She'll bring out the best and the worst you can be
Ladidah, ladidah. Forget about that pretty lady who'll cut you and laugh while you're bleeding. It's the kids who can really do a number on you. Though The Beatles were right, all you need is love - especially in this great adventure of raising the next generation - you'll also need more patience and fortitude than is humanly possible to raise a child, and then exponentially more if you have more little rascals. Parenting is not for sissies. And just in case I haven't quoted enough famous people, I'm going to drag Solomon in here and his very sage advice to Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Solomon's words are a big comfort to parents who have told their children to put things back in their proper place at least one trillion times. Though we know they will never willingly do so in our homes, we are fairly confident that when they are elderly, their houses will be well-organized and immaculate - before the grandkids come and wreck it.
Ah, don't get me wrong now. Children are a blessing, and I feel sorry for those who do not view them as such, but more importantly, I feel sorry for their children. And Love, love, love is all you really need to make a beginning of this most important job. But then you must try - and I stress try daily, hourly - to kill your selfishness, your self-centeredness, your laziness, and your constant craving for peace, sleep and a nice house.
You must also do your darndest to pour solid values, robust good sense, and a concern for others into their little beings. (I am no expert, but I suspect all this good stuff springs from God, and if he is no part of the equation, the job will be very difficult indeed.) And if regularly reading parenting books and articles helps, then do it for heaven's sake! Mine your friends and elders for nuggets of wisdom. Don't be ashamed. I thought parenting was instinctual until I became one. Then I searched out all the sound advice that I could to help me when I was at my rope's end.
There are a few things I have learned along the way to raising four citizens of this world, and I will share some of my paltry knowledge with any fellow parents, as others have shared their wisdom with me. But I have a long way to go, you know. Sadly, I find I am still a very selfish, self-centered being who loves peace and quiet.
Put things back where they belong
No, I do not mean just in our homes. I mean in the world at large. Every time we go to the grocery store, our children should see us place our cart in the cart return. When we take them to the children's store and they want to try on all the miniature sunglasses, they need to understand that what they get down, they must place back. We should remind them repeatedly to put their trash in the proper receptacles.
Why? It's not enough to tell our kids not to litter. They must grasp that littering disrespects other people; other people look at our mess, and they have to clean up after us. Our kids should not walk through life expecting waitresses and store clerks and strangers at large to pick up after them. Not unless we want them to be total brats.
Talk - now!
Yes, before it's too late. If you want your kids to know why you believe certain things, if you want them to have your values instead of scrounging around for what their friends or the media has to offer, you must talk to them on a regular basis. This is one of the greatest things my own dad did for his kids. The day is full of teaching moments, after all - not moments to instill hate or bigotry, but moments to guide your children in building a solid foundation for themselves in a shape-shifting society. Do not leave them to mercy of others.
Forget me; think us
Yes, "me time" is important, or you will surely blow a gasket. But "us time" is vital. There are many, many times as a parent when you must forget yourself to play that game of football in the back yard when it's so dang hot; to snuggle up to an anxious little one in the dark and ask her about her day; to read, play or dance when there are piles of dishes and loads of laundry you'd like to get out of your hair (boy, I struggle with this one!); to put down that book and really listen to your child (boy, do I really struggle with this one!); and to talk to a preteen about issues at school or with you. The whole world is dependent on "Us". We must invest precious time in each other to build a better society, especially in the hearts of our kids.
Family dinner time is priceless. I have heard a bazillion knock-knock jokes from my kids at the dining room table, sung several silly songs with them. My kids have asked about my childhood, and I've told them a bit of family history. Discussions about God, drugs, life choices, and college have happened at our old table with its finish ruined by hot plates, cold glasses, and fresh pizza boxes. I have even learned about my son's crush there. Trust me, turn off that stupid TV or smartphone and really invest in the not-so-silent but oh-so-golden family dinner hour. Don't be a media drone, unaware of where your family is headed.
A structured life
No one thrives in chaos, children least of all. I am a firm believer in bedtime routines, for instance. The television must be off; the lights are lowered; teeth are brushed; and books are read. Family routines inspire kids to organize their lives and create healthy habits around the necessities of living well - disciplines they'll need in the craziness of life.
Here are links to some great articles that explain why routine is so important to kids:
Love, love, love your kids, and love your spouse most of all, and may God bless us all with the grace to admit our mistakes and the courage to keep striving. The world depends on our efforts.