The Dean of Parents is passionate about empowering all parents with tips, strategies and resources to set their kids up for academic and social success and, well—get their shit together. If my code name offends you, thanks for the power. I do not proclaim to know everything about parenting. There are days when I question writing a blog because there are times when my girls’ undesirable decisions can be embarrassing—and my reactions to them can be even worse. But I learned a few things about good parenting from the REAL Dean of Parents --my mother, Gloria. I wish she were living today. My mother would get a kick out of witnessing how much I mirror her parenting style. Sometimes I hear her laughter as she watches me raise her granddaughters, “I thought you said your kids would stay up all night, eat as many hostess cupcakes as they wanted, go wherever they wanted and do whatever they wanted!”
Even after living 14 years without my mother, I’m still uncomfortable speaking of her in the past tense. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to tell her that she is a great mother to me; however, I really didn’t understand the magnitude of her greatness until faced with raising, along with my husband, our daughters. One thing we know for sure is that parenting is not for the faint of heart. Here are a few things I learned from my mother. The world would be better place if all parents used these tips:
Express love and affection. My mom hugged and kissed me in the morning, after breakfast, when leaving the house, when we saw each other after school, before bed, before she went to bed, even en route to another room in our small apartment. I never doubted or questioned her love for me because she told me all of the time. Kids love physical expressions of love. Don’t reserve hugs and kisses for acknowledging their achievements or efforts. Hug them just “because”. Say, “I love you,” simply because you do.
Give appropriate praise. Acknowledge when your kid does a great job! Pat them on the back. Reward them with a treat. But also, don’t hesitate to tell your kids the truth. I was raised to attend church and take an active role in Christmas, Easter and Black History plays. Thankfully, I can count the times she actually said, “I know you did not do your best.” The truth may hurt but it will hurt our kids more if we sugar coat everything. Kids who can’t handle the truth have difficulty maintaining friendships, make awful spouses, and difficult employees and bosses. Everyone always has room for improvement.
Listen. My mom always had the final say in all matters but she allowed me to express my opinions respectfully. I even recall few occasions when my points were taken into consideration. (Okay, one occasion) This allows kids to come to the understanding that we have their best interest at heart. Our decisions may not be popular. But our roles as parents require us to keep them safe and prepare them as great contributors to this society.
Stop talking so much. When you have to say, “No” or reprimand certain behaviors, keep the monologue as short as possible. We pontificate and eventually lose our kids or open the door to inappropriate debate with us. I remember my continuous efforts with talking to get my point across would be met with my mother’s silence. She stood firm knowing there were times I did not like her. Her role was to be my mother and not my friend.
Be consistent. My mother had the memory of an elephant. When she said, “the next time you suck your teeth at me I'll knock you upside the head", she meant it. If you say you’re going to put them on punishment the next time they bring home unacceptable grades, do it. Otherwise, you have no credibility. I know a kid that received horrible grades. The parents fussed and expressed their displeasure. Two days later, they purchased him an Xbox because it was on sale. Yeah, okay. Good luck with that.
Encourage healthy habits. Gym memberships were not popular when I grew up but I remember my mother getting up at 5:00 am to exercise to Denise Austin! Remember her? My mother also prepared healthy meals and taught me to reheat and eventually cook replicas of them. When I returned home from college with the infamous freshman FIFTEEN packed on my hips and thighs, she kindly suggested we incorporate walking into our evening routine and recommended I decrease portion sizes at meals. Teach your kids life-long healthy habits. Eating Cheetos and drinking grape soda in the morning is not a good look.
Hold them accountable. Most of us know that evil kid with the split personality: The sweet innocent kid who bats eyelashes in front of adults but saves the satanic horns for their peers. And when evil kid's parent is approached about a grossly inappropriate and offensive behavior by principals, teachers, coaches and other parents, evil kid's parent becomes angry and defensive with the adult in charge—in front of evil kid! This does not teach kids how to resolve conflict to come to a resolution, nor does it teach being accountable for their behavior toward others. Again, those kids rarely grow up understanding the precepts for life, difficulty with friendships often becoming narcissistic spouses, employees or bosses.
Make quality time. As a single parent, my mother worked two jobs. I was a “latch-key” kid who waited for my mom to arrive home as late as 9:00 pm each night. While our daily interaction was limited, those times have left me with powerful, positive memories filled with jokes, laughter, encouraging messages, and discipline—all designed to and motivate me to be the best me I could possibly be.
Love and serve God—or SOME HIGHER POWER other than yourself. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6. It doesn’t matter if you practice Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Rastafarianism, or choose to be a spiritual free agent. Teach your kids about morals and values, spiritualism, having faith, hope and love. During winter mornings in high school, my mother would wait in the car with me until the yellow school bus arrived to pick me up. She would read the morning devotion from the Daily Word and not only talk about how I should apply it to my life, but share her own struggles and how she worked to resolve them. I learned that God should always live in my heart. Sometimes we act as if we don’t know God. But life will trigger us into remembering. We always come back. And the TRUE DEAN OF PARENTS or your choice of a higher power, will receive us with open arms.