For the woman who once famously said, “I think children are like pancakes: You sort of ruin the first one, and you get better at it the second time around,” Kelly Ripa’s kid-smarts come through first-hand experience, now that her third child, Joaquin, is 4. (Michael is 10 and Lola is 7.) That’s a whole lot of trial and error under her Prada belt -- but it’s also hard-won wisdom on what works and what doesn’t in raising strong, healthy kids today.
Unlike her predecessor, Kathy Lee Gifford (who never met a moment she couldn’t turn into the Cody and Cassidy show), Ripa has managed to escape the cloying trap and win over devotees with her self-deprecating good humor regarding child-rearing. And being able to laugh at your kids -- and yourself -- is an essential part of good parenting, leading child health experts say.
Ripa’s wry riffs on motherhood began immediately after giving birth to her first son in 1998. The 37-year-old co-host of Live With Regis and Kelly jokes that she and husband, actor Mark Consuelos, wished they’d been given instructions to take home from the hospital.
“Around the time [Michael] was born we’d just bought one of those widescreen TVs, which were all the rage then. And we walked out of the store with, like, a 6,000-page manual on how to work the thing. The hospital, on the other hand, gave us a leaflet that said things like, ‘When the baby is hungry, feed him. When he’s tired, put him to bed. Incredible, right?”
But now that Ripa is a seasoned pro at being a mom, she feels confident enough to share the following tips with those brave souls venturing for the first time into the strange terrain of sleepless nights, the terrible twos, and learning how to say “no.”
1. “Don’t be your kids’ BFF.”
An essential lesson in the laws of parenthood? “’No’ means ‘no,’” Ripa says. “Be a parent and not a friend. Basically, it’s my philosophy that doing the easy thing in the short term makes it harder for parents in the long run. Giving in when you want to say ‘no’ may quiet things down momentarily, but you’ll just have more of the same -- and then some -- down the road.”
2. “Pace yourself on the guilt.”
None of us is perfect -- and that includes parents. “I’m a flawed parent, but I work hard,” Ripa says. “I feel for all parents, because we’re all learning as we go.” In other words, put in the time with your kids; offer them your very best guidance, but understand that you will make mistakes. And if you acknowledge and learn from your missteps, your kids will, too.
3. Call Your Mom.
Many working moms find themselves isolated in the home-to-office-and-back daily dash. So make the time to reach out for been-there, done-that words of wisdom. “My mother and I are very different … but I call her all the time for advice!” Ripa says.
Just as important as listening to older parents who’ve been there is finding support from those who are going through it with you at the same time. “Try to find a support group – friends -- who share similar philosophies when it comes to raising kids” in the challenging era of iPods, the Internet, and instant-messaging.
4. “Have more patience.”
Ripa means with your children -- and yourself. While it’s easy to lose your temper when you child is, say, throwing a grade-A tantrum at the grocery store, try to step back, take a deep breath, and even laugh if possible. Experts agree: “Even tough situations we face with [our kids] can ultimately be very, very funny. So be ready to have a good sense of humor,” says WebMD child health expert and pediatrician Steven Parker, MD.
5. Kids are consistency junkies.
Children like reliable routines -- and Ripa’s kid’s thrive by knowing what to expect from their parents, and what they, in turn, expect from them. “Listen, I run my family like a cruise ship. ‘Shuffleboard at 5!’” she jokes. “Everybody knows exactly what’s happening, all the time. And my house is like the CDC. I’m all about containment. We keep things really clean, really neat. The rooms are hydrated with humidifiers …. [and] it’s prevention, prevention, prevention: We do supplements, probiotics, you name it.”
More Parenting Messages
For the full story on Kelly Ripa’s toughest parenting challenges, lessons learned from her mom, and how she balances a high-profile career while raising a family, look in your doctor's office for WebMD the Magazine's May/June 2008 issue. Or read the story online now.