Being a Good Parent is Simpler Than You Think

I believe that the greatest thing I will do in this life is to be a parent.  I will never have a responsibility that carries more weight and meaning.  There is no one else in our lives that my wife, Sheila, and I have greater charge over than our three sons, and the gravity of this task can make us tremble at the knees.
Parenting is not a sprint; it is a life-long marathon, and it never ends.
I have run in three marathons, and my training primarily focused on pacing.  Every marathon runner understands that the race is long, so you must pace yourself to finish.  Sometimes you run effortlessly and it feels easy. Sometimes you are pulling a hill and it feels like you'll never make it.  Sometimes you just need to walk for a bit.  But you're always moving forward.  You planned for this, you knew there would be good and bad stretches, and you intend to finish, not quit.
That's parenting.  It is a long journey.  Not glamorous, but mostly simple routines repeated every day for years and years.  There are fun, beautiful times like when your baby smiles at you with that toothless grin, memorable family vacations, or when you get home and they run toward you screaming "Dad, Dad!"  There are also really tough times like late night sickness, willful disobedience, or their emotional struggles.  But, hopefully, you planned for this, you knew there would be good and bad stretches, and you intend to finish, not quit.
Parenting never ends.  This year my sons turned 30, 28, and 25.  They no longer live at home, they have all graduated college, they have all married, and they have all started their careers.  Sheila and I feel, however, that we parent almost as much now as when they lived with us.  Certainly it looks different, but it is still happening. They routinely seek our advice and our approval.  Our relationships have continued well beyond the years we lived together.
It's the simple, obvious stuff that counts the most.
A recent article by Jessica Stillman in Inc. magazine reported on a study conducted by British scientists after World War II.  The scientists were interested in the conditions for mothers in the war-ravaged country.  They initially surveyed 14,000 women but then continued the study so that, in the end, they surveyed 70,000 kids as they moved through their lives over a 70-year period!  So, what does 70 years of data say about how to be a good parent?  According to conclusions drawn by Helen Pearson, who wrote a book about the study, here are the actions that seem to make the most difference:
  • Talking to and listening to your kids
  • Making it clear you have ambitions for their future
  • Being emotionally warm
  • Teaching them letters and numbers
  • Taking them on excursions
  • Reading to them daily (and encouraging them to read for pleasure)
  • Maintaining a regular bedtime
That's it!  Basic, right?  But it must be done consistently over a long period of time.  Think about the things we stress about in our efforts to be good parents.  Think about all the activities that clamor for our family's attention.  Think about all the things that are not on that list.  This list is all about building loving relationships with our children.  It seems that when it comes to parenting, the little things matter, and they matter a lot.