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WHAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT
chapter 7
Family
 

As you start out in life, the most important relationships are those with your parents, siblings and other relatives. Then, when you have your own family, your spouse and children become the most important.
If you do decide to get married and have a family, you have to give your spouse and children your total unconditional love. It will not work otherwise. Being a half-hearted spouse or parent is a sure recipe for failure and heartbreak.
Children
Have children for the right reasons. Never have a child principally to improve your marriage or relationship. It rarely ever makes things better.
Before you have children, have a good discussion with your partner about each of your roles as parents. If both of you work, how are you going to handle child care? If you practise different religions, what does this mean for the way your children are going to be raised and educated? Try to understand each other’s expectations in order to avoid unhappy surprises after your children have been born.
Unquestionably, your first priority as a parent is to make your child feel deeply loved unconditionally. This is essential to a child’s sense of security, self-worth and emotional well-being. Give your children a world of love, affection, joy and laughter.
Take advantage of every opportunity to broaden your children’s horizons by exposing them to a wide range of cultures, people and the different forms of the arts. Nurture their artistic interests. Help them draw, color and paint. Nudge them to be in the plays at their schools, even if it is just building the props.
Encourage your children to have an intense sense of curiosity about everything. Take them to the zoo, science centers, natural history museums, movies and live theatre shows. Instill in your children a love of books and reading as early as possible, starting with beautifully illustrated books. Take advantage of your local library to obtain such books.
The more diverse your children’s interests and the more they involve creative pursuits and interacting with others, the better. While helping them to gain computer literacy is important, set some limits on the amount of time your children regularly spend on using the computer or electronic handheld devices and on solitary video-game playing to counteract the tendency for these activities to become addictive.
Invariably, your children are going to want to start using social media at an early age before they even become teenagers. This is going to present you with some special challenges. How do you prevent your children from tweeting their friends long after they have gone to bed? Is it OK for you to periodically look at their Facebook pages? How do you make your children aware of the need to use discretion in what they post on the Internet? Placing limits and controls over their use of social media is difficult to do yet it represents a potential minefield of problems and risks.
To help your children develop their own internal moral compass, it is important for parents to serve as a role model for their children on how to behave properly and espouse the right values, especially integrity and having respect for others. The key here is consistency — demonstrating that proper ethics, honesty and integrity are non-situational.
Be careful about being overly judgmental with your children. If you have to be critical with your child, criticize the action, not the child. Rather than always telling your child what to do, set a good example yourself on how to behave with others and in different situations. Instill in your children a belief in the importance of having compassion for the underdog and tolerance for those of other races, color, religious beliefs and sexual orientation.
In addition to being your children’s protector and provider, never miss a chance to be their chief confidence builder. Encourage your children to do their best and nudge them to set goals for themselves that they can achieve by making an extra effort. This is much more important then pushing them “to be first” or always “win”. Focus on what they do well, not on their shortcomings.
On the other hand, do not be afraid of stating, “You can do better.” Foster in your children a sense of determination to stick with tasks and persevere when they experience setbacks and adversity. Help them to learn that anything worthwhile usually takes a lot of hard work and repeated efforts over a period of time.
Always take advantage of every opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments, large and small, of your children. Try your best to be there when they are performing in any kind of school, sporting or community event. Make the time to be your children’s principal cheerleader. Help your children to believe anything is possible but assist them in gaining an understanding of the real world, that everyone makes mistakes, including their parents.
One emotion you must totally banish from existence in your family life is anger. Losing your temper with your spouse or children is a sure route to disaster, regardless of the provocation or your own state of mind. There is no excuse for it. When you act or say anything in anger, you are certain to inflict emotional or physical harm and regret it deeply afterwards.
Encourage your children to gain a sense of independence. Help them become good problem solvers on their own. Rather than give your children all the answers when they are facing a problem, ask them what they think they should do. The best way for your children to learn and grow is to let them make some mistakes on their own. Only by allowing them to take some risks and fail are your children going to gain a sense of resiliency.
The British inventor and billionaire businessman, James Dyson, advises children “to not be afraid of failure. Failure is most interesting. You learn from failure. You don’t learn from success. So don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Experiment. Try something you can’t possibly believe will work.” Dyson is responsible for inventing the bagless vacuum cleaner, the bladeless fan and the heatless hand-dryer.
Refrain from acting as a “helicopter parent”, hovering closely over everything your child does at school, in the playground and in sports. Do not undermine the teachers and coaches of your child by trying to impose your ideas on how or what they should be taught or coached. Be respectful in giving any personal suggestions to such people as opposed to making shrill criticisms. If you are strongly opposed to something of consequence at your child’s school, request a meeting with the school principal to discuss it or write to your representative on the School Board. Accept that it is not your job to try to supervise the teachers and coaches of your child.
One situation, however, where you must insist that a school take strong, appropriate action is when your child experiences repeated bullying from a fellow student. Some of the most serious bullying is now occurring on social media and message services, where bullies are posting abusive comments, photos, e-mails and texts. This is a serious problem and you must make every effort to have it stopped as fast as possible. In some cases, you should contact the applicable social media site directly to request that the offending material be removed. Facebook is especially responsive to dealing with such problems. If the bullying involves acts or threats of violence, you may be justified in reporting this matter to the police.
Starting when your children are in elementary school, instill in them an understanding of the importance and value of getting a good education. The sooner they realize the advantages of obtaining some type of postsecondary education at a vocational school, a college or university, the better in terms of them being able to secure a decent job and attain their full potential.
Teenagers
The relationship you have with your children has to change after they become teenagers and gain greater maturity. Although you are still the parent, you have to give your teenage children more “space” and privacy to find themselves, seek ways to express their own identity, and become functioning young adults. Recognize that it is a healthy and necessary development for your teenage children to struggle to break away from you and assert their own views and independence even while they continue to live at home.
At this stage, a certain amount of conflict, disagreement and tension may be inevitable. While your goal is to help your children become autonomous adults, you still have to set some boundaries and establish clear expectations regarding the need for them to act responsibly, including financially. You also have to insist that the right for young adults to continue to live at home carries with it some obligations, such as maintaining certain hours, helping to look after the family’s living space and asking permission before bringing a group of friends home.
In addition, it is extremely important for parents to avoid becoming “enablers” when their teenage children start to engage in harmful activities or adopt especially bad habits. Looking the other way or rationalizing such behaviors only encourages them to continue or become more serious. In the case of addictions, serious eating disorders and self-abuse, you usually need to involve professional counselors sooner than later, first in advising you on the best way to handle this situation as a parent and second in providing the counseling your teenager requires.
When the actions of your daughter or son become unacceptable in terms of the security and well-being of the other family members, it is time to exercise “tough love” and say, “You can no longer live at home. You’re on your own. Don’t call if you’re just asking for money.” In these instances, unfortunately you may have to let your adult child hit bottom for several years before she or he can begin the process of recovery and taking responsibility for one’s own behavior. No one ever said that parenting is always going to be easy or fun.
After your children have left home to go away to college or start a new job, refrain from constantly contacting them by cellphones, e-mail, texting, Twitter and Skype. Pull back from being over-involved in their lives. Give them some space to become functioning adults on their own. It is inappropriate, even damaging, for parents to continue to try to run the lives of their children after they have left home.
Do not wait for your parents or grandparents to die before you tell them how much they mean to you and how much you love them. Being in a family means being able to share one’s deepest feelings with each other. As is the case with other relationships, healthy and happy families depend on having a lot of two-way communications.
Create regular annual family events and rituals relating to the celebration of birthdays and important holidays where every year a special meal is held that possibly includes other relatives living nearby. Make these events part of your family traditions that everyone looks forward to and counts on. Our family also makes a practice of going to the same favorite Chinese restaurant about twice a month for Sunday dinner where we get a large round table and include as many other relatives as are available at that time.
Finally, do not let technology intrude into your family life. Set boundaries on when you are going to check your e-mail or use your BlackBerry at home. Establish routine blocks of time when you devote 100% of your attention to your children and spouse without any interruptions to answer your cellphone or use any PDA’s. This is especially important at mealtimes or when you are engaged in doing something with your children.
 

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