Photo by Lisa Turner Photography. Please do not use without written permission from myself and Lisa. Thank you.
I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about parenting. The way I was parented then, the way I'm parented now (you can't tell me your parents don't still parent you in some way!). The type of kid I was then, the type of 'kid' I am now. The way I'm parenting, the way I want to parent.
Especially as I'm a parent to a very young child, I want to make it clear that I'm learning. Always learning. By the moment, by the hour, by the day. So feel free to scoff and completely write off this list, because my kid is only two. I certainly don't know everything; I'm certain I never will.
But here -- here are some things I'm realizing. Take them, leave them. Hate them, love them.
- I said it above, but I'm going to say it again. We will never know everything. What we should strive to understand is what works for our children and for our family. No one is experiencing what you're experiencing. Keep this in mind, especially when you feel the urge to be critical, or find that someone is critical of you.
- No one's ideas are stupid. Unless those ideas involve no boundaries whatsoever, or isolation or violence.
- Be in the moment. I cannot even begin to tell you how I struggle with this. My Type A personality has me thinking over everything 'undone.' My to-do list that grows even longer on days when I'm especially in the moment as a mother and wife. When you have a husband who is only home for weeks at a time, you don't want to spend those precious moments cleaning ... no matter how distracting your dirty house is to your Type A self. Being in the moment also applies to defiance, tantrums, delayed bedtimes -- where I struggle even worse. No matter how much you may want to scream in that moment, it is only a moment. If you need to scream, do it. Just not in the face of your child. The look of fear on your little one's face is not worth it.
- Tell your children you love them, often, and with conviction. I once read a comment thread in which someone was trying to convince the other parents that we can be too free with our "I love you"s, that telling your children you love them "too much" will spoil them. Well, if I am going to 'spoil' Maile, I'd much rather have it be with love than anything else.
- No one else cares about your parenting that much. I realize that this point is a bit ironic in a post about parenting, but what I mean is simply this: Everyone is doing their best. And because we're all so darn insecure, not wanting to end up on 60 Minutes in 25 years (Is that show still on?), we put on airs of bravado. Our way is best, thank-you-very-much. Those little digs and jabs can hurt, yes, but as not everything changes between the ages of 17 and 27, they're usually just a sign of wavering confidence. A feeble attempt to boost their own self-worth as a parent by undercutting yours.
- You should never be too busy for your children.
- Children are simple: they need love, boundaries, and consequences. And yeah, I know the application of these things is anything but simple. Figuring out the appropriate 'balance' (I hate that word) isn't simple. But it is simple to remind yourself of this in the heat of a frustrating moment, to give yourself time to take a deep breath, think, and then act.
- This too shall pass.
- You cannot change yourself in a day.
- The way you parent affects other people. And not just in a potentially horrifying 60 Minutes way.
- 'Mom guilt' (or 'dad guilt') does you no good. If you don't like the way you reacted to a situation, change it, whether that means changing your actions the next time around, or asking for forgiveness.
- No one is getting out of this without scars. Maybe that sounds dramatic. Or, if you're not yet a parent, downright scary. Being a parent is one of the most wonderful gifts in the human experience; it can also hurt.
- Be honest with yourself.
- Your child doesn't fit into a neat little box crafted by pediatric guidelines, school systems, or society; don't force them into it. As long as they aren't disturbing other shoppers, let them sing in Target. Maybe they'll grow up to be a Broadway star. Maybe they'll grow up, won't be able to carry a tune, but will have a contagious joy of music. Either way, I'm sure they'll remember that you let them sing in Target.
- You are not guaranteed tomorrow. No pressure.
- You are enough. You have enough. I'm not crafty. Right now, we can't afford lessons and classes and paid activities. I love to read; I can read to Maile for hours. I'm musical; I can teach Maile how to play Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star on her xylophone, and help her strum some basic chords on my guitar. I love to cook; she can count and measure with me as we make meals and memories together. You don't have to have it 'all' for your little one to have a rich childhood.
- You choose the way you parent.
- You're not too old or too mature to dance in the living room, or giggle under the covers, or make a fort, or skip down the sidewalk, or eat dessert first.
- If you're going to spend money, spend more on experiences and memories than you do on things.
- At the end of the day, your child wants you ... just. you.