Here are some nuggets of advice, from someone who's been in the parenting trenches for almost a decade.
Kids don't come with how-to manuals, as every parent knows. But the past nine years of raising my own kids has taught me that there are a few basic guidelines that make things easier. These guidelines provide structure to the family, confidence to the parent, and boundaries for the child. Some of these are what parenting expert Kate Orson calls "the secret to raising unentitled children," but I think of them as the key to surviving and thriving.
1. Spend time with your kids.The next time your kid asks you to come play with them, drop what you're doing and go do it. These years won't last. Kids want their parent's focus and attention more than anything else in the universe, so it's a more worthwhile investment of your time to spend it one-on-one with a kid than out working to pay for expensive toys that he or she doesn't really want. Make a point of eating together every night; this ritual holds a family together, especially as kids grow up.
2. Get rid of the screens.
Put your own phone away when interacting with your kids. Turn it off. Remove it from sight. As one commenter put it:
"If you EVER stop reading/playing/interacting with your child because your mobile beeps (unless you're waiting for a transplant, in which case you are forgiven), be thoroughly ashamed of yourself."
Ditch your kids' screens. Restore a sense of wonder in the surrounding world by removing tablets and TV from your kid's immediate surroundings. Sure, they may have to work a bit harder to entertain themselves -- and they may pester you for ideas -- but eventually it will get easier. Go outside and don't worry about capturing every moment on camera; you're better off searing those memories into your brain than losing them on a hard drive somewhere.
3. Give them chores.
Kids are entirely capable of pitching in around the house. The only difference between kids who work and kids who don't is us, the parents. Kids need constant reminders to get their chores done, and parents have to take on the responsibility of nagging kids to make sure it happen. Yes, this is exhausting, but necessary. New York Times parenting blogger KJ Dell'Antonia wrote,
"If you genuinely expect or need your your child to help out around the house, he will. Star charts, allowances, chore wheels, rewards, punishments—they all work if we make them work. If we stick with them. If we don’t decide it’s easier to just do it ourselves, or that homework and sports are more important, or that we can let it go just this once, which turns into every time."
4. Don't be afraid to say no.
You're not a personal chef. You're not a taxi service. You're not a bottomless ATM machine. Teach your kid that there is a difference between wanting and needing. Remember that you are the parent, that you can decide the way things go. Kids need boundaries, leadership, and standards. You are not your kid's best friend, nor would that benefit them if you were. Strive instead to guide, encourage, demonstrate, and uphold. You can do so with firmness and kindness, cuddling and explaining things to them. This will get messy at times, with tantrums and tears, but that's OK. It's normal.
5. Have fun.
This is the hardest concept for me to grasp, amid the endless tasks and exhaustingly long days, but I frequently remind myself that it's important to enjoy the wild ride that parenting is. Everyone says it goes by so fast, and while the daily grind doesn't feel that way, I do marvel at how quickly nine years have flown by. You'll be done in no time, and what will you wish you'd spent more time doing? Do what you love. Teach your kids what you love. Make memories. Laugh at the frustrations, then move on. Write down their funny quotes. Plan surprises. Be spontaneous.