What My Elderly Clients Taught Me About Parenting
One of my favorite things about working with the elderly population was learning from them. I got to hear first-hand accounts of what it was really like living through events I had only read about, I learned the wisdom they gained over their lifetime and I learned their shortcuts for getting around Los Angeles. But best of all, I got tried and true parenting advice from people who had amazing relationships with their children.
One unfortunate thing that happens to our aging population is that they are marginalized and people don’t appreciate the value of their wisdom. It’s a shame since they have so much knowledge to share. I can’t tell you how much working with the aging population has benefited me. It would literally take pages and pages for me to share everything I have learned from my clients.
The advice that I most appreciate is the knowledge they passed on about parenting. What better way to learn about parenting than from people who have already raised successful, independent adults who they have a solid relationship with? That’s pretty much my parenting goal. I want my boys to be independent, successful and to have a strong relationship with their parents.
Successful Parenting Tips from Our Elders
If you don’t have the benefit of learning from your elders, I’ll share the best parenting tips I’ve learned from my clients.
- Have serious conversations in the car: It can be hard for kids to open up about embarrassing or serious topics with their parents when you are face to face – particularly if they are sharing information that they think you may not like. If you have the conversation in the car, they are more likely to open up since they can’t see your face. I have tried this with my older son and he shares so much more with me in the car than he does when we’re at the dinner table. It has made me not want to skip pick up time since that’s when we have our best conversations.
- Honesty really is the best policy: Don’t lie to your kids if they can easily find you out. For example, don’t tell your kid a shot won’t hurt. They’ll discover that it does hurt and won’t trust you. I tell my son that shots hurt, but just for a few minutes. Then I explain why he has to get the shot or blood work. I’m hoping this parenting tip works since it fosters open dialog in the future – after all, it worked for my clients.
- Prioritize family time: Back in my clients’ day, there were less distractions so making time for your immediate family was easier. Now, between Netflix, OnDemand and YouTube, there are way too many screen distractions, not to mention social activities. All of my clients talked about how they all spent Sundays together as a family. It isn’t always possible, but I try really hard to carve out one weekend day just for family and on that day, we try to do things together.
- Eat together: Similar to prioritizing family time, family dinner was a priority. I’ll be honest here, I hate dinner time. My kids are picky and whiney and I personally prefer not to eat a heavy dinner. That being said, I try to get us all at the dinner table on Tuesdays, Thursdays and one weekend night even if we’re all eating different things. My oldest has karate on Monday and Wednesday and I need a break from dinner so I don’t force it every night, but we do sit and eat together a few nights a week. I try to make it a special time by lighting candles and playing music so my kids see it as an event.
- Step away from the screens: My clients parented in an age before multiple screens even existed. TVs were new and they didn’t air shows all day. That meant that families bonded over conversation, card games and music. And you know what? It worked well for them! I have been guilty of following a thread on Facebook instead of playing with my kids. We probably all have been caught staring at a screen instead of playing with our kids. You don’t have to step away from the screen every day. Consider doing a screen free night at home.
- Let your kids be independent: Helicopter parenting didn’t exist 50+ years ago. I’m not saying go back to the time where kids didn’t use car seats and played in the street until the sun went down, but we don’t need to stop our kids from falling. My biggest pet peeve is moms on the toddler play equipment. The equipment isn’t made for adults so it makes it really difficult for other young children to use the equipment. Doing everything for your kids means they aren’t doing things for themselves. It’s totally OK to let them fall – that’s the only way they’ll learn how to get back up!
- Don’t sweat the small stuff: In most cases, today’s problem only matters today. Rather than letting every little thing stress you out, remember that it won’t matter in the long run. By picking your battles, you can spend more of your parenting energy on the big important things. It’s what has let me let go of my 3 year old’s eating habits. I figure he’ll outgrow his picky eating at some point. He won’t be 40 years old and still eating chicken nuggets and French fries every day – one can hope!
If you are fortunate enough to have elders in your life, I highly recommend you spend time with them and let them do the talking. I have gained so much from my friendships with my clients and my kids have benefited from their friendships with them as well. If you don’t have elders in your life, consider visiting a senior housing facility. There are so many people who no longer have family and would love to spend time with a young family.