parent opinion

"It takes a village to raise a parent." A father of twins shares his Five Golden Rules for parenting.

Mamamia’s Five Golden Rules series takes a pervy look into the lives of Australian families. From parents of toddlers to parents of teenagers, the series asks parents to share their golden parenting rules, including the rules for their kids, and rules to just get through each day.

This week, a father of twins shares his Five Golden Rules for parenting.

Real talk: There’s no one way to successfully parent.

And if there were some magical parenting philosophy that guaranteed your children would turn out to be perfect, well, wouldn’t we have a parenting bible by now? Wouldn’t we have all agreed - many decades ago - on the one guaranteed way to not screw up our children?

We definitely would have. And we didn’t - and won’t - because it’s impossible.

Watch: Some of our favourite celebrities on parenting. Post continues below. 


Video via Mamamia. 

We all know that each child (parent, grandparent, town and country) is so drastically different that expecting all families to follow a similar set of "rules" would be a global disaster. 

But over the course of the previous four years, I’ve developed a set of parenting principles that not only guide me as I attempt to keep my boy-girl twin toddlers alive, but also feel universal enough that any parent would benefit from spending some time with them.

These are my Five Golden Rules for parenting.

1. Take care of yourself before you take care of others.

The parenting role is inherently a selfless one. It requires - nay, demands - so much of your time and attention that you often lose the ability to consider your own needs, especially when your child is incapable of, you know, feeding themselves.

Some parents find this quite refreshing, as their own anxieties fade and are replaced with a never-ending stream of thoughts about their children. But with that re-prioritisation can come a loss of self; a disconnection from your own identify and the things that had proven reliable in the past at "filling your cup". 

I believe that your ability to parent successfully requires you to be in the best mental headspace possible. The happier and healthier you are, the easier parenting is. And your ability to remain calm and engaged with your children gets better when you have a chance to simply breathe (or sleep, exercise or disconnect for a bit without children constantly screaming your name).

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So put yourself first. I know it may seem impossible right now, but it’s so important that it’s worth the discomfort. Schedule in that weekly date night with your partner to ensure you’re continuously connecting outside of the monotonous parenting routine. Get fortnightly massages, if that’s your thing (there are companies that literally come to your home). Plan a child-free vacation with your best friends and leave the children with your parents. Heck, get a friend to come babysit for one hour and sit in the car in front of the house and listen to your favourite Adele album.

You might not be able to do it as often as you’d like, but that opportunity to leave the responsibility of parenting behind to do a little something for yourself will make parenting a lot easier afterwards. Even if just for a day or two.

2. It takes a village to raise a parent.

In many unfortunate ways, the village has died in modern society. Sure, we live in communities still. But the built-in network of easily accessible neighbours who are emotionally invested in our children’s lives has disappeared. 

Throughout most of human history - without the ability to travel so easily - we remained physically close to our family. In many cases, we lived under one roof with them. This gave new and seasoned parents alike access to an unlimited amount of free assistance and trustworthy perspectives on parenting. There were a lot less of the "let’s reinvent the parenting wheel each generation" mentality that exists today.

Families aside, the concept of "the village" included extended family and friends, too. If a baby was crying, a young girl from the village might pick the baby up and rock it to sleep while its mother made communal dinner. If you loved painting and your parents weren’t artistic, having another artist in your village made a world of difference in your ability to master the trade.

Because when it comes to feeling loved and cared for, the more the merrier. 

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I think the lack of village is putting a lot of unnecessary pressure of parents, so I’ve attempted to create a Rolodex of reliable people who can not only help (a la babysitters), but those who can play an integral part in our children’s development.

Whether it’s sitters, friends, neighbours or extended family members, we’ve prioritised building a community of unique and diverse individuals who can teach and support my twins in ways we simply can’t. People from different ages, cultural backgrounds, genders and sexualities.

3. Know what your child is developmentally capable of.

I once read a national survey that said 50 per cent of parents of young children - largely Millennials and Gen-X mothers and fathers - believe their children are capable of developmental milestones much earlier than they actually are.

For example, 43 per cent of parents think their children can learn to share by age two, but the skill actually develops between three and four years. And 36 per cent of parents believe their children have enough impulse control to resist the desire to do something forbidden at age two, but most children are not able to master this until they turn four years old. 

This isn’t to say that we as parents are wilfully uneducated, but instead that we might be putting unnecessary pressure on our children (and therefore ourselves) as they age. Without truly understanding what’s going on in their little minds and bodies, we might find ourselves getting upset with them for "hurting someone’s feelings" long before they actually have the ability to knowingly do so.

So while it might not be sexy, understanding developmental milestones and then reviewing them regularly as your children move through them will, in fact, make parenting easier for you. 

When you understand their limitations, you’re less likely to get upset when they don’t meet them. This also makes you a more empathetic and understanding parent as your children are working on mastering new skills.

Listen: Yumi Stynes chats to Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo about her Five Golden Rules for parenting on Mamamia's podcast This Glorious Mess. Post continues below. 

4. Raise your children as if they might be different.

As a gay man, I’m hyper aware of the negative ramifications assumptions can have on young people. As a child, everywhere I turned I saw a blueprint for the human experience that didn’t match the feelings in my heart. And because of that, I never once heard words that encapsulated my experience when discussing potential relationships.

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We often ask young people - way too young, I might add -  if they have a crush on someone or if they’re taking a date to a school event. 

If you feel your child is at an appropriate age to discuss intimate relationships, ask yourself if you’re simply assuming their sexuality when you ask. Because if you are, there’s a 10 per cent chance that you’re wrong. And unlike other situations, this mistake might accidentally drive a dangerous divide between you and your child. 

Unknowingly, you’re saying "that’s the normal and you’re not normal". And for many queer people, that’s the start of a dangerous lifelong battle with self-love. It almost always, unfortunately, starts at home. Even with the most accepting of parents.

I suggest you keep things broad if you’re unsure or uncomfortable. Phrases like "do you have a partner" are extremely safe. But if you’d like to make it abundantly clear that you’re accepting of any and all forms of sexuality, you can always say, "Have you decided if you’d like to ask a boy or girl at school to the dance?"

And that’s just sexuality. When it comes to gender and gender expression, walking your children through both sections in a clothing store and allowing them to pick clothes that they are drawn to will decrease the likelihood that they feel they can’t be themselves and increase the likelihood that you, as the parent, can pickup on clues that they might not "fit in" with the gender norms our society is pushing at the moment.

5. Partners don’t need to agree on parenting.

When I grew up, the general consensus was that "mummy and daddy agreed on everything". If one parent presented a set of rules, it was understood that the other parent agreed with it. You didn’t fight in front of your kids, of course, but it was so much more deep than that. 

Parents needed to present on a unified front and that often seeped into a unified front amongst entire families or groups of friends, which left very little room for a variety of thoughts or experiences.

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As children grow up, this can be problematic. I always felt that most of the bullying I witnessed at school (eating different types of food, wearing different types of clothes or having different coloured skin) stemmed from the bullies lack of understanding that their way (or their parents' way) wasn’t the only way.

Instead of sayings things like "this is how it’s done" or "we do _______", I’ve taken extra time to paint a picture that things are done differently in different homes all around the world. For example, "In America, people eat things like cereal and donuts for breakfast. But here in Australia, it’s more common to have muesli or toast in the morning. Isn’t it exciting that people eat different things all around the world?"

This approach has instilled a sense of curiosity in my children. Plus, a clear understanding that things are done differently naturally increases empathy and respect for others when they grow up. 

We know this as adults, but we don’t always allow children in on the important secret.

Over to you, do you have five rules that you won’t bend on? To share your Five Golden Rules, email [email protected] with 'Five Golden Rules' in the subject line.  

Feature Image: Instagram/@seanszeps.

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