What are your top five best pieces of advice to a parent who has to deal with another person or parent in raising their children

It’s funny how much my answers to this question have changed as I’ve gotten older. I can only hope that I’ve gotten wiser as well. As much as I would like to place these answers in some sort of priority or order, they are all very important and work best when they are all practiced at the same time.

#1 Love your children more than you hate your ex.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? In practice, it is extremely difficult to do. However, this is really what “best interests” is all about. You have to stop being selfish so that you can become selfless. All of the best parents know that the interests of their children come BEFORE their own interests. Always.

Sure, I’ve had people tell me that they have to care about themselves to care for their children, but that is the same thing as “best interests”. Just because you have to place your children’s interests before yours does not mean that you cannot have your own interests. You just have to make sure that your own interests as a parent or caregiver COINCIDE with those of your children.

#2 Protect your children 24/7/365.

I know this seems obvious, but it’s not. It is hard to protect your children from others. Yet, it is harder to protect your children from yourself. And it is hardest of all to protect your children from themselves.

You’d be very concerned if your child was exposed to someone who had an addiction, right? And you’d probably want to keep your child away from someone who was mentally ill. You’d also probably not want to expose your children to those who are homeless, perpetually unemployed, sexually deviant or violent.

What if you have an addiction? What if you are mentally ill? What if you are homeless? What if you are perpetually unemployed? What if you are sexually deviant? What if you are violent?

Better yet: what if your child has an addiction or is mentally ill or homeless or perpetually unemployed or sexually deviant or violent?

See how hard it can be? And you have to be extremely vigilant ALL THE TIME.

Being a parent or caregiver to a child is both the greatest and the hardest thing you will ever do in your life. Ever. Nothing else even comes close.

#3 Spend half as much money on buying material things for your children, and spend twice as much time on BEING with them.

This was probably the hardest lesson for me to learn. I was raised under two (2) basic rules: 1) there is no excuse for not working and 2) get as much education as you can. Those were the rules. They are now my rules. And I hope that they become my son’s rules as well.

However, sometimes, you need to step back from your life and really take a look at what is going on in it. In my case, I had lost sight of the REASON for working so hard and getting an education. The REASON is to have the highest quality of life possible, for yourself and your family. I had fallen into the trap of living to work instead of working to live. And my family and personal life suffered because of it.

My son brought this to my attention one day when I chose work over spending time with him. He came to me, obviously hurt, and asked one simple question: “Dad, how come you don’t spend any time with me?” Wow. It was like being hit in the head with a sledge hammer. I didn’t think such a simple question could cause so much pain. But he was right. Out of the mouths of babes, indeed. I remember bursting into tears and swearing that THAT would never happen again. Work is important but my son comes FIRST (once again, think “best interests”).

This one poignant incident woke me out of my stupor of working all the damned time. Take time to stop and smell the roses, enjoy life, and spend as much time as you can with your kids, because they’re not kids for long. And because life is far too short to waste it on working all the time.

#4 Stay informed of your children’s education and health on a daily basis.

This is probably the most obvious, yet I have cases all the time where one or both parents have no idea about almost any aspect of their children’s educations and/or health. While it sounds similar to “protect your children”, it’s not. Protecting your children entails trying to keep certain potentially harmful aspects of life away from your children, while not necessarily focusing on the minutiae within your child’s life itself.

Can you honestly and appropriately answer these educational questions?:

  1. What grade is my child in?
  2. What is my child’s homeroom teacher’s name?
  3. What is the name of my child’s school?
  4. What are my child’s subjects and who are his teachers?
  5. What are my child’s favorite and least favorite classes?
  6. What are my child’s best and worst classes by grading?
  7. What are the names of my child’s friends from school?
  8. What sort of extracurricular activities is my child involved in?
  9. How is my child doing in school?
  10. Have I met any or all of my child’s teachers?
  11. Do I daily check that my child has done his/her homework?
  12. Do I regularly review my child’s quarterly report card?
  13. Do I immediately respond to any issues raised by teachers?
  14. Do I know what my child wants to be?
  15. Do I encourage my child to read as often as possible?
  16. Do I know if my child wants to go to college?
  17. Do I encourage my child to get engaged in sports?
  18. Do I know what my child does – or where my child is – after school?
  19. Does my child need to be evaluated for special needs?
  20. Is there anything more I could be doing?
  21. Does my child love school?

Can you honestly and appropriately answer these health questions?:

  1. When was the last time my child saw a doctor, and why?
  2. When was the last time my child saw a dentist, and why?
  3. Is my child up-to-date on all immunizations?
  4. When is the last time my child had a physical?
  5. Is my child allergic to anything?
  6. What sort of precautions have I taken regarding the child’s allergies?
  7. Does my child need to see a specialist, and why?
  8. Does my child need to see a psychologist, and why?
  9. What childhood diseases has my child had, and when?
  10. Has my child ever been to the hospital, and why?
  11. Has my child ever had surgery, and why?
  12. Does my child have any mental disabilities, and what are they?
  13. What have I done to remedy my child’s mental disabilities?
  14. Does my child have any physical disabilities, and what are they?
  15. What have I done to remedy my child’s physical disabilities?
  16. Does my child need braces?
  17. What medications is my child taking?
  18. Is my child using drugs or alcohol; if so, why, where, and with whom?
  19. Is my child sexually active (and, if so, practicing “safe sex”)?
  20. What is my child’s sexuality?
  21. Is my child showing signs of mental illness or depression?

These are all very basic questions and you should be able to answer probably hundreds more very specific questions about your child’s education and health. Why? BECAUSE THAT IS YOUR JOB AS A CHILD’S PARENT OR CAREGIVER!

#5 Provide a stable environment (and remember the Five Ss).

Yes, I know, this is also quite obvious. However, you would be amazed by how many people and parents simply do not understand how incredibly important this is to a child.

For instance, I often tell people to be wary of The Five Ss. Is your home 1) safe (from within), 2) sanitary, 3) secure (from without), 4) spacious, and 5) stable? If not, then you have a real problem on your hands.

Safety is obvious, especially concerning infants and toddlers. Sanitation is also just as obvious. You also want to keep your children safe from anyone or anything getting into your home from outside. And, you want your child to have as large a bedroom, home, and yard as possible to live out their lives in.

But what about stability?

As luck would have it, while safety, sanitation, and security are urgent short term matters, spaciousness and stability are equally important, though long-term, matters. And where safety, sanitation, and security all impact your child’s physical health, the spaciousness and stability of the child’s home impact your child’s emotional and psychological health.

And while a child will normally come to terms with the spaciousness of their homes on their own terms and over time, this is usually not the case with stability.

So, what are some of the factors that determine stability?:

  1. Has one of the child’s parents died?
  2. Has one of the child’s caregivers died?
  3. Has one of the child’s siblings died?
  4. Has one of the child’s long-lived pets died?
  5. Does the child have any close family members?
  6. Does the child have any school friends?
  7. Does the child have any neighborhood friends?
  8. How many years has the child lived in the same place?
  9. How many years has the child lived in the same bedroom?
  10. When was the last time the child moved?
  11. How many times has the child moved in his/her life?
  12. How many different school districts has the child gone to?
  13. How many of the mother’s boyfriends or the father’s girlfriends have lived in the child’s home?
  14. Are you currently employed?
  15. How long have you been employed at the same job?
  16. Has your employment forced you to transfer out of state or out of the country?
  17. Have you had multiple periods of unemployment?
  18. Have you had to accept people into your home to help you pay the rent?
  19. Have you had your drivers license suspended or revoked (and why)?
  20. Do you have a car?
  21. Has transportation ever been a problem?
  22. Has the child experienced episodes of domestic violence?
  23. Has the child been sexually abused?
  24. Has the child been bullied in school?
  25. Has the child been evicted from a home?
  26. Has the child been homeless?
  27. Has the child ever experienced a catastrophe (fire, flood, tornado, etc.)?
  28. Has the child ever been a victim of a crime?
  29. Have you had to leave the child to serve in the military?
  30. Have you had to leave the child to go to jail or prison?
  31. Have you had to leave the child to go into rehabilitation or a hospital?
  32. Have you ever lost custody of the child?
  33. Has custody of the child changed several times among caregivers?
  34. Has a state agency ever taken the child away from you?
  35. Has the child been in foster care?
  36. Has the child (as a PINS or a JD) gone to a group home or to detention?
  37. Has the child gone to jail or prison?
  38. Has the child had to go into rehabilitation or a hospital?
  39. Has the child ever run away?
  40. Is your child wrestling with sexual identity issues?

I could go on and on and on.

As you can plainly see, there are probably hundreds of potential factors, which on their own can interact in highly complicated ways with one another, that affect the long-term psychological stability of a child (and the adult that child will become!).

So, now you can understand that safety, sanitation, security, and even spaciousness are pretty easy and obvious. However, it is stability that is the most complicated – and the most important over the long-term, in a child’s life.

As a judge used to say: if you plant a tree, then it is your job to ensure that its trunk grows tall and its roots grow deep, that it is well-watered and kept in the sun. To do otherwise is to be grossly irresponsible – as both a gardener and as a parent.

All five of these pieces of advice are important in their own right. Take all five to heart and I assure you, you will be able to raise compassionate, confident, empathetic, healthy, intelligent, law-abiding, loving, and secure children, who will thank you for being such a wonderful parent.

So, call me: I can help you.

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