10 Most Useful Things We Ever Did As Parents
Being a parent is tough. We try our best, but never know if we are getting this parent-thing right. And we beat ourselves up all the time. What kind of impact are we making on our kids? Will naming them certain names determine their job prospects? Will our decisions today affect their futures drastically?
Our kids are teens now. The call is still out whether their names are determining their futures yet- who’s to say? But this is what we do know- and the the top things we’ve done as parents when they were growing up that actually have made a difference in their lives (for the better).
I started reading to our kids when they were babies. From Disney princess tales to Flat Stanley. Nepali legends to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. They still remember stories from Dr. Seuss and Richard Scary, children’s classics like Rudyard Kipling’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, Esphyr Slobodkina’s Caps for Sale, and Shel Silverstein’s The Lion Who Shot Back.
When they were young, their “bedtime story” was a stack of books- limited to 5 so they would eventually go to sleep. They looked forward to library visits- because it meant more stories and we would leave the children’s section with our limits.
Their bedtime story time was a joyous event. And it showed. They grew up with extensive vocabularies and went on to become voracious readers as teens. Yay! Big parenting win. Reading at home is important!
Kept Family Meals Sacred
I’m not talking religion here, but the rules at family meals have applied throughout their growing up. Meal time is a family event that everyone participates in- no matter what their mood (or ours). No phones- cellphones or calls during meal times (they both have gotten on their dad about this) Phones don’t even come to the table. We say a prayer- everyone has a turn at that- and eat a meal.
Mealtime is the time we discuss the day’s events, birthday plans and wishes, and future vacations. Our family mealtimes are important keeping the lines of communication open in the family.
Enjoyed Our Local Parks
We owned our local state park! Not actually owned, but we went there so much the kids knew their way comfortably around in detail and have showed said park off to their friends. It’s changed through the years- put up more fences and closed off more spaces, but the kids have the memories of exploring that park with their friends and swimming in the springs there.
We’ve taken them to lots of parks and natural places and playgrounds too, usually with a packed picnic lunch and a Frisbee or soccer ball or snorkel and mask. These are wonder-filled childhood memories no theme park can ever re-create.
I confess, I stressed out when the kids would roll in the mud like pigs- then one day I let it go. Kids will be kids, and ours loved to get dirty! They’d dig holes, build dams and bridges in the sand, and slip and slide around the mud. In the end I just hosed them down before they came into the house. Seriously. I’ll probably catch flack for that one- but adults go mudding, right? So, it’s just mudding without the vehicle.
We always carried a change of clothes for all of us when ever we went out to explore. Getting dirty in the great outdoors a part of life.
Grew a Garden
We raised veggies alongside raising our kids. Our son was born a week before our first crop of okra was ready to harvest and two weeks before we started picking the black-eyed peas. The kids would stay outside in the garden all day, playing while I weeded. They harvested green beans and snow peas with their tiny hands, and we’d snap the black eyed peas together on the back porch. It’s a beautiful thing. They knew where their food came from before they even went to school!
We got chickens to go with our garden. And learned by trial and error how to raise them. Even losing a whole flock one night to an opossum attack. The chickens laid eggs and also abandoned them- so we got an incubator and hatched them as well.
The kids fed the chickens, gathered eggs when they were older and learned about the moodiness of roosters. Our son even invested in a show breed chicken (Silkie Bantams) that he raised himself and took the county youth fair for a number of years.
Kids can learn a lot about life from raising chickens. It’s a science experiment that keeps on giving 😉
Swam with Them
Swimming is essential for all kids- especially if you live in Florida. When the kids were toddlers, all my friends were discussing which swim classes they would take their little kids to, but we didn’t have the money for such things.
I remember going to a swim class when I was 4 or 5 in Upper Greenwood Lake, New Jersey. I held hands with the other kids my age and walked in a circle singing ring-around-the-rosy. When we got to the end, we were all supposed to dunk our heads under the water- I always chickened out. And never learned anything except to hate swim lessons. When we moved to Florida, my parents got a pool and I used to play with my siblings in it all the time- learning to swim by default.
We had a kiddie pool at home the kids splashed in (they were definitely not afraid of the water). And instead of swim lessons, we graduated to a blow-up pool- a bit deeper- and we’d splash and play. I used to say I was a shark and chase them around the pool while they squealed and laughed. We moved to a house with a deeper pool- and our kids loved jumping and leaping into it. Swimming was fun- not just a lesson to be learned.
Got them involved in 4-H
We gardened and had chickens at home, but there was a lot more that we could not teach. We heard about the school 4-H club from one of our son’s friend’s mom. Once a week after school the kids would get together and do crafts, garden and learn about raising animals. It was like a combo of boy-scouts with girl-scouts and farming- and less expensive too (I mentioned our tight budget, right?)
So, in 3rd grade our son started his 4-H journey. Our 1st grade daughter became a Clover Bud. They took part in the Seminole Garden Project- growing and taking care of a vegetable plot at the school that was judged by the county. They raised a club pig from a baby to auction at the county youth fair. They learned how to create dishes- and crack an egg (essential!!) And stuck with it.
Our daughter continues to raise a pig each year for the fair. She’s practically a professional 😉 They both learned public speaking- giving demonstrations about pigs, chickens and gardening. They took part in food drives, clothing drives and river-cleanups as part of the 4-H community service projects and learned first-hand how to fund-raise. I’d highly recommending signing your kids up and becoming an active member.
Took Them Fishing
This is all my husband- I didn’t know how to fish until I met him, but our kids grew up fishing. They bait a hook and cast a line. Since they could stand! We would go every Sunday to his parent’s house on the lake and as long as the weather was good, we’d be out there fishing– pulling in blue gill and catfish until dinner time.
You know the saying: Give a man a fish and he can eat for the day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Fishing is an essential life skill that everyone should know- like gardening. And in those times when there are runs on the supermarket – cast your pole and snag a bite for the evening. You can’t go wrong. (Of course, learning to prep and cook those fish are just as important as well 😊
Creativity and kids should go hand in hand, but this is a step-outside-the-coloring book. Like the need to move, kids need to express themselves- and the best way is in creativity. Whether it’s banging pots and pans like drums, scribbling across a piece of paper, or pounding clay with their tiny fists. As artists, creativity is a no-brainer. We’ve always had a house full of paint and paper, crayons and clay. We graduated from play-dough to terracotta clay, and crayons were eventually replaced by glitter gel pens and colored pencils.
Kids sometimes express emotions they find no words for in an artistic manner. They can work through fears and anger and disappointments. Creating something by themselves- and yes, let them ‘do it themselves’ also gives them a sense of accomplishment and a boost of self-confidence.
We started our kids in art young and learned along the way. From a fiasco toddler finger-painting session to a creating tiny vegetables for dioramas on land conservation. Our kids continue to express themselves through artistic endeavors.
Raising kids is the hardest thing you will ever do, but you only have this one chance to raise them right. Keep in mind, they are kids- not little adults- and they don’t have the experience and years behind them when they make their choices and decisions. Shower them with love, hugs & encouragement and provide them with the necessary guidance. It’s all about the journey- so make it a memorable one!
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