence. (If it does, then playing with your child will be your greatest medicine because it will teach you to relax.)

Parenting tips for creating more time with your children:

  • Parenting Tips 1:

Rethink your life: one day each week, squeeze your schedule into your family life, rather than your family into your schedule. Find things that you can do together as a family. Make sure that you give each child individualized attention. Talk to your child; find out how he’s doing. Make yourself responsible for having a finger on his pulse. Be accessible, even when you’re busy.

  • Parenting Tips 2:

Spending time doesn’t mean you have to do anything special. All it means is that you give your interest and attention. If you’re overwhelmed with chores, ask your kids to help. There’s something about engaging with others in rote activity that invites conversation and connection. Above all, check yourself before you use candy, money, toys or trips to make up for being unavailable. Remind yourself that this is often a clever defense to assuage a sense of guilt.

  •  Parenting Tips 3:

Unscheduled time–time spent spontaneously and given freely— is a great healer of relationship. Learn to make time for the people in your life. Have days or at least moments when you freely give your time. Don’t worry that the laundry isn’t folded or that you have a million things to do. Put all that aside and give your children time. By doing so, you’ll be giving them the most valuable thing you own.

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