There’s no EZ-Pass on the road to parenting


By: Maurice J. Elias
Everyone complains that there is no instruction manual for becoming a parent, and no blueprint for helping families become closer. This is true. However, as parents travel down the Parenting Highway, there are going to be a number of signs along the way. Attending to these signs is one of the best things parents can do if they want to reach their destination, or at least avoid some dangerous situations. Here are two of the most important signs you will see in your journey to becoming a becoming a more caring, sharing, problem-solving family, along with travel tips for what you might do (or not do) along the way.
How do we show kids we care? Paradoxically, it is not by giving them everything they want, or by going out of our way all the time to do things for them. In truth, when parents do not provide limits to children, children think they don’t care about them.
   While they will never come out and say this, children need adults to set some boundaries and guidelines. They need adults to be adults, which means to take responsibility for the well-being of children and to make some decisions and choices based on adult wisdom, experiences and values. Every parent needs to have some points that are not negotiable, especially as their kids enter the teenage years and face decisions with very serious consequences.
Toll Plaza 1,000 Feet
In every family, there are tasks and chores and things that must be done so that the household can continue. These include earning money, cleaning, putting things away, laundry, shopping, cooking, washing dishes, repairing, medical and dental checkups, recycling and garbage disposal, planting, watering, taking care of pets and paying bills. This is the "price" of family life. It is like a toll we pay to get from one side of a bridge to another, or to travel on the turnpike. It is the price we have to pay to get from where we are now to where we want to be.
   But tolls also make a contribution. They allow the pathway to be maintained. They enable things to which we are really looking forward to take place. Seeing these tasks in this way helps family members share in the "work" without thinking of it as a "chore." It makes a contribution to our family.
   We all make contributions of different kind. All of them are important; to be a family, we need them all. And if we have to do others’ work, it leaves less time for our own and it makes it harder for the family to get where it wants to go. We pay a toll not as a penalty, but as part of getting where we want to go.
   Remember, in parenting, if we want our kids to grow up respectful of our values, willing to contribute to the world around them, and responsible, there is no EZ-Pass.
Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D., is professor of psychology at Rutgers University, vice chair of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning ( and vice president for program of the Board of Trustees of the Association for Children of New Jersey.