As I anticipate my very first bundle of joy at the beginning of next year, I can’t help but daydream about how my kid is going to turn out. And how I’m going to turn out.
How do I even begin to be a mother? How will I know how to teach without preaching, discipline without being harsh, encourage without spoiling. All I want to do is raise well adjusted, kind, strong, generous, reasonable, pleasant people who are passionate learners, love life, and have a desire to make the world a better place. Is that too much to ask?
I’ve also been reflecting on my own childhood and trying to break down how I was raised. These are my observations.
1. Being an only child makes it hard to build relationships.
It’s not impossible, it’s just harder. No matter how many children we end up having, I want to make sure they have lots of visits with cousins. I also hope to instill a strong sense of family. I don’t really have this. Possibly because I didn’t have siblings. But probably mostly because I just didn’t spend a lot of time outside of the home with my parents. If we had done more outings, or spent a lot more time with extended family, perhaps I would have felt a strong attachment to my parents. It doesn’t help that all three of us are generally aloof and prefer to do our own thing.
2. Kids shouldn’t bear the brunt of bad moods or haphazard decisions.
My mother is not a patient person. If she’s stressed, in a hurry, or just in a bad mood, she will become snappy. Additionally, she’s not one to express herself very well, especially in the moment, so I might be doing something that annoys her but she doesn’t say so right away. Only when I do it the 10th time does she suddenly blow up about how annoying that is. It all felt very random, and mostly unfair to me. It built up quite some resentment that I felt she was yelling at me for doing something wrong, that I had no idea was wrong in the first place. I hope to teach my children etiquette and proper behavior slowly and reasonably, never getting angry at a first offense, but expecting mistakes to not be repeated.
3. Nurture or nature? Do children imitate or are traits passed down?
I’m a lot like my parents in many ways. But I wonder if it’s because I’ve just copied their habits and behaviors. In case it’s imitation and not traits doomed in genes, I hope to be a good model, so that they can avoid some of my more unpleasant traits.
4. Negativity is infectious.
My mother claims to be a very positive and open minded person, but at the same time she always seems to have a negative or close-minded comment on hand. Whether it was a comment about what I wanted to be when I grew up (actress, to which she said I was too short, but then offered to let me sign up for some thousand dollar program at a talent agency), boys/husbands (marry an older man because he’ll know how to take care of you, not a younger/same age because you’ll end up taking care of him), or that I read about how Chinese kids learn math easier because of the way Chinese numbers are counted versus in English (Chinese people are just smarter). I hope to be supportive but not coddle, encouraging, but not easy on them.
5. Pay attention.
The wise Maya Angelou advised that parents look at their children in the eyes and smile when they walk into a room, rather than look at their clothes, hair, nails, etc. The best thing about my dad was that he gave me all the attention I wanted. He played games with me (my games, like memory!). We didn’t spend a lot of time doing heart to heart chats, but I felt close to him because he never brushed me aside because he was “busy.”
6. Be consistent. Be the boss.
This is more something I’ve observed with other parents — they are inconsistent with their rules. One day they’ll say no to soda. Another day they’ll say yes. So of course the kids ask for soda…all…the…time. I also understand that kids really have nothing to lose by asking for something. Anything that piques their interest, they’ll ask for, because why not? If they ask, they may or may not get it. If they don’t, they don’t. I hope to be consistent, mean what I say, and follow through with what I say, and more importantly, show that everything has a cost, and make sure they have to “pay” something to “get” something.
I’m not sure how closely I will end up following my own advise, but I hope that my insights would at the least help me to avoid repeating some of the mistakes my own parents did. Unless we are all doomed to become our parents. Then I just hope they’ll suck it up and get over not having perfect parents!