Ten Steps to a Happy Childhood and Able Adulthood

This list of important steps starts at the beginning, but you can jump in at whatever stage you find yourself, whether planning a child, guiding a toddler, or negotiating with a teen.

1) Be healthy. Before you conceive a child, eat nutritious food, mostly organic, lots of vegetables. And drink your water. Use unprocessed salt. Keep in mind that a majority of people seem to be allergic to wheat and processed/pasteurized dairy. Do your homework and decide who to trust. (Hint: Probably not those who stand to profit from your addiction to sugar, caffeine, and fast foods.) Maternal health leads to a child's good health. Healthy children are happier and easier to have around.

2) Want your child. Of course if you are planning to conceive a child, you have a good start on this one. But even those who are pregnant by surprise can decide to want the child. Look at it from the kid's point of view. How would you like to arrive in the family only to find out you were an inconvenience, a bother, or an embarrassment? Give your child the kind of welcome you would want. Revisit this step from time to time during your years with your son or daughter and renew the covenant. Inviting a child into your life is a sacred pledge, no matter by what adventure or well-laid plan.

3) Give birth among friends and practitioners you trust. There is a strong spiritual component to birth. Babies come out better if Mom is relaxed and knows she is in good hands. The baby's father may be one such friend. Grass roots midwives who have a good record of safe births are worth a look. Or use a birthing center that feels like home. Of course, if there are complications, you'll feel most comfortable in the hospital with doctors and nurses who are prepared to help with the situation.

4) After the birth, while you are holding your little one, take time to admire yourself and the hard work you have just completed. Mom, you are awesome. You, too, Dad, for all your support. The best thing a man can do to benefit his children is to make sure their mother feels loved and cared for. Dads, read this line again. And Moms, teach your children to admire their father and give him a hand at the work he does to care for the family.

5) Begin right away to tell your daughter she is precious and everything you want in a daughter. Don't wait for her to understand English. She'll understand the love in your voice. Tell your son, "You are just right. You make me very happy." You can even introduce yourselves. Say, "Hi, Buddy. We're your mom and dad and we are going to take good care of you until you are big enough to care for yourself." Whatever you say, be respectful. Children are people, just temporarily small. Repeat love messages often during the years, making sure to use a form the child appreciates.

6) Guide your child with gentle firmness. Don't try to train him like a puppy. Rather, guide and listen. Let the child help you even when she's too young to be of much help. She'll be tickled. A toddler can sweep (with a short-handled broom for the safety of others!). Children love to carry things, to deliver bowls to the kitchen and clothes to the bedroom. Be neither permissive nor authoritarian, as these are extreme positions, poles that give the child the message that he is not loved, one through a neglect that would let the child get lost, she thinks, and the other through hurtful words, threats, or physical hurt. It is possible to be both loving and firm. Don't get spooked. You are bigger. Insist when you must, but do it with love.

7) Whatever guidance you give a toddler, begin at once to loosen your grip just a bit each day. Let the child stretch a little further, and step in only when frustration is great or harm is likely. Teenagers do not suddenly become responsible. They need to practice during childhood.

8) Talk with your child and teen. If your daughter doesn't want to talk, tell her that communication is the basis for all social contact. Tell her you will listen to her concerns without judgment and that you will listen in order to understand. About now would be the time to admit you don't know everything, that you make mistakes, and that the world was quite the mess when you got here, too! Suggest putting your heads together to solve problems. Be patient. If you are concerned about her, you can gently ask, "Are you keeping yourself safe?" Remind her of the pleasure you take in her, how much she matters to you.

9) The teen years are about negotiating the steps into an independent adulthood. Tell your son, "I want you to have as much freedom as you can use-as long as it doesn't wipe out my beloved son or my bank account." You can explain your own need for a portion of control where your house, your car, his mother and the other children, and your love for him is concerned.

10) Above all, keep your anger and tears to yourself. Express them in private, with grown friends, or with a counselor you trust. Children can be very disconcerted by seeing you out of control on either the bullying or the folding side of things. And, frankly, they won't have much respect for a parent who shouts or cries or gets sarcastic. They deserve to admire you.

Revisit these steps from time to time and see how they apply to each stage of childhood. And if you have already missed some of the early steps, don't worry. Just begin where you are.

This is a broad stroke list. It touches on the basics of a successful and pleasant family life. If you have a good attitude, lots of love to give, some resources, and a willingness to occasionally say you are wrong or don't know all, you'll do fine.

Article by Patricia Lapidus, author of the memoir SWEET POTATO SUPPERS: A Yankee Woman Finds Salvation in a Hippie Village. Patricia is a writer, editor, teacher, and an encourager. Books include SWAMP WALKING WOMAN, a mythic fairy tale about women's strength, and GIDEON'S RIVER, a novel dedicated to all who live with a temper, their own or someone else's. Note: SWEET POTATO SUPPERS is due out soon in a second edition. This memoir is for those interested in communities, in spiritual hippies, and in the personal journey of discovery.

See http://patricialapidus.com/gideonsriver