Parenting.

Endless TV shows and countless books inform expecting and new parents about the trials, tribulations, and joys of parenthood.  But how can we really be the “best parents possible”?

Every parent most likely has fears of not living up to expectations at one time or another. It’s natural. I host a bimonthly Guys Night. Several of us guys go out for some beers, have fun at a local biergarten, and socialize. It’s a good way to relax. What amazes me is that while all of us have good homes, stable jobs, and a lot going for us respectively, a closer look reveals that are so many more complexities going on underneath.

Between school events, mother-father relations (some tense, some good, some not so good), career concerns, health issues, external and perceived stressors, our lives are vastly more complex than we like to portray. It’s good to realize that no one is perfect and that everyone has their set of problems. As my mom would say, “Everyone puts their pants on the same way.” The more we as parents perceive that other families have it all together, the more we put undue (and often, unrealistic) stress upon ourselves.

So, how can we be the best parents possible?

1. Love Unconditionally and Accept Your Children: Your children, adopted or not, are you. They are beautiful, wonderful, beings of light and life. Accept them, embrace them, love them for all they are. Now, they are 2 years old. Tomorrow? They’ve turned 18 and are going to college.

2. Patience and Empathy: Surprise, No One Is Perfect, (Not Even You!): Give your children compassion as they are growing up and learning life for the very first time. How you react, how you instruct, how you navigate the hardest topics when they need you will be etched on your child’s mind forever. Just as they are going to make you proud, they are going to frustrate you. Have presence of mind, and if you can’t at that moment, give yourself a breather, regroup, and come back. Let them know that you were young too, got in trouble, and made mistakes. Come back to your children showing tender, loving affection. If you have more than one child, love equally (don’t play favorites).

3. Your Children Comes First: Being a parent is understanding that your needs—while immensely important—have now shifted. To put it another way: it’s not about you; it’s about them. Everything you do should be with the intent to further the health, the academic goals, and the quality of life of your children. Everything.

4. What Motivates Your Children: Should you have the advantage of raising your children from birth (adopted or otherwise), you have the unique advantage of not only having a deep connection with your children’s emotional needs, but can also have a big influence on their motivators. Knowing what motivates your children can prove extremely valuable for when your children need an extra push, emotionally or physically.

For example, some children respond well to the “if/then” methodology: “If you do this, then you can (do what you want).” Do you know if your children are rule-followers? Do they do better by learning for a bit by having that time broken up by timed breaks and then learning once again? Should you adopt a child through foster care (or older), you may wish to spend some time getting some background information to help you. You could ask your social worker, adoption agency, any blood family members (if present and willing to help), teachers, etc, on how well they know your child and what interests he or she has.

5. Rules and Structure (As Defined by Each Family): A little bit of structure in the home can help relieve some of the stress which builds up every day, while also letting you shine as the “best parent possible.” Having your kids understand the various routines of the house, what to do, when to do them, and who has responsibility helps bring order and meaning.

In trying to be the best parent possible, parents should attend to themselves as well.  Accept that you are going to make mistakes, perhaps several, in your parenting journey. Have patience and realize that everyone is trying just as hard as you are. Reach out to friends and talk about how they are making things work, what their struggles are, and how they resolve them. I bet they are experiencing difficulties, too. Don’t forget to carve-in “me time,” which will afford you time to de-stress. Go for a walk, workout, get a massage, go shopping, spend time with friends, catch a comedy show. Do whatever you need to do to relax.

Realize that you are an amazingly talented human and parent. You are educating a new person in the ways how the world works. You have to pick what is important to you and let the rest go.