I am the oldest of four kids and while we may not have always gotten along with my parents, there are certain things my parents did that shaped us into well-rounded individuals. The four of us are all incredibly different. My parents were always very encouraging when we were interested in certain activities such as sports, music, and writing. They made it easy to reach our full potential in whatever endeavor we chose. Whether we succeeded or failed, they were always there for us. Here are just a few of the things my parents did that I am extremely thankful for.
1. Always Open
One of the things my parents did was to keep the lines of communication open. I have always been able to talk to my parents, my mom especially, about anything. She has always excelled at being my best friend while also being my parent. She found a wonderful balance of instructing me and being there for me. It really helped me when I was younger because I always knew I had someone to talk to or turn to when things were good or bad. Knowing that I had the ability to tell her anything at all stopped me from feeling the need to lie (usually…hey, every teen finds some reason to lie). The first time I had sex, I told her I did it. She made sure that I had used protection and the next day we went and got me on birth control pills. She made sure I knew all of the precautions to take and the consequences that could come if I failed to protect myself.
2. Family Dinners
When I was growing up we always ate dinner as a family. Always. I really believe this is an aspect of family life that is falling to the wayside in today’s busy lifestyle, but it is so incredibly important. It allowed us to talk about our day as a family and share our excitement or disappointment and be applauded or comforted by every member of the family. It kept us all involved in each other's day to day life. Now that we’re all older, we still get together at least once per month, sometimes more, and have a nice family dinner, only now our family is bigger, with my husband and my sister’s long time boyfriend.
3. Let Us Make Our Own Mistakes
I tend to be stubborn, I don’t know why, but if someone tells me I should or shouldn’t do something, I instantly want to do the opposite of what they say. I know this was probably a huge problem for my parents as I was growing up, but as I got old enough to make my own decisions both of my parents definitely learned the way to handle me. I did some stupid stuff when I was younger. I dated a few guys I shouldn’t have but instead of telling me outright not to date a particular person, my mom sat down with me one day and said, “Dad and I really don’t like him. We don’t like the way he treats you and how upset he makes you. I know that you’re going to do what you want to do, regardless of what I say, but we love you and we’re disappointed that you can’t see what this is doing to you, so think about how he makes you feel when you’re with him.” Instead of balking at them telling me I couldn’t see my boyfriend anymore, I really did step back and evaluate what I was doing. Talking to us like my parents did took away any victorious feelings we may have gotten from being “rebellious” and made us less likely to do stupid things. When I turned 18 I got a tattoo. I thought my dad would kill me when he found out but after looking at it, all he said was, “I want you to know I don’t like that you got a tattoo, but you’re 18, so I know you’ll do what you want to do.” I’ve never gotten another one. I respond so much better to the gentle reminder of disappointment than I do to scolding, as do my siblings.
4. Always There to Help
Every kid does something stupid that gets them in trouble. The kids in my family were absolutely no exception to this. No matter what the issue was, relationship trouble, homework problems, unfair treatment at school, learning to drive, sibling rivalry or money for college, our parents have always been there to help us out without doing the work for us. No matter how big the problem was, and there have been a few tough situations, my parents have always stuck by us and helped see us through our hard times.
5. Financial Planning
I know that the four of us hated this when we were growing up, but my dad used to take all of the money we would get from our relatives for birthdays, Christmas, etc… and put it into our individual bank accounts. It always seemed SO unfair as a kid that I couldn’t use MY money to get the things that I wanted. As we all got older and got our first jobs, a substantial portion of the money we earned also went into that bank account. All four of us have lived with our parents for at least a year of our adult lives and they never made us pay rent, but money had to be going into that account. Over time that money sure built up. All of us were able to buy our own car by the age of 18 and pay a substantial chunk of our college tuition with that money. I paid for a full year and a half out of that bank account. My dad also loves to set budgets for us (he tries to even now, and I’m 27). We may not always follow them (sorry, Dad!) but we have them if we ever need them. He’s helped us all manage our money over the years so we are better at saving it now.
6. Left Us with Few Rebellious Feelings
As I said earlier, my parents have a way of talking to us that gets us to do what we should without blatantly telling us what to do, and that leaves us feeling less rebellious. Another thing my parents always did was to not make such a big deal out of alcohol and marijuana. Of course they told us not to do them, told us all of the bad things that could happen if we chose to experiment with them anyway, but they also always told us if we were ever at a party and decided to drink, no matter what time of the night it was, they would come pick us up and we were never to ride in the car with a drunk driver. I know my sister and I have both called my parents and woken them up at 2am to ask them to come get us and they always have. To this day I have never been in the car with a drunk driver. I’m not a big drinker, I’ll have an occasional drink socially and once in a while I’ll hit the bar with some friends. I managed to steer clear of pot all through high school and college despite the fact that nearly every single one of my friends smoked. When the feeling of spiting your parents isn’t there, those acts as a teenager aren’t that fulfilling. I mean, sure, we rebelled in other ways, but none of them involved illegal substances or anything that put us in harm’s way.
7. Unconditional Love
No matter how horribly we might mess up, we all know that our parents love us. They have shown us that time and time again. There have been times, despite the openness and help we previously received, that we have felt like the mistake we just made will be the final straw, but it never has been. They also love each other unconditionally and they are a great example for us to follow. We have seen their ups and downs and we know how to get through our own rough patches from watching them.
My parents have taught me a lot through the years and helped me grow into the person I am today. When I have children of my own I fully intend to follow some of my parents' techniques so that I have the connection with my kids that my brothers and sister and I have with my parents. What is the #1 thing your parents did that shaped your life?
(Love you, Mom and Dad!)