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Two Parenting Rules Everyone Should Follow

I’ve boiled parenting down to two rules:

1. Don’t be a jerk and

2. The roles of "parent" and "friend" are not mutually exclusive

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Let's start with rule No. 1: "Don’t be a jerk" applies to both parent and child. Make sure this is clear to all family members so that everyone is on the same page. It’s simple, and can be adapted to anyone’s maturity level.

For instance:

Don’t play games. For a toddler this would mean, Please don’t hide my car keys in the sandbox.

Don’t manipulate. As this would apply to a teenager, When I tell you that you can’t stay out late, please don’t then go to your dad asking the same question.

Don’t be dishonest. In reference to my husband, So, you did not take the twins for ice cream 30 minutes before dinner? One of them is sporting a chocolate goatee.

Rule # 2: The saying, “You are your children’s mother, not their friend” has become a 21st century parenting ethos—and it’s complete bullshit. Set your kids up early with rule No. 1 and you will most likely be able to follow rule No. 2.

If you act like a jerk, your life is not fun.

I’ve got four daughters ranging in age from 16 down to 9 years old. My two teenagers are my closest friends. My oldest is a junior in high school, then comes my 8th grader. There are no two people in the world I would rather spend time with. We have the same sense of humor and spend hours together, mostly laughing.

Being my daughters’ friend is something that has happened over time as they’ve matured. There is definitely a time in my girls’ lives when my job is to lean more heavily toward "parent" than "friend." Currently, my 9-year-old twin daughters view me as mom, the disciplinarian. They are still learning the ropes, still coming to terms with the idea that most of the time they will not get to go first, or nab the largest slice of pizza—those are simply the realities of life—but this is when my job is to teach them how to handle these upsets without being jerks. I try to do this with humor (which I have found to be the most useful of parenting attributes), but often must resort to ramifications (punishment?) for their actions, which is also a reality of life—if you act like a jerk, your life is not fun.

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At all ages, I’ve made sure that my children have had an honest and balanced picture of who I am. I am not a one-dimensional maid/cook/chauffeur, as many of my mommy friends allow themselves to be categorized. I am first and foremost my children’s mommy—they are, and always will be, my priority—but I also have a life outside of that role. I have a husband, I have a career, I have friends. I have a full, imperfect life, and it’s good that they see all that. I’ve allowed them to see my vulnerabilities, my blunders, my fears and my embarrassments, as well as my successes and joys. My belief is that in doing this, in a manner appropriate to their maturity level, I am showing my girls that it’s OK to be flawed; in fact, it’s the flaws that make us more interesting people.

Raising children to be fair and compassionate, to be responsible and ethical adults, really isn’t about micromanaging their lives with rules. It’s about giving your children the same respect that you want from them. And not being a jerk.

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