Best Advice When It Comes to Raising Children or 2,500 Words of Unsolicited Advice

by mia hinkle

Raising kids is one of the most joyous and challenging journeys you will experience in this life. Children will make your heart explode with delight at the very sight of them. Raising children will direct your path as you make choices along the way, like where to live, how to earn money, how long to spend driving to and from work, how to install a lock on your bedroom door, and set up parental controls on TV. Having kids will make you sit through the most dreadful school plays, shiver at the edge of windy soccer fields, endure numerous off-tune recitals, and attend endless maniacal Chuck E. Cheese parties. All with a beaming smile plastered across your face.

Grandparents know a little about parenting, but we raised our kids in a world very different than the one where today’s children live. You cannot raise children as your parents raised you because your parents raised you for a world that no longer exists. Having said that, here are a few timeless nuggets you can take to the bank.

  • Teach your children to pray so if their little hearts feel heavy, they can go to God and not the world. Give them a foundation in a gracious Savior because life will most likely toss them some curveballs and you may not always be there for them. They will need a personal faith to make sense of life.
  • Make sure your kids know they can talk to you about anything. If they feel they can’t open up to you, they may open up to peers who may or may not have very sound advice for them. If they can’t come to you with the little things, they won’t come to you with the big things later.
  • Children don’t say, “I had a hard day, can we talk? They say, “Will you play with me?”  Children spell love, T-I-M-E. – Dr. A. Witham
  • Assure your children that the beautiful thing about life is that you always change, grow, and get better. You are not defined by your past and it’s not the end of the world to make a mistake.
  • Always remember your child isn’t giving you a hard time. They’re having a hard time. Your kids will sometimes experience big emotions. In the heat of the moment, take a deep breath and reframe your attitude from ‘OMG, he’s driving me crazy!’ to ‘How can I help him?’
  • Everything has an end date. When you’re exhausted, when everyone is in the middle of a meltdown, remind yourself that this too shall pass. It’s going to end, so just count to ten and get through the moment. PhD and Family Therapist, Susan Forward, writes, “Children soak up both verbal and nonverbal messages like sponges indiscriminately. They listen to their parents, they watch their parents, and they imitate their parents.”
  • You don’t have to love it. Not every part of being pregnant or having an infant or kid is fun—in fact, most of it sucks. Too often people try to make it look like it’s all rainbows and unicorns, when in reality, it’s a lot of poop, spit-up, and crying. Every stage has its shitty parts. If you let yourself be okay with not loving all of it, it allows you to be kinder to yourself as a parent.
  • Limit screen time. Encourage playing outside. Go for walks in the woods. Enforce bedtime. Serve healthy foods. Never underestimate the power of a big hug or snuggling time. Every day you make deposits into the memory banks of your children. – Charles Swindoll
  • “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” – Dr. Suess    Kids are just little people. So often we’re imposing things on them that we would hate—rushing their timing, changing things without advance notice, telling them to get over (or worse, diminishing) their negative feelings—and then acting surprised when they freak out. Little kids aren’t always rational, but the more you treat them how you would want to be treated, the more you will see them rise to the occasion.
  • Transitions are hard. They are hard for adults. They are hard for children. Some phases of growing up are marked by crabbiness and whining. Kids don’t know how to express themselves yet. My mother used to say that when kids are especially surly, it usually means they are on the verge of a new stage of development. They can see it, they just can’t do it yet, and the result is noisy frustration, theirs and yours! Remember what the Papa said in the 1991 cartoon, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West: “If growing up was easy, it wouldn’t take so long.”
  • Always keep in mind, you are not managing an inconvenience, you are raising a human being.
  • Kids lie. More specifically, all kids lie. Children lie for the same reasons the rest of us lie – they don’t want to get in trouble, or they want to get their way, or they want to avoid conflict. Parents cannot yell this tendency out of them, they cannot bargain or promise it out of them. Compulsive lying, especially if telling the truth would risk rejection, is a big part of ADHD and strong-willed children. Kids tell lies for lots of reasons. Usually, they want to take control of a situation by changing the story so that it works better for them. Sometimes kids lie when something bad has happened, or they are embarrassed, or they don’t think they can trust adults with the truth. Research has shown that some parts of the brain take longer to mature in people with ADHD. Those parts of the brain help kids use executive functioning skills, which include impulse control. This may explain why kids with ADHD are more impulsive than people who don’t have ADHD. It may also explain why kids with ADHD don’t always “act their age.” Parents sometimes believe that lying is an act of defiance, but that’s not always the case. Some kids can’t control it. They may not even realize they’re doing it. That can happen when kids have trouble with self-control, organizing their thoughts, or thinking about consequences. These obstacles are related to a group of skills called executive functions, very common among kids with ADHD. For these kids, frequent lying isn’t uncommon, but they usually don’t do it on purpose. In fact, they often feel really bad about it after the fact, resulting in a vicious cycle of impulsive acts, lying, feeling bad about causing problems in the family, and low self-esteem, which may lead to all kinds of challenges throughout adolescence. The best defense against lying is to address the source of the problem, e.g., ADHD.
  • Parenting doesn’t matter as much as we think. Wait! What?! This seems a little counterintuitive in this age of helicopter parents, but the New York Times published an article offering data showing that parenting is really, at best, a minimal influence on who your child will turn into as an adult. The job of a parent is to help their kids figure out who he or she is at their core and support them in being the best version of themselves. All the little things that we tend to get ourselves in a panic about—what kind of diaper or enrichment activities and flashcards and standardized tests— we should worry about less. Instead, try to focus on the questions: Is my child the best version she can be? Am I helping her to be a functional adult and paving the way for her to grow up into the adult she wants to be?
  • Give your kids your undivided attention—or no attention at all. The amazing writer Catherine Newman wrote an advice column that could alter your whole approach to parenting. Do you find yourself frantically trying to do too many things at once? Do you end up feeling stressed out and cranky, blaming your children’s intrusions into your daily routine? Try this: Do one thing at a time—either be with your kids or ignore them, essentially. It boils down to being present in the moment. When you are with them, give them your undivided attention and get into their rhythm. And when they are at school or daycare, tend to your job or housework or whatever your adulting tasks for the day.
  • Take whatever parenting plan you have and throw it out the window. Things will change almost immediately once that little bundle of joy comes floating into your house. We tend to cast family life thru rose-colored glasses. We either had a great childhood and we may think raising kids is easier than it is, or we had a less-than-perfect childhood and we want to make it better for our kids. Whatever your paradigm is, real life will undoubtedly be different. Roll with it. Your kids will come with their own personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. Don’t beat yourself up over unfulfilled expectations. This is one area I feel I had an advantage in raising children who came to us through adoption. Every day was a surprise; we did not know what to expect since they were cut from a different bolt. We could not project our genetic dispositions onto our kids. Sometimes parents make assumptions about the children born to them and project their own life stories onto them. The truth is that all kids are different from their parents and different from their siblings. In the words of the great philosopher, Forest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” So, roll with it and celebrate each child for who he is. “The moment you begin to actively discover the amazing personhood of your child, parenting becomes less of a burden and more of an adventure.” — Angela Pruess, Family Therapist
  • One relentless daily task in parenting is feeding our kids. A healthy diet is vital to a healthy child.  Mayo Clinic research suggests that there is great value for families who sit down together for meals, both nutritionally and emotionally. Try to make mealtime a conflict-free zone. Fill your fridge and pantry with whole foods full of nutrition. Toss out the candy, chips, and other junk food including those processed snacks labeled “healthy.” They aren’t good for anyone in the house and if they are not in the house, it’s hard to fight about them. Resist the urge to be the food cop, says Jill Castle, author, and renowned childhood nutrition expert. Here are a few of her thoughts on feeding children. Restricting food undermines your child’s ability to regulate his eating and can cause all sorts of problems with eating that may last into adulthood. Using food restrictions on a regular basis can cause children to lose their sense of hunger and fullness, and then over time, feelings of deprivation may set in. Kids may feel left out or deprived when they don’t have the freedom to choose what or how much they want or need to eat. Restrictive feeding practices may promote overeating and may be a set-up for kids who overeat on the sly or start secret eating. Try to tame your inner food cop. Remember, your child’s perception is real. If he feels restricted, he is. Try the following tips to calm your inner food cop: Provide an abundant table of healthy food for mealtime. Your child will feel like there is plenty to eat and she can have her fill. Use all the food groups to make a balanced meal that is satisfying to the eye and to the tummy. Understand any generational tendencies that may be in play. Recognize the emotional aspect of eating. Feeling hungry and being able to satisfy that hunger is more than a full belly–it’s emotional fullness, too. It could be feeling emotionally and physically full is what it will take to stop your child from obsessing about food; you must lose food restriction to achieve that. Engage a predictable feeding schedule, and food boundaries that aren’t too controlling or restrictive, but allow reasonable choice. Other negative feeding practices that disturb your child’s eating capabilities include pressure to clean his plate or using food as a reward. Children with impulsivity problems are more prone to struggle with food issues.
  • Take the time to educate yourself about medical issues your kids have. Your doctors are just one part of caring for your kids. It will take proactive investigation into the problems and solutions specific to your child’s conditions and a family approach to handling them. Whether it is diabetes or ADHD or allergies or cancer or a broken leg, your childhood likely did not prepare you for handling every illness that your kids may encounter. Set aside your feelings of, “this is my kid so I should know how to fix this.” You may not have the tools in your tool kit to fix everything. Swallow your pride, ask around, read a book, join a blog, have coffee with other parents in the same boat, and then work out a treatment plan where all the members of the family are involved. This may include doctor appointments, therapy sessions, dispensing medicine, new activities, involving school administration, etc. “It really takes a community to raise children, no matter how much money one has. Nobody can do it well alone. And it’s the bedrock security of community that we and our children need.”  —   Marian Wright Edelman
  • When you have a baby, you don’t become ‘a mom’ or ‘a dad’—you add ‘mom’ or ‘dad’ to your list of titles. I know you love being a mom or a dad. But you are also a wife, a husband, a friend, a daughter, a son, a mentor, an entrepreneur, etc. Be careful not to lose yourself in the parenthood journey.

My final wisdom is this. Every Christmas I set out decorations to make the house festive. Among them are two little clay sculptures created by Walker and Jackson when they were attending Cherry Tree Elementary. Jackson made a green hot air balloon and Walker made a sculpture of the Pepsi polar bears.

Walker made these Pepsi Polar Bears in grade school
Jackson made this hot air balloon in grade school

They are adorable in my estimation, but they were clearly fashioned by grade school children. The little clay sculptures bring sweet memories of my little boys flooding back every time I set them out. I display them with great pride and joy. Fast forward 20 years, at the ages of 32 and 29 years old, Walker and Jackson took their dad to visit the Bob Ross Experience in Muncie for an afternoon painting class led by a special Bob Ross authorized instructor. They returned home with the most stunning mountain landscape paintings they had painted themselves! These paintings were a far cry from the child-like sculptures of days gone by. In fact, one of the instructors made a point to come over to tell them he’s been teaching these classes for 30 years and had never seen such an accurate Bob Ross replica. It turns out that my boys have both developed into REALLY GOOD artists. You would never guess that the same little chubby hands that molded those little sculptures 20 years ago are the same skilled hands that painted these breathtaking landscape paintings.

Jackson, Walker, Karl at the Bob Ross Experience & Museum in Muncie, Indiana December 2021

All this to say, cut your kids some slack. Enjoy each phase. Growing up is a process; it’s a journey. Try not to rush it in your frustration that your little ones can’t hold a pencil correctly or remember their multiplication tables. Because lickety-split, your children will be grown and creating their own magnificent works of art, expressing themselves in new and beautiful ways. And you will find yourself exploding with delight watching the awesome young people you always knew were in there.

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