John F. Kennedy would have been 100 years old May 29. He was the 35th President of the United States. He did a lot of smart things during his political career. But, that’s not what this is about. This is about what may be the smartest thing John F. Kennedy did in his personal life.
He married Jackie.
Why was that a smart move? Not because Jackie was smart, beautiful, graceful and cultured. Indeed, she was all of those things and more. But what I find most admirable about the former first lady is that she was a good mother.
Jackie Kennedy once told a reporter something that became my mantra as a mom. She said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.” Jackie Kennedy set the bar high. And from all accounts, she was at the top of that bar.
Was she perfect? Surely not. Did she “bungle” a few things along the way? Surely so. But on the 100th anniversary of her famous husband’s birth, her quote can both and inspire and challenge parents of today to remember the importance of loving, teaching, guiding, restraining, and yes--- correcting--- our children.
Somehow--- with the grace of God--- I managed to raise two little girls who are exceptional young women making a difference in the world. Was I a perfect mom? Certainly not. Did I bungle things along the way? Absolutely. But I learned a lot along that way. I’m not Jackie Kennedy, but here are a few things I’ve learned about parenting through the years.
*Love your children unconditionally. Love them when they make A’s. Love them when they C’s. Love them when they smile. Love them when they sneer. Love them when they walk in the door and give you a hug. Love them when they slam the door and give you the cold shoulder. Love them when they do what you want them to do. Love them when they do what they want to do. Love is not about approval. Love is about LOVE.
Children need a safe place to be themselves. That means they need a safe place to be happy, sad, sweet, snippy, generous, stingy, loving and even loathing. Love them in spite of themselves. This will help them grow into confident, emotionally healthy, loving human beings. It will serve them well in their own adult relationships. HAVING SAID THIS, PLEASE NOTE! This does not mean letting your children run over you and anyone else in their path. That is not "love!" To truly love your child, you must also-
*Discipline your children. GASP! I know that goes against much of today’s common thought. I don’t care. I’m right on this one, people. I’ve seen so many children who are undisciplined and allowed free rein to do and say whatever they please. The result? Their parents are unhappy. Anyone around them is unhappy. Frankly, the children are unhappy. A very wise friend of mine in the child care industry once told me, “Children want boundaries. They want to be told “no” every now and then.” Really? Really.
Now, by discipline, I do not mean physical violence against the child. If you are doing that- STOP IT. Discipline means teaching children about proper behavior. It means holding them accountable for improper behavior. It means teaching them how to apologize and mean it. It means having them earn privileges instead of teaching them to expect them. It means teaching them how to be good losers as well as good winners. It means expecting the best of them and not tolerating the worst from them. It means guiding them and teaching them how to live and thrive in society. It’s your job. Do it.
*Spend time with your children. It’s a busy world. We wake up at O’dark-thirty and hit the floor running. We run all day and into the night with jobs, errands, housework, yard work, greetings, meetings, and competing. Chatting with a talkative toddler or a testy teenager may not be what you FEEL like doing. Do it anyway. When you shut out everything else, sit down, look your child in the eye and really listen to what they are saying, you communicate their value. Their value to you and to the world. You tell them that what they are saying and feeling is of worth. You build their confidence and inspire them to be better at what they do. On that note:
*Encourage them. I don’t know what tickles your child’s fancy. Maybe it’s soccer, or baseball, or football, or art, or reading, or writing, or singing, or cheerleading, or dancing. When they find their passion, do everything you can to encourage it. I might have been dog tired from a long day at work in the television newsroom, but when my little dancer daughters wanted to show me their latest ballet or jazz moves, I put on the music, turned down the soup on the stove, sat on the couch and watched them. For as long as it took.
*Learn to say "no." This may offend some of you, but, oh well. Parents who give their children every little thing they ask for, even before they know what to do with it, are doing those children no favors. What ever happened to working for it? Saving for it? Waiting for it? I see 8-year-olds watching PG-13 movies, 6th graders being chauffeured to "prom" in a limo, 16-year-old being given brand new cars, but no curfew to go along with it. Appropriate boundaries are good for children. They teach your children how to function in the adult world when the time comes. Who cares if "everybody else is doing it?" You are not "everybody else's" parent.
And remember that "parent" is the key word. You are not your child's best friend. You are their mother. Or their father. You are the adult. And when you guide them with love, encouragement, discipline, time, and restraint--- you will help them become adults with purpose, passion, and principles.
I don’t know if Jackie did any of those things, exactly. I have a feeling she did all of those things, and more, generally. She seems to have raised two exceptional human beings. And that may be the best birthday gift she could have ever given her husband. If you are a parent who unconditionally loves, disciplines, spends time with, encourages and restrains your children, it will be the best gift you can give them, as well.
*For more on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, visit https://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/Life-of-Jacqueline-B-Kennedy.aspx