My husband asked me to write a companion post to his Beginners Guide to Raising a Family for Fathers article. My first reaction was to feel a little inadequate. After all, at the ripe old age of 34, I really do not consider myself an expert at anything. I have made many rookie mistakes along the way on my quest to be a good wife, I have fallen for many of the usual pitfalls of parenthood. However, my main focus and goal over the last 15 years has been to raise an excellent family, and I feel I have learned from my mistakes and the experiences and mistakes of others. I certainly am a much better wife and mother now than when I started, so for what that is worth, here is my Beginners Guide to Raising a Family for Mothers.
Let me first say that I second everything Richard wrote in his initial post. His advice is great for women as well as men. Here are a few more ideas of how to raise a family, specifically for women. I have a very traditional view of how to build a strong family, and as such, my ideas will surely be seen as outdated and lacking by many women in our current culture. But, considering that today half of all marriages end in divorce, and nearly two-fifths of all children are born out of wedlock, maybe the popular thinking of the day is not meant to serve families.
Build A Strong Marriage
Be the Right Woman to Marry the Right Man
My first piece of advice is to be selective when you choose your spouse.
Make a list of the non-negotiable traits he should have and compare the people you date to that list of qualities. Of course, I wanted to marry someone who was handsome, and athletic, and made me laugh, but it was also important to me that he was a person of integrity and honesty. I knew I wanted to marry a man of faith who was hard working and respectful. My mom once advised me to notice how a man treats a waitress he is not trying to impress for clues on how he would later treat his wife. Look for good qualities in the people you date before you let yourself fall in love with someone of questionable character.
You should consider who you want to be when you are looking for a companion. I know women who met their husbands during a wild phase in life. Everything seemed great until they had a baby and suddenly decided they wanted to provide a stable, faith-based environment for their child. Too many times, I have seen a lack of desire from their husband to magically change, and their marriage ended up unhappy or in a divorce. If you want a successful marriage, be the kind of person you want to marry when you are courting.
Put Your Husband First
I have learned over the years to make my husband more of a priority. My husband knows that he is my best friend. That I want to talk to him and want to be with him. I have girl friends, but I would rather go on a trip with him. If he wants to take me to lunch, I rearrange other plans to make that happen if at all possible. If you want to have a close relationship with your husband, tell him your secrets and let him know that his secrets are safe with you. If you cannot say that your husband is your very best friend, then think about what that kind of relationship would look like, and create it. It has been my experience that if you make little changes with how you approach your relationship, your husband will likely reciprocate.
Let Your Husband Be Your Hero Not Your Child
Nothing says, “I don’t need you” like a woman who can do everything on her own. Don’t get me wrong. I mean, I grew up in Texas. I know how to be a strong, independent woman. But, your relationship with your husband will be so much better if you don’t have to prove to him that you are just fine without him.
Let your husband pamper you sometimes, let him do things for you, and even expect him to do things for you. Thank him when he does, respect his ideas, and praise him for what he does to make life more wonderful. Acknowledging what he does, and letting him lead out does not diminish you or your abilities.
Be strong. Yes! Be powerful. Yes! Be capable, ambitious, and independent. Yes! Yes! Yes! But let your husband know you appreciate him and that he fills a void none else can.
Popular culture often portrays men as overgrown children who are lazy, undisciplined, and self-absorbed. But it has been my experience that most men want to be men, and that when they are treated with dignity and respect, they rise to the occasion. Set your husband up for success by respecting and trusting in him. Let him be your hero!
The Power of Yes
When I was younger I wanted to travel the world. But, after I started having kids, the itch for adventure kind of wore off. It was replaced by a desire for stability and peace. I felt I would be content living in the same house for the rest of my life. Really, everything seemed perfect, so why would I want a change?
Somehow having kids did not have the same effect of my husband. He still longed to travel, to chase a thousand dreams, and to shake things up in a big way every few years. It could have been easy to say no when my husband wanted to move to South America to learn Spanish, or when he told me about businesses he wanted to start, or when he now wants to buy a farm in Tennessee, build a baseball diamond for our boys, and start a corn maze and a bluegrass band.
I decided early on that I did not want to be a “ball and chain” or be the “nay-sayer” shooting down my husband’s dreams. I would say yes as often as possible. Before I say no to one of my husband’s ideas (do I ever even do that?), I think about why I have a hesitation, and then most of the time I realize that I can still follow my dreams while allowing room for his.
Listen and Compromise
If you want to have a great marriage, learn to compromise. This is seriously a dying art in our society and is certainly the cause of a lot of unhappiness. I think it is important to realize compromising is not a sign of weakness, but is actually a product of strength. Compromising builds up both sides and will bring you and your spouse closer together.
As silly as this example is… When my husband and I were first married, we recognized that we grew up differently and had different ideas of how things should be done. So, up came the important matter of (dun dun duuu) the toilet seat. I naturally thought that the toilet seat should be kept down. But, my husband grew up in a house full of boys, and wondered why girls couldn’t leave the toilet seat up. Instead of turning a frivolous matter into an argument (which is sometimes easy to do) we decided that the best thing would be to make a compromise where we would both had to act thoughtfully. We would both leave the seat and the lid closed so that there was consideration and action on both sides. Problem solved, a win-win.
It is also important to listen. When my husband and I have had disagreements, I have sometimes thought that he was so terrible and unfair. In these situations, I thought that I was all right, and he was all wrong. But, when I have swallowed my pride and apologized, and asked him to tell me his side, I have often been shocked at how the situation looked from his eyes. I have learned a lot about perception and understanding. Sometimes I have been right. Other times I realize I was completely wrong. But when we open the lines of communication and really listen, we solve problems and gain trust for each other.
Establishing Your Family Culture and Raising Kids
A Family of Faith
Families are stronger when they are built on faith. Regardless of what your religion is, there really is no substitute for a belief in a higher power. Faith will help you establish common goals and morals that are important to building a strong family. When you have a common belief system, morals, and vision for your life, it is more likely that you will be loyal and faithful to each other. It is no surprise that when people leave their faith behind, often their marriage follows.
Intentionally Build Your Family
Make your family a special group to be a part of. Establish traditions and take vacations together. If you want a successful family, you need to make good memories. Your trips and traditions don’t have to be elaborate or expensive. Tailor what you chose to the personalities and hobbies in your family. I would not recommend trying to copy the traditions of other families, unless they really speak to you, as they will likely feel unnatural or forced.
Establish patterns of hard work and gratitude in your children. Raising kids who are not entitled is extremely difficult in the current environment. It takes a lot of work on the part of the mom! But, if you engrain these principles when your children are young, you will reap the rewards later when you have pleasant teenagers and successful adults.
Remember that your actions speak louder than words. Take inventory of your own life. Do you act entitled and ungrateful? If so, your kids will surely mimic your attitude. Believe it or not, hard work and sacrifice actually make people happier. In a study a few years back, the Gothenburg University in Sweden found that hard work was the key to finding joy and fulfillment in life. So, as much as they may complain, feel content that making your kids clean their room or wash dishes will actually make them happy in the long run.
Time Makes All The Difference
Time is a precious commodity that is in short supply. In fact, in our current society, time is often more valuable than money or possessions. It is, for example, often easier to donate $20 to a cause than to have to show up to help with a service project. Kids are very smart, and they understand how valuable their parents’ time is. I believe that your children will have a stronger relationship with you and feel love from you more when you make a point of spending quality time with them.
I carefully craft situations where my kids will spend more time together developing relationships. My goal is for my kids to be better friends with each other than with their other friends who are not family. If you think about it, your kids relationships with each other and typically the longest relationships they will have in their lifetime. Having strong family relationships gives your kids a sense of identity and belonging.
Spending time with your kids requires intentional parenting. It means reading to your kids instead of occupying them in from of a television. It means looking them in the eye when they tell you a story instead of scrolling on Facebook. It means sometimes playing Candy Land or going to Chucky Cheese or a million other things that you would not choose to do yourself, but that you do for your kids. It truly makes a difference, and your kids will love and trust you more for your sacrifice.
Radiate Happy and Find Joy in Simple Things
Several years ago, my husband came to me with a concern. He wanted to know why I was unhappy and stressed all the time. I was taken back when he told me that because I did not think of myself as unhappy. As we talked about the situation, I realized that I had become so task driven and focused on my to-do lists, that I was not taking the time to smile and laugh. I was not very fun to be around because I was so worried about what I needed to accomplish.
I did not realize that I was creating a tense environment in my home. Since then I have tried to let things go a little more and to show my happiness in my demeanor more. My to-do list is not shorter, but I know I can take an extra minute here and there to give my husband and kids attention they need, to listen to a joke and laugh at it, or to dance in the kitchen while the pancakes burn.
I find more joy in simple things and I am truly happier because of it.
Your kids also notice your mood and will mimic what they feel. Kids are happier and less anxious when their parents are calm. Studies consistently show a correlation between the mental health and mood of parents and the behavior of their kids. (The same goes for pets by the way. If you have a dog on Prozac, you likely are anxious yourself.)
Don’t Listen Too Much to the Experts
Most of the big mistakes I made in early parenting came because I was trying so hard to follow what experts advised. I read books about how to do everything from disciplining kids to scheduling. It took a lot of tears and years of feeling defeated to finally let go of how others told me I should parent (because that is what worked for them) and to realize that I could raise a family in a way that worked for me.
I went to a conference a few years ago and listened to a woman who was a mother of a very large family. Here children were all grown, and she was imparting her wisdom to the audience. She kept repeating a phase that struck me. She said, “It took eight kids to realize….” Before I heard her speak, I guess I never realized that great parents don’t start out amazing. That it was okay to make mistakes, and for my parenting to evolve. Understanding this concept empowered me to learn how to parent the best I could, and to trust my instincts.
I realized that I already knew how I wanted my family to be. I just needed to figure out how to execute my vision. I did not need to be stressed or anxious that my style was different than someone else’s. I found out that I like to be more casual and laid back in some ways in my parenting, and more strict in other ways. I guess you can say my parenting is as unique as I am.
I still do research when making decisions about parenting, but I now have the confidence to put other people’s ideas through my personal filter and “glean the good”.
There is an old saying that goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Well, in a family, there is a lot of “pouring” that needs to be done. Moms especially have a lot of demands on their time, and burn out is not an option. You need to take good care of yourself so you can show up each day with your A game.
If you live a healthy lifestyle: eat right, get regular exercise, and enough sleep when possible, you will find that not only are you more energetic, but you will also be happier and better able to handle the curve balls of life. Exercise is especially good because it releases endorphins and lowers stress.
You should follow your hobbies and develop personal interests. You don’t have to be a martyr for your family. The joy you get from personal development will magnify your efforts and inspire your kids. A peaceful, happy mother is worth her weight in gold.
I would also recommend finding other like-minded women as a support group. My support has come in various forms over the years. At times I have just had one friend I could really talk to. At other times, I have had several. I started attending a monthly mother’s night with 12 close friends about a year and a half ago. We share the ups and downs of life with each other and discuss issues that come up. I know that this group is full of women I can trust to give good advice and not betray my confidence. Regardless of how your support system looks, some sort of group will go a long way in helping you navigate the challenges of motherhood.
I love my role as a wife and mother. I have found that although work and sacrifice are required to build a successful family, it is also worthwhile and fulfilling. I have become a much better person through my experiences. If you are interested in building a strong family, don’t be afraid, go for it! If you and your husband are willing to work together and keep improving, you are sure to be successful.