11 Ways to Raise Better Humans

Crystal Jackson

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It occurred to me the other day that I am still a first-time parent. Last year, I was the first time-parent to a five-year-old and a seven-year-old. This year, I’ll be a first-time parent to a six-year-old and a going-on-eight-year-old. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around figuring out how to be a parent to children recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when I realized this: we are all learning, every day.

Anyone who tells you that they are an expert at parenting is lying to themselves — or to you. Unless they are both educated as a parenting expert and an actual parent, this can’t possibly be true. Even then, chances are that they are constantly getting new practical experience. We’re all learning as we go.

As a parent struggling with new challenges related to the diagnosis, this is a comforting idea. Yes, my children have challenges. But all children have challenges. They don’t all get direct help working through them.

As a child, I had high anxiety and anger issues related to family dysfunction. What I didn’t have was help learning to deal with my anxiety or anger — at least, not until it manifested with physical symptoms that had me in and out of doctor’s offices before landing me in therapy. As a college-age adult, I finally got the help I could have used all along.

But my children’s challenges are being recognized and addressed. If they inherited my temper, they’ll have the benefit of learning strong coping skills to deal with it. If they inherited their father’s anxiety, they’ll have resources for that, too. They will learn how to deal with their neurodiversity — and so will I. This is my first time being a parent of children of their ages. There will be many firsts ahead of us.

Since recognizing that we are all learning parenting as we go, I began to think about things we should probably be doing to raise brave and beautiful humans if we want the next generation to improve upon our own.

#1 We can give ourselves a break.

Every year, there will be new challenges with our children. Maybe we need to give ourselves a break and recognize that learning usually means we’ll make mistakes along the way until we figure it out. We are all first-time parents — even those who have adult children.

#2 We can admit to our children that we don’t have all the answers.

Growing up, I was taught that adults are always right — even when they’re clearly wrong. That wasn’t helpful. When my children ask me something that I don’t know, we’ll go look it up. It doesn’t just get brushed aside like their curiosity doesn’t matter. We learn together.

#3 We can admit when we’re wrong.

If I make a mistake, I admit it. My children have heard me say that I’m still learning to be a parent, just like they’re learning how to be a kid. They’re figuring out each new age and stage — just like I am. Having a little grace for each other through the process is important. If I want them to hold that space for me, it helps if I model it for them — but also openly talk about it.

My temper flares, and I yell — and then we talk through how that was the wrong decision and how I can do better. They know I’m not perfect, but they’re also learning that they don’t have to be either.

#4 We can have a healthy separation between who they are and who we are.

This morning, I talked to my kids about politics in the car. I explained why I feel the way I do but that they may feel differently when they get older. I told them it’s important to understand that everyone won’t agree with how I feel. In fact, many of their classmates will likely be parroting their own parents’ belief systems. Some of them will parrot those belief systems for the rest of their lives. But I’ve told my children that they get to decide what they believe and make choices for how they’ll live.

I don’t mistake my children for miniature versions of me. They may not play the same sports or take on the same hobbies. It’s okay if they grow up to be very different than who I am. Instead of trying to indoctrinate them in who I am, I explain. I let them understand why I believe the way I do without making them feel like they have to believe the same or there will be consequences.

#5 We can embrace authenticity.

If we want our children to be their best selves, it’s important that we embrace authenticity — theirs and our own. Children are the first to catch onto hypocrisy. They see everything in black and white. If we are one way in public and another in private, they notice. If we want them to be better humans, we need to teach them that it’s okay to be who we are in every setting, even if we stand out rather than fitting in.

If we want future generations to make the world a better place, we have to be on the frontlines of that movement by raising better humans. To do this, we need to teach our kids to be themselves in a world that will likely ask them to be something else.

#6 We can champion diversity.

I don’t care what your politics are — if we want the world to have less hate, we need to actively champion diversity. Which means we don’t sit around at home and allow our conversations to be racist, sexist, xenophobic, transphobic, or homophobic. It’s not about being politically correct. It’s about learning and doing better.

Championing diversity also means that we tell them the true story of our nation’s history, not the white-washed versions prettied up for school plays. We learn from our history instead.

#7 We can model supporting other humans.

If we want our children to be better humans, we can model being supportive to friends and family. If they only hear judgment and criticism out of our mouths, we can be sure that’s what they’ll repeat. Modeling kindness and support will help them learn how to develop these characteristics themselves.

Women, in particular, need to make sure that how we talk to and about other women is respectful and empowering. If we model seeing girls as competition for other girls, those beliefs will be internalized.

#8 We can have a healthy work-life balance.

Showing our children that a healthy work ethic can exist with a healthy life balance is essential to helping them build a value system where they feel like they don’t have to choose between work and home. If we want them to take good care of themselves while having a healthy work ethic, we need to model that. Instead of teaching them that a job’s purpose is only to make money to pay the bills, we can teach them to choose work they’re passionate about that will support the kind of life they want to live.

#9 We can model healthy relationships.

If we want to raise better humans, it helps if we teach them how to have healthy relationships by having them ourselves. This is one of the primary reasons I got divorced. I would rather my children see their parents in healthy relationships with other people than to have grown up with the example of an unhealthy marriage guiding their decisions.

If we want our children to have loving, healthy relationships, that’s the kind we need to choose for ourselves. Every disrespect and unkindness we tolerate may be teaching our children to accept a lower standard of behavior for themselves.

#10 We can practice healthy boundaries.

Healthy families require healthy boundaries. They require that we have personal space, privacy, and an ability to communicate how we feel. I didn’t grow up with any of those. I wasn’t allowed to lock the door or have privacy in the bathroom. Telling an adult how I was really feeling was seen as talking back. In arguments, my personal space would be violated. It’s not a surprise that I grew into an adult with serious boundary problems.

For a long time, I was a doormat. But that’s not what I’m teaching my children. These days, I work on having healthy boundaries. We talk about privacy, personal space, consent, and how we feel. I know that I can’t teach them what I don’t know, so I work on learning it.

#11 We can recognize challenges and help them address them.

Every child has challenges. Impulse control. Anger. Anxiety. If we can help them identify these things as challenges rather than faults, we can then connect them to resources to help. It could mean therapy or other services, but it might be doing a better job of modeling healthy behaviors at a parenting level. It could also mean openly talking about challenges and ways to overcome them in a way that doesn’t shame them.

Our children shouldn’t have to wait to adulthood to find help for their challenges. If we’re being proactive, we can help them learn the skills they need now that will help them later. While they may have to work on them for the rest of their lives, we can at least equip them with the tools they need to have a strong start.

“Instead of raising children who turn out okay despite their childhood, let’s raise children who turn out extraordinary because of their childhood.” L.R. Knost

When I was reading literature on the spectrum, I read that parents need to shift their focus to the benefits rather than the challenges of the disorder. My children are bright, creative, affectionate, quirky human beings. Their minds don’t work like mine, but the way they see the world is beautiful. Instead of worrying about the difficulties that may lie ahead, I began to realize that all children have challenges and mine are getting support for theirs.

I’m still figuring this parenting thing out. I have a feeling I’ll be doing that for the rest of my life — learning to be human and to grow older while they do. But I’m working in grace for the process — for us to mess up and try again and keep trying for the rest of our lives to love each other better. As parents, if we can do that, we just might make the world a little better than it was before.

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails: https://crystaljacksonwriter.substack.com/

Madison, GA
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