When I was a new parent, I was filled with fear. I had lots of other emotions too, like joy, wonder, fatigue, excitement, and eagerness. Yet these were all overwhelmed by the fear.
I had a wonderful upbringing and terrific parents but no training in exactly how to be responsible for another human being. My entry into parenthood was long before the age of internet and there was really nothing and no one except Dr. Spock (and not the Star Trek Dr. Spock) on whom to rely for advice. In my darkest moments, I was sure that, despite my best efforts, I would manage to ruin my child in some way. I was more afraid of my 3-year-old than of anything else on the planet.
Fortunately, my fears did not come to fruition and all three of my children would make any parent proud. They are kind, successful, happy, and altogether the parents of five new humans. So, how did that happen? What part did I play in having them “turn out”? That question should probably be asked of them, but since this is my article, I will do my best to answer this honestly.
When my first child was born, I was working as an elementary school teacher so I did have some training in early childhood education. About that same time, I was also introduced to a body of work which has been a guiding light in my life. That work, now known as Landmark, is what led to my participation in “Co-parenting Into the Future”. Along the way, I have also read a lot, studied a lot, and had countless conversations with other professionals and parents. I also went back to graduate school, became a lawyer, and spent the next 30+ years as a divorce lawyer, specializing in custody. Watching and guiding other parents through the process of restructuring their families has been the greatest gift and most remarkable education.
These experiences helped me to develop my own plan for raising my children and assisting them in creating their own futures. Here are some of my thoughts:
1. Talk TO your children, not AT them.
Several years before I became a parent, I was visiting some friends whose son was just under a year. While crawling on the floor, he made his way over to an electric cord and started to put it into his mouth. His father picked him up and put him on his lap and explained, scientifically, why chewing on an electrical cord was not a good idea. I asked the Dad why his explanation was so technical and not a simple “no”. His answer was “Who am I to decide when he will begin to understand?” Always assume that your children understand far more than you give them credit for since they probably do.
2. Give your children the power of choice.
For instance, do not ask a child “What do you want to have for dinner?”. It is far better to ask “Would you rather have peas or carrots as your vegetable tonight?”. You are honoring their independence and ability to make a choice while not giving them permission to run amok and be in control.
3. Do set boundaries and pick your battles.
In college, studying education, I read a book entitled “You Really Oughta Wanna”. The basic premise of this book was that, before setting boundaries or arbitrary rules, it should be very important to you that the children abide by that rule. For instance, if it really is not important to you that your children put their dirty clothes in the hamper, don’t set it as a rule that, if broken, will either not be enforced or will cause unnecessary conflict in trying to enforce something that is not important to you in the first place.
4. Learn to ask open-ended questions
“What was your favorite thing in school today?” and not “How was your day?” or “How were you kind to someone today?” or “What was the most upsetting thing that happened to you today?”. I think it is important to give children an opportunity to talk about upsetting things too.
More tips next week…
And for more Coparenting Into The Future
Jolene Wilson-Glah is a now retired lawyer licensed in Texas, Pennsylvania, the US Virgin Islands and in the US Supreme Court. She is also a trained mediator and an arbitrator trained by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Her more than 30 years of practice has been concentrated in family law, most particularly issues of parenting and custody. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Jolene was an elementary school teacher and a mediator, both of which speak to her commitment to children and their families.
In her practice, Jolene represented both mothers and fathers and also children, tried hundreds of cases and mediated and settled even more. She has been involved with clients and children in custody cases in Holland, Norway, Kenya, Pakistan, China, Venezuela, Columbia, Israel and Greece. Her commitment to finding creative and effective solutions to parenting issues following divorce led her to her involvement in “Co-parenting into the Future”.
©Jolene Wilson-Glah, Attorney (Retired)