At a talk before a school PTA, I described parenting today as akin to driving without a rear-view mirror. Unlike our parents and the generations before them who seemed so sure of the template they were following on how kids should be raised, parents these days have great doubts about applying the same methodology and rules in bringing up their own children. After all, by most accounts, the world doesnft seem to be the same as the one our parents, or we ourselves, grew up in. Things are changing so fast nobody really knows where the world is going. Somewhere along the way, wefve all come to the same conclusion that baseball manager Yogi Berra did years ago when he said, gThe future ainft what it used to be.h
When we were young, parental influence and control was almost total and rarely challenged. These days, while parents are out working, kids are being raised at home not just by their yayas but also by the all-pervading gthird parenth which imparts a whole other set of values that are often in conflict with what we teach our kids. I am talking about the media — television and the Internet — and their stranglehold on our children. These modern sources of values that are grounded more in commercial interests than anything remotely altruistic is a major source of concern.
In this brave new world where the allure of advertising, consumerism, TV and the Internet compete for our childrenfs hearts, minds and souls, how does one raise a family?
I am no expert. I have no college degree or a Ph.D. that can back up my theories or that endorse my methods. All I can say is that these rules I share with you today have worked for my own family:
1. Be around. There is no substitute for showing up and being there especially during your kidsf formative years when you can still greatly influence them. I have great concern and compassion for families with absentee OFW parents. I can only imagine how torn they must be. As a performer who was quite often absent when my kids were growing up, I can imagine the anxiety OFW parents feel and the effect of years of their absence on their loved ones. This is an issue we must deal with as a society.
2. Be fully present. Aside from just being around, be involved, caring, attentive and genuinely interested when you are with your children. When we pay attention, we awaken to the beauty, wonder and the gifts that they truly are.
3. Listen first so you will be listened to. This is one lesson that I apply not just to my kids but to everyone I meet. Itfs the old adage about doing unto others as you wish them to do unto you. People give back what you dish out to them.
4. Itfs about the children, not about you. Often, parents project their own dramas and issues on their kids and this puts a lot of undue pressure on them. Our kids are not there to raise us and take care of us. As much as possible, we should not burden them with our own problems. We are there to parent, not be parented.
5. Be consistent, yet flexible. Too much authoritarianism is a setup for rebellion.
6. Create your own family rituals, and make a big deal of them. In my own family, dinners often are open, noisy, happy events where a lot of storytelling and sharing happens. It has not always been like this. There was a time when people around our table ate quietly, ignoring each other, and left the plate with nary a word exchanged. That was until I put my foot down and demanded that everyone talk to each other. For a start, I told them to share three things that happened to them in the course of the day, every night at dinner.
The following evenings were tense and the conversation seemed contrived and forced but I did not budge or allow any excuses. After a few nights, signs of real conversation began to take place, and not too long after, dinners extended to more than one hour because we all had discovered the joy of the art of conversation.
7. Give them space and privacy when needed. This is a sacred rule that I follow.
8. Donft miss out on opportunities to laugh, cry, go out together, and other ways of bonding. Sooner than you think, the kids get older, move out and have their own lives. While you can, eat out, travel, enjoy, share, laugh, cry, have heart-to-heart talks and just be together. These will constitute memories of a family life they will cherish and pass on.
9. Support them in whatever career they choose. This is something my own mother practiced. But while her children were free to choose their paths, she only asked that we strived to be the best in what we did.
10. As best as we can, letfs walk our talk. We cannot preach one thing and do another. Teaching by example is still the best way to impart values.
11. Be a happy, responsible and loving adult they can emulate. Too often, too many kids do not have adults they can look up to who can actually mirror adult behavior. Wouldnft you like to be that to them? To be that, we must work on our own happiness as well. We can only give what we have.
12. Teach them everything you know to be true — but accept that they will want to discover their own truths as well. As parents, there is so much we have learned in our own journeys that we do not share with our kids. There are the painful lessons we learned as we were growing up, and new ones we continue to grapple with. But as much as we want to share lessons, we must remember that certain lessons need to wait to be shared when they are more grown-up. Age-appropriateness is a consideration.
My parents taught me a lot of values that I am grateful for. However, as an adult, I realize that not everything they taught me is applicable in my life. Some of the lessons may have been true for them but not necessarily true for me. There are many truths I had to experience and learn on my own.
I believe that the aim of all parenting is not for our children to become carbon copies of us, but for them to come into their own. Successful parents are those who actually allow and encourage their children to goutgrowh them.
13. As much as possible, thank and acknowledge everything positive you have learned from your children. My children are not just great sources of joy but of continuous wisdom as well. As much as they have learned many things from us, we have been gforcedh by our children to grow more and more into responsible adulthood that we often rejected. Children have the amazing capacity to gkidnaph their parents and take them to scary places, to realities they do not wish to experience or confront. Issues such as sex, courtship, money, responsibility and what a true mature adult should be, are just some of them. Through our children, we discover patience, humility, sacrifice, discernment, wisdom and understanding, and become better people for it.
14. Keep in mind that adulthood is all about balancing the following:
a. Work (career, living, job)
b. Sex (relationships in general and specifically with the opposite sex)
c. Money (trust, responsibility)
d. Spirit (God, art, intangibles)
e. Food and all physical intakes (drugs, eating habits, health issues)
To be able to negotiate these five areas in onesf life is to become a healthy, happy and balanced adult.
We baby boomers may worry that in the desire to give our children what we never had, we may have spoiled them or made them too soft. Or worse, we may have given them a false sense of entitlement. That is a valid concern. But in the end, whether we were excessive or not, I am hopeful that the love that accompanied all our efforts in bringing them up may temper the effects of our imperfect parenting and make them the people they were truly meant to become.