I can’t tell you how often people say to me, “Leila, your kids are fantastic. Annie is sprightly and precocious, and little Estie is so well-adjusted for a nine month-old. I can tell that when she shits her pants, she’s only doing it out of lack of bodily control, and not out of spite like my kids. How do you do it?”
Well, I say to nobody at all, it's pretty simple: I love my kids the right way. It’s easy to fuck up, and you’re probably doing it wrong. Here are a few simple steps to ensure that you stop the cycle of hate you've created:
1. BE AFFECTIONATE. Most parents think that hugs are enough, but they’re not. Hugs say, "I like you, but I don't LIKE YOU like you." In order to make your child actually feel loved and not grow up to be a murderer, you need to kiss them - often and passionately. To do this, start by getting right up in your kid's face for at least thirty seconds. Touch your nose to her nose until it seems like she has one giant eyeball. Try not to blink. In a firm voice, say, “I LOVE YOU, [insert name]." Be enthusiastic, but don't patronize – she can tell when you’re lying. Now for the kiss: make a sexy pouty face with your lips. This is not meant to turn your child on - it's to allow for proper latching. Suck in through your mouth to create a vacuum. Aim for her cheek, and attach yourself to the fatty puff like a leech. Remain there long enough to make an impact, but not leave a hickey. It’s a delicate balance, and the length of time may vary depending on the thickness of your child's skin. (Do a test patch first.) When you release, do not wipe your saliva away. It’s a representation of the DNA you share with your child, and it will remind her of your unending connection as it dries and forms a crust on her cheek.
2. GIVE PRAISE. I’m not talking about the generic auto-response you mumble when she shows you some abstract stick figure artwork she did at school. “That’s nice, sweetie” is not enough. “That’s nice” is bullshit. Truly effective praise comes at unexpected moments. You want your child to know that she doesn’t even have to be doing anything awesome – you’re still CRAZILY proud of her. Tomorrow, when your child is playing peacefully on the floor with a dinosaur or a tea cup or an electrical outlet, approach her quietly from behind. (Really quietly. The element of surprise is key here.) Crouch down so that your face is right at her eye level, and make sure to smile REALLY big. Cheshire cat big. Now shout your child’s name loudly, right into her ear hole. This lets her know that SHE is the special kid you’re about to praise. When she jumps up and pees her pants in terror, just keep smiling. Embrace her, and tell her that even though she’s six years old and still pisses her pants, you still love her. She is wonderful and has the most pleasantly-scented urine you’ve ever laundered. *I highly recommend indoor/outdoor carpeting for this step, or some kind of mulch.
3. CREATE MEMORIES. Going to the park is fun. Going to Disney world is MORE fun. But dressing up like Mickey Mouse and climbing into bed with your child so that a huge, freaky mouse head is the first thing she sees when she opens her eyes: now THAT makes a lasting impression. She won’t forget that. Just an idea.
4. CHECK IN. Many new moms go into their baby’s room at night to check on them, just to make sure they’re breathing. This is good. But why stop when they get bigger? What kind of message does that send? “You’re old enough to wipe your own ass, so I no longer care if you live through the night?” Stop being so selfish. You need to go into your child’s room every hour to check on her during the night. And don’t just sneak in like some creepy burglar – turn the light on so she knows it’s you. Put your hand on her back to make sure she's breathing. Then pinch her nose to REALLY make sure. If she hasn’t already woken up at this point, shake her a bit so she knows you're there, and you care. In the morning, the dark circles under her eyes will remind her that she is loved and properly looked after.
5. FEED HER. You’d be surprised how many parents forget this one.
6. BE THERE. You can never be too “present” for your child. Volunteer at her school; go on her field trips. Take her to the movies. Hold her hand. Carry her over puddles. Listen to her conversations. Follow her into the bathroom. Set up cameras in her bedroom. Hide in her closet. After all, you can’t really love your child for who she is unless you know EXACTLY who she is at all times. The same is true for your spouse.