Written by Susan H. Christiansen

I am blessed to be a mother of six children for 20 years now, and despite what you might think, the time has flown by so slowly. Days seem to go at a slower pace while years seem to go by at hyperspeed. My oldest is finishing college this year, and my youngest is in second grade. 

I want to share some things I’ve learned that – I hope – will help parents avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made while leaning into the unexpected goodness that can happen in a family.

Here are  11.5 tips for parents to make the most out of the parenting journey, in no particular order:

1. Love + Acceptance = Safety

I’ve realized that the number one need my children have is to feel loved. To be loved is to:

  • Be seen clearly – I try to frequently look directly into my child’s eyes and tell them “I love you” while feeling that love. I need to “see” them by noticing their character traits, interests, struggles, and dreams.
  • Be accepted – I do my best to consistently show interest in their passions. The opposite of acceptance is criticism and rejection (The Role of Parental Acceptance ). Acceptance doesn’t mean that I agree with every choice and decision they make, but I accept them as an individual of worth.
  • Feel safe – I help my children feel safe by establishing predictable safety measures, routines, traditions and being available to help them through whatever they are experiencing with empathy.

2.   There is a difference between “being loved” and “feeling loved.”

Our children receive love in different ways (a la “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman). I need to become aware of how they feel love and provide that for them, along with other types of love. I can figure this out by seeing how they show me “love.” Is it: 

  1. Words of affirmation?
  2. Physical touch?
  3. Quality time?
  4. Acts of service?
  5. Gifts?

The Five Love Languages of Children, written by Gary Chapman, is a favorite because it helps you identify your child’s primary love language and offers suggestions for better communication and ways to show love. He includes a link to his website where parents can download worksheets that accompany the book.

3. I do have “mommy senses,” but I am not all-powerful and all-knowing.

I genuinely believe that parents, particularly mothers, develop “mommy senses.” These are created from a foundation of love, learning, applying knowledge, intuition, and maturity as the mother develops as a person and in her mothering style. 

Contrary to what my children may or may not believe, I am not all-knowing. We joke about it at home, but my children must know that I don’t know everything and that I’m still learning. But I know more than they do, so they should listen to my counsel.

4. Sometimes you stay in your bathrobe for the day, and it doesn’t mean you’re a failure.

There are days when things don’t go as planned as often or more than unplanned good days. Some days you’re getting the kids ready for bed and realize that you still have your bathrobe on. 

Did you feed the kids? Have you taken care of the kids’ needs? Are they safe? Probably. Then don’t sweat the small stuff. There will be a new day tomorrow to try again. I think motherhood is a lot of the “get up and try again” mentality.

5. It’s good to have a rest day. 

It’s essential to have built-in rest days. I’ve learned that I could be the most disciplined, most organized mother on the planet and still not have time to get everything I want to get done in a day completed. Too little rest leads to burnout and exhaustion. We get sick more easily or are forced to rest when our bodies are drained or overwhelmed. 

We need to rest our minds, our bodies, our schedules. Don’t feel guilty for one second. Relaxation is an integral part of a healthy life.

6. Kids need to learn to cook.

Oh, my peas! (Pun intended.) When I first got married, I was not a good cook. I remember being so stressed out thinking that I now had to create meals every night like I grew up with or saw on TV. Even my scrambled eggs were dry! Part of that thinking was a romanticized view of marriage. Another factor was genuine – I lacked skills. 

My husband was kind as I learned to cook, and today, most of what I make is enjoyable. When my kids were young, I decided that cooking was one of the family’s non-negotiable jobs. 

A dad helps his daughter cook in the kitchen

I started by having my children stand or sit next to me while explaining what I was doing. Then I gave them small tasks to do with me. Finally, they learned to cook eggs by themselves, then moved on to more challenging tasks. I always encouraged them to look up recipes for themselves. 

We imagined how they could use the skill of cooking as they grew up (making lunches, bringing snacks to parties, cooking in their apartments, at college). Each child in my house is responsible for one dinner on their assigned day. Sometimes we still have to say “no eggs” to get them to branch out.

7. Start giving children choices when they are young.

When I was reading parenting books early on, I noticed many emphases placed on giving children choices from a young age. By giving them two options, children learn they can impact their happiness. 

When they make good choices, they get things they want: TV time, money for doing school or chores, good grades, friends, etc. As parents, we don’t need to control everything. We can give children practice making small decisions that grow in importance as they age. 

A young child might decide whether to play inside or outside, while a tween might decide to save their money for a video game they want or save it for later. An older teen will need to make choices that impact the rest of their lives. As parents, one of the best things we can do is help our children learn to make wise choices and look forward to adulthood.

8. Give children chores when they are young.

The age-appropriate chores graphic is from yourmodernfamily.com.

Children learn they have the power to affect change in their environment, and they develop confidence and responsibility. I can attest that it is much easier to establish a habit of choices and consequences with my 8-year-old than my 17-year-old. 

It’s tough to teach a teen about the responsibilities of adulthood when they receive everything they want or need without doing any work for it. I like to tell my children, “When you pick up one end of the stick, you also pick up the other end.” You can make choices, but you can’t make up the consequences.

9. Moms need to have hobbies and interests outside of the family.

I was so worried about being a good mother that I devoted all of my time and energy to studying and practicing being a good mother to my kids. As we had more kids and grew busier, more and more of my time was spent feeding and caring for my family. 

I often found myself exhausted. Someone wiser than me told me that I needed to do two things:

1) leave the house and spend time away from my family, and

2) I needed to develop hobbies outside of being a wife and mother

I realized that I stopped being me somewhere along the way and started being “mom” full-time.

10. Children are born with a variety of personalities and aptitudes.

I always knew I was going to try to be a great mom. As my children grew and I learned more, I thought if I prepared an optimal environment and provided all my children with the same opportunities, they would all choose to take advantage. 

It turns out that I can’t force them to do what I want them to do.  Kids have ideas, thoughts, and feelings that don’t necessarily match my ideas for their futures. I’ve had to learn to offer choices and listen to their ideas and areas of interest. Then, together, we can explore and make plans.

I can give advice, but they don’t have to take it. My kids will also have to learn from the consequences of their choices.

11. The state of my marriage affects my children. 

Throughout the years, I’ve realized that my family can discern my mood. It doesn’t matter whether I say anything or change my behavior. Our minds register nonverbal messages and respond to them anyway.

When my husband and I are in conflict, our entire house feels tense. Marital problems over long periods often lead to depression and anxiety in children. Learning and modeling better communication skills and problem-solving strategies helps the parents as well as the children. 

A couple in marriage counseling

I strongly advise finding a suitable marriage therapist to work with both the husband and wife to teach them how to identify problems, talk about the issues, and seek solutions together.

It’s also vital to learn how to repair a broken relationship so the couple can move forward as a unit. Otherwise, both spouses may be moving in the same direction, but they won’t be doing it as a team.

Often, each of the parents would benefit from individual counseling as well. I have had over six years of therapy in my 20+ year marriage. I have seen a counselor for a few months after having each of my children and twice at other times. I have greatly benefitted from working on my own issues before I “fix” my family issues. 

Unresolved conflict is a sober, silent companion that stays in the marriage until it is forcefully expunged. Both partners are needed to repair this breach.

11.5 Working on appropriate boundaries is an ongoing process. 

I’m still learning to have appropriate boundaries; to love my children while keeping myself separate from them. Support them while not accepting responsibility for their choices and consequences. That’s a tough one for me.

Till Next Time

There you have it! I want to end by encouraging all the parents out there and reminding them that parenting is both a challenging and incredibly rewarding experience. 

One of my therapists said that I probably was a good parent because I was worried about being a good parent. She said that I would make mistakes and hurt my child’s feelings, but that, all things considered, they would turn out alright. She also said not to forget that their own decisions play a large part in the happiness in their lives. 

Be thoughtful in your parenting. Try to be informed and do your best. Know that you will make mistakes. Learn, apologize, and move forward. Being able to be a parent is a gift.