I grew up with a father who wasn’t all that interested in spending time with my brothers and me after he and my mom got divorced. We saw him, but it wasn’t on a very regular basis, even though he lived not too far away. I’m not sure my one brother would remember it the same way though, because he got invited over to my dad’s house more frequently than my other brother and me. And he got what we thought was special attention at family gatherings, not only from my dad, but also from my grandparents. He is the oldest grandchild on that side of the family, so I guess that makes sense. His birthday never got forgotten, but I don’t think my dad knew the correct date of my birthday until several years ago.
Because I grew up feeling like my dad favored one child over the others, I think I am more conscious of trying to treat my kids equally. Having said that, I will also say that it is challenging to do so because they are all different. And sometimes they get treated differently because they behave differently or make different choices, which is difficult to get them to understand. They do also need to learn that life is not always completely fair, so I am OK with everything not being completely equal and fair. Some things are easier than others to be fair about, like consequences and at what age they should be allowed to have a cell phone, an email address, and a Facebook account. Other things are not so easy.
My kids are pretty quick to point out when they think I have not been completely fair about something, as most kids would be. They don’t want to feel like they got the short end of the stick in any given situation, whether it concerns where they get to sit in the car, their bedtime, a particular consequence they or one of their siblings earned, and so on. I get that. No one wants to feel slighted. But a red flag has gone up a couple times when one of them has pointed out that he or she thinks I love them less or treat them differently in general. I take that very seriously and do my best to reassure that child how special they are to me and that I love him or her just as much as anyone else. And it makes me more conscious of how I do treat all of the kids. I also find myself explaining to whichever child that I may be treating them differently because they are behaving differently or are making different choices, and that’s something that needs to be made clear when that is actually the case.
I definitely don’t want any of my children to feel what I felt growing up, that I was somehow less worthy of a parent’s love and attention. Significantly favoring one child over another can have some pretty deep and long-lasting consequences relative to the child’s self esteem as well as his or her relationships among siblings and with the parents. It is something all parents need to keep in mind. The child who gets favored may grow up to think they can do and have anything, regardless of how they treat people or whether they have earned their privileges. Siblings can end up resenting each other as well. We need to treat our children differently enough so they feel special and unique but not different enough that one or more of them thinks they are less worthy than their sibling(s). Life is quite the balancing act in so many ways, isn’t it?
To me, this quote that I read recently means doing something because it is the right thing to do and not because I will get something in return. Unfortunately, I think there are too many people nowadays who don’t think along these lines. You can’t buy integrity. It has to come from within.
In my opinion, being pretty or handsome, having a lot of possessions, being successful at your job, having a ton of friends, and other things of this nature do not make you a great person. Those things might get you attention and praise, but having good character is what makes you a good person.
Being able to put others’ needs and happiness above your own, helping others whenever you can without expecting something in return, being humble, being a good listener, showing compassion and empathy, being accountable for your actions, and being respectful and tolerant are all traits that define good character in my book. I am reminded of another quote … “Beauty catches the attention, but character catches the heart.”
I find myself frequently talking to my kids about communication skills, because frankly they have seen some examples of pretty poor communication. I want for them to be better at communicating than what they have seen. The thing I stress the most to them is that being a good listener is an important communication tool. In fact, it is equally as important as what you say and how you say it.
If you are thinking about what you are going to say as soon as I start talking, then you are not really listening to me. And if you interrupt and start talking a few words into what I am saying, then you definitely aren’t listening, and you are also giving me the impression that you don’t value anything I have to say. Better yet, if you interrupt me a few words into what I am saying and get all defensive because you THINK you know what I am going to say and don’t ever give me a chance to speak, then you have even bigger issues. I have no problem if someone disagrees with something I actually said, but when someone disagrees with what they made up in their head that they thought I was going to say and then holds that against me when it wasn’t what I was going to say at all and won’t let me get a word in edgewise to explain, I have a real problem with that.
Everyone wants to be heard and feel like the person we are talking to values what we have to say. Having someone misunderstand me because they only listened to the very first part of what I was saying seems to be a reoccurring theme in my life. It has been the cause of more arguments than I would care to admit. I think I am pretty good at communicating my thoughts when I am allowed to speak, but when I am constantly being shut down, that is extremely frustrating. It can be equally as frustrating when someone only focuses on little snippets of what I am saying, and I never get the chance to complete a thought and convey correctly what I am trying to say.
Not listening to someone or not allowing him or her to speak is definitely a form of disrespect. If you want a healthy relationship with anyone in your life, you need to listen. And I mean really listen without reading between the lines or looking for hidden messages or anything along those lines. Just listen, as in be silent. The words “listen” and “silent” might just be spelled with the same letters for a reason.
As parents, we are the biggest role models for our kids. And actions always speak louder than words, so kids will learn by example much more so than by what we tell them. There are plenty of things we need to think about modeling for our kids, but in my opinion, the best gift we can possibly give to our kids is to model for them how people who love and respect each other are supposed to treat each other. Of course, this would require two parents who are both very conscious about what that means, which is many times not the case.
In my house, that is clearly not the case, and that has been eating away at me over the years. If I could go back in time and choose a spouse who understands that a healthy relationship requires mutual respect and admiration, trust, having each other’s back, presenting a united front and supporting each other in front of the kids, listening to each other, compromise, sometimes putting your partner’s needs and happiness above your own, and so on, then maybe I would. But I can’t. So now I am worried that my kids will not have the skills and understanding that is necessary to have healthy relationships. I certainly hope they can learn by example of what not to do, but I am not going to hold my breath on that thought. I do talk to them about all of these things, but it is difficult to teach them without a partner who can model them with me.
I’m not perfect, and I don’t always follow my own advice, but I am at least aware of that and am consciously trying to make improvements where I can. With any luck, the kids actually ARE listening to me and will remember at least some of the advice I have shared with them about what I think is necessary for a healthy relationship. I hope you will appreciate my perspective as well, as I will be sharing that advice and more in posts to come. Stay tuned!