Parenting can be fun

by Catherine Fenwick ã 2000

As parents we believe we have a responsibility to our children. Parenting is a big responsibility. When we decide to become parents we make a major life commitment to someone we haven't even met yet! Parenting is not easy. If it was going to be easy it would not have started with something called "labour." Labour is that almost unbearable pain that we forget as soon as we see our baby. Parenting is a challenge, but I believe it can and should be fun, too. If we are not having fun with our children we are missing out on the best part of being a parent. Little children are naturals at play and laughter. Playing is their job and it's a very important one. When children play and laugh together they learn useful life skills, like how to get along with other people. As adults we can learn a lot from children about how to get along, enjoy life more and pay attention to the things that really matter.

A friend of mine, who works with children with disabilities, went to the Special Olympics in Winnipeg several years ago. She told me about the time that nine young children, all with physical or mental disabilities, lined up for the 100-metre dash. At the pistol shot they all took off with a look of excitement and a will to win the race. Right away one little boy fell and started to cry. The other eight stopped the race, turned around and came back. One little girl bent down, kissed him on the cheek and said, "This will make it better." Then all nine competitors linked arms and walked across the finishing line together. They were all winners. In their minds they knew that no one is really a winner when someone suffers. How different that attitude is from our adult definition of winner. Children's wisdom is pure and uncontaminated by a culture that teaches us that in order for one to win someone else has to lose. At what age do we stop believing in win - win?

Chief Dan George wrote, "The only thing the world really needs is for all children to grow up in happiness." There is great wisdom in this statement. When we grow up in happiness we develop the inner strength and resilience to deal with the difficulties life hands us. Play and laughter builds self-esteem and resilience in all of us. If we remember to play and laugh in the good times, we become stronger and better able to cope when tough times come. Healthy laughter and play builds inner and outer strength. I will share with you my 10 tips for parenting with humor.

Don't sweat the small stuff. Minor challenges happen on a daily basis, we'll have a tough time if we over react to every little thing. When we don't sweat the small stuff we save our energy and resources for when the big stuff happens. How can I tell when it's big stuff or little stuff? I always ask myself this question, "Will it matter in 100 years?" A scratch in the coffee table or a precious vase broken accidentally will not likely effect the future of the human race in any significant way, but acts of kindness will be felt for generations. Notice and enjoy the good things that happen every day.

Live in the moment. Children are exceptionally good at living in the moment. When my daughter was two years old she was in the hospital. When it was time for me to leave she cried and begged me not to go. I walked through the door, down the hall, turned around, went back and looked through the window. There she was happily playing with the other children. It took her three seconds to figure out what she needed to be happy again.

Don't be perfect. How many of us have perfect parents? Of course not, perfection isn't possible. All we can do is our best. Focus on the positive, try to see the parts in people that are excellent. Eat dessert first every once in a while. My five year old grandson told me with great delight about his weekend visit to his other grandparents. "Grandpa gave us ice-cream for breakfast!" His mother and I don't approve of ice-cream for breakfast, everyday, but this breakfast will be remembered. What are the things you remember from your childhood? I'll bet they had something to do with the fun you had and the times when somebody really listened to you.

Remember to guard dignity, don't do to children what you would not want done to you. People say the main thing that stops them from having more fun with their kids is that they feel they have to be parents, which means getting tough on them sometimes. They say they have to discipline / punish their kids. There is a big difference between discipline and punishment. With discipline both sides keep their dignity intact. When we punish we destroy some of the humor, when we discipline we get to have our humor back. To punish means that I, as the adult, am in control of the situation. I will judge you, decide how bad you were, and impose a punishment. To discipline means we talk about what went wrong, kids are responsible for their own behaviour and we find solutions together. "How are you going to fix what you did wrong?" When my son was five years old he carved his name into the top of our neighbor's very expensive coffee table. He just didn't think, he was in kindergarten and had just learned to write his name and liked to practise. He could have been spanked and sent to his room. This would teach him that when you make a mistake big people are allowed to hurt you. In order to teach him to respect other's property we, together, came up with the plan which included an apology from him and giving up some of his piggy-bank money to help pay for the repair of the table. He learned a valuable lesson. The other thing about punishing is that parents have to be around to enforce it, which is really punishing themselves, too. So we can end up resenting each other, which is not conducive to healthy humor.

Be flexible. As mothers and fathers we need to parent, but there are times when an open mind and a willing heart are more important than being right. If your child's messy room bothers you, perhaps you could close the door. One twelve year old told me, every time he gets his room the way he wants it his Mom comes along and straightens it all up, "Then I can't find anything." We really need to respect each other's space. My 19 year old son likes his room very tidy, I tend to be a bit messy with my books and papers. One day I asked him if he minded my mess, through which he walks to get to his room. He said, "No Mom, as long as it doesn't spill over into my room."

Be available, give your time not just things. We can't be with our children every single moment, but they must know where we are and how they can reach us when they need to. People say they are so busy they don't have time to play with their children. Some of the fun can be moment to moment in daily life. It is important that you do make time, and make the most of the time you have together. These times create life-long memories. My children tell me that the best part of their childhood was spent at the cottage in the summer. We had no TV, no phone, no hot running water and no clock. What we did have was time to just hang out, sleep when we were tired and eat when we were hungry. We played lots of games and read lots of books.

My last three tips are, read to each other every day, make time for the things that really matter and have lots of fun together. Erma Bombeck said that raising a child is a little like flying a kite, we guide the kite up into the air, hang on tight in the storms, and eventually we let go.

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