With my husband and I due to have our first child in approximately three weeks, the topic of growing a great family has become a key focus for me.

While I am not a mother yet, I spent a year in the USA caring for four year old twins Alison and Elisabeth so I feel as if I know a thing or two about raising a great family. The enjoyment of being an Au Pair included the ability to step into a completely new family environment and challenge some of the ideas the family had, and in many ways strengthen some of the values I had been brought up with.

Both my Host parents were very engaged with their children – in particular, my Host father who was, and continues to be, a very actively involved dad. This was quite unusual in the environment where we lived and I very much appreciated both parents taking such an active interest in their children’s lives.

The key strength my Host father possessed when raising these girls was the ability to be very loving, yet fair. This brings me to my first point of raising a great family – unconditional love and unequivocal fairness. With children, I think it is paramount that they know and feel loved.  However, it is also vital that they understand the importance of fairness. As a parent it can sometimes be a challenge to have consistency in your approach with your children. Therefore, clear boundaries must underlie the fairness principle and you must be consistent when you apply these boundaries.

Raising children is never easy and I think it adds an additional dimension when you are raising twins. The simple reason for this is that many people expect twins to grow at an identical pace and often compare their skills. I find this practice appalling and it used to frustrate me when people would compare the girls to one another and assume that one was ahead or behind based on the other twin’s ability.

This brings me to my next point when raising a great family – fostering individuality. I believe that it is imperative for parents and friends/family to encourage and foster each child’s individuality. By identifying and building on their strengths, you will grow a confident and well-rounded individual.  In this process, it is also extremely important to foster curiosity and allow your child to ask a million questions and endeavour to provide an answer – or even better, find out the answer with them!

At the end of the day, the key to delivering the principles I have spoken of above (unconditional love, unequivocal fairness and fostering individuality) you, as a parent, must have the time and ability to listen to the needs of your child. I think that taking time to listen to our children is the most important principle when raising a family and often is forgotten in the quest to balance work life vs. family life. Raising children is as much about the quantity of time that you spend with them, as it is the quality.

Lastly, but certainly not least, I believe the key to successfully growing a great family is to have a strong and loving relationship with your child’s other parent. As parents you must show a united front and support each other in decisions that are made. A child learns how to love, how to respect their future partner and how a relationship should be by observing their parent’s relationship. If that relationship is fraught with arguments and instability then that child will assume that this is the acceptable behaviour.  Instead, parents must work together to raise their children and not forget why that child is there in the first place – because you love each other and prior to being parents together you had your own separate relationship. While trying to maintain this with a young family is a challenge, there are certainly ways of achieving a balance.  By prioritising yourself and your relationship with your partner you will naturally grow a great family.

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Cecilia Robinson, founder of My Food Bag, and Au Pair Link, is one of New Zealand's most successful female CEOs. Cecilia's business awards include: 'Her Business Best New Business award' in 2009, 'Businesswoman of the Year 2012’, ‘Best SME 2012’ and 'Supreme Winner of the Woman of Influence Programme' in 2017.

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