I’m proud to say that I raised a happy, successful daughter. As a single mom. And when people ask how I did that, at first I didn’t know how to reply. But thinking back at our life together, I believe I’ve gained more insight on what I did right…and wrong. I’m not saying that if you follow this to a tee, your daughter will be a successful internet guru. Every child is different. But some of these are universal and can enhance your child’s life.
1. Play with her. Role playing, doll playing, little people, and Legos all go to create a sharp, creative mind. When you’re playing “house” have mama go to work. Play office! Give her grid paper, pens, a stapler. Let her use the copy machine. One day when my daughter was around five, we were playing office and I asked her, “What is your business?” She thought for a while and replied, “I’m a complaint department. If anyone has a complaint, they come to see me and I’ll take care of it.” So we played Complaint Department and it was really fun and hysterical to bring her problems and have her solve them! Talk about building problem-solving skills…and she thought of it all by herself!
2. Take field trips. There are many places you can go that can widen your daughter’s horizons, and easy on the pocketbook. Instead of Disneyland, go to the local firehouse, or pet rescue, or art or science museum. Museums have headsets for kids, now, that will tell them interesting facts about the art they are seeing. Make sure you get the kids’ headset, too, and synchronize them. Go on an impromptu road trip. Ask her where she’d like to go. When we were both reading Twilight, I surprised my daughter with a trip to Washington state. I got a great rate, and we visited all the locations that were mentioned in the book.
3. Let her in on your finances. Include your daughter when paying the bills. It teaches her that money doesn’t just appear magically from the debit card and that life isn’t free. Explain what credit cards are and what debt is. I did this early, and now my daughter has one credit card that she pays off monthly and five times more money in her savings than I do. Kids have flappy mouths, though, so make it clear that family finances are private.
4. Cook together. I admit that I didn’t do this and I regret it. We both were unhealthy eaters and that was completely my fault. I thought I didn’t have time to cook because I was so “busy.” We ate out a lot and at home I heated up frozen foods. But when she went to college, I actually started cooking for myself and encouraged her to do so. When she comes home we now cook together, share recipes, and we’ve both lost that processed-food weight!
5. Show her it’s okay to fail. Failure is a part of success. About fifteen years ago, I was doing really well as a professional photographer and thought it was time I opened a physical studio. My daughter helped me paint it, decorate it, and furnish it. But it tanked. I didn’t even make enough per month to cover the rent. So when the lease was up, I moved out. But I didn’t try to hide the loss from my daughter, and I didn’t call myself an idiot or stupid. I said “Hey, I tried it. It didn’t work, now I’m moving on.” Which brings me to…
6. Use positive language, with your daughter AND yourself! If you call yourself an idiot, she will call herself an idiot. If you use absolutes like “I’ll never find a good job,” or “I always suck at piano,” she’s going to internalize those messages and emulate you. If she gets a C on a test, don’t berate her and ask what went “wrong.” Say “What do you think the teacher wanted and how can we do better next time?” (Problem solve)
7. Don’t overpraise. Children who are praised for everything don’t learn to work harder or accept critique. On the other hand, don’t be overly critical, either, as that can bust her self-esteem. Know the difference between criticsm and critique: criticism is not asked for and meant to hurt the person; critique is asked for and meant to help the person. If she says “How’s my outfit?” and you really don’t care for the color combination, say so. Instead of saying her crayon drawing is “Fantastic!” and she’s a “Genius!” say things like “Look at all those colors you used, aren’t they pretty?” It’s a way to praise the work without creating a monster.
8. Include her in adult conversations and meetings. I was a single mom, so sometimes I had to bring my daughter to board meetings and dinner parties. I’d always ask permission first, of course, and taught her that if she wanted to attend she’d have to behave. This had an unexpected positive effect on my daughter’s intellect and character. Even if she sat in a corner and colored, all the information was going into that little head and later she’d ask me questions about every conversation. It taught her about social skills, meeting skills, organizational skills, people skills, conversational skills, and much more.
9. Pick your battles. Yes, it’s a cliché, but really, what harm is done if your daughter wants red bangs in fifth grade? They’ll grow out. It. Could. Be. Worse. Give in to some things that are inconsequential in the larger scheme of life. Does she want to go goth? Fine. I’d rather she wear black lipstick during the day than sneak out of the house at night. Bottom line: does this hurt her or anyone else? If not, let it go. This taught my daughter that ultimately she had free will and I respected her autonomy.
10. Still be mom. Sometimes I fell into the trap of wanting to be my daughter’s best friend. That made it more difficult when I had to step up and discipline her or simply say “No” to one of her requests. Bottom line, you’re still the parent and you make the rules. Don’t be so much of a BFF that you cannot be the leader. She’ll look to you to set limits, create a routine, and be her mentor and guide. Take the lead and know that you are a parent first.
And last but not least…make it clear that no matter what, you love her and always will. Children must know that there is at least one person in this world from which they can get unconditional love.