A Decade of Parenting Lessons

Parenting Tips, Parenting Advice, Free Parenting Advice, Parents

This summer, our oldest daughter, Ava, turned 10. That means I’ve officially been a parent for ten years.

With a decade of parenting lessons under my belt, I now qualify as a parenting expert. At least in my own mind.
Some lessons I’ve learned the hard way, like how it’s not a good idea to give your kid silly putty before she goes to bed.
Others, I’ve learned the very, very hard way, such as there is no way to protect my daughters from experiencing pain or sadness or disappointment, no matter how much I try.
In honor of our daughter’s 10th birthday, here are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned about being a parent so far:

1.  Screaming at your kids to get them to stop screaming is counterproductive

Go figure. Every few weeks I test this one just to be sure it’s true. Trust me, it is.

2.  Parenting is like watching your heart walk around outside your body

Watching those four long legs (two per kid) walk into their first day of school last week broke my heart. Thankfully my heart healed quickly and was soon jumping for joy.

3.  Stop trying to be the perfect parent

I tried for too long to be a perfect mom, regularly raising the bar of perfection to keep me on my toes. What did I get in return? A healthy dose of resentment and martyrdom. Brilliant strategy, no?

Now I strive to be authentic with my kids, to show them the real me. Am I too real? We won’t know for a few more years when the therapy bills start pouring in. Our kids’ future therapy appointments will go like this:

Our Kid:  Feelings, feelings, feelings, that’s all my mom cared about when I was growing up. She didn’t hide any of her feelings, and she encouraged me to express all of mine!

Therapist:  How did her obsession with feelings make you feel?

Our Kid:  Torqued and cranked. Why couldn’t she have pretended she didn’t have any feelings? Like normal parents. Would that have been too much to ask?

4.  If you think you’re in control, think again

I want my kids to express all their feelings, needs and wants and feel safe doing so, but I’d prefer it to be on my timeframe.  Preferably when I’m rested, fed and have finished using the bathroom by myself. Is that wrong?

Unfortunately, my kids couldn’t care less about my agenda, preferring to express their beautiful (aka loud) feelings as we’re trying to get to school on time or on the rare occasions my husband and I are both feeling amorous. They are giving that way.

5.  White lies don’t count if they keep your kids safe (or make your life more convenient)*

For years we’ve warned our kids about the imaginary snapping turtles that live in the pond behind my in-law’s home. Our girls never went near the pond without an adult, and we didn’t have to watch them every second they played in the backyard. A twofer – safe and convenient!

*Caveat:  I assumed our ten year old had figured out the truth by now, but this summer, after fishing on the pond with her uncle, she expressed relief at not catching a snapping turtle. Really? I can only imagine that future therapy session.

6.  Make peace with your kids’ disgusting habits (and await the positive power of peer pressure)

I spent months trying to curb my oldest’s nose picking habit when she was four or five years old. I tried to trust she would grow out of it, but mostly I tried to convince her it was a disgusting habit. She kept picking. By age six or seven, she’d stopped on her own, likely because her school friends teased her mercilessly.

I rarely notice when my youngest daughter picks her nose. She prefers to pick at home in the privacy of her bedroom (and to leave her boogers on her bedpost). I may have to wait a little longer for peer pressure to do its magic this time. At least until we start allowing sleepovers.

7.  Accept the things you cannot change (aka put down the whip you use to self flagellate) 

Our daughters are five years apart in age. I’m a different parent now than I was ten or even five years ago. Which one of my kids got the better parent? How badly did I screw up my first kid? Why hadn’t I learned to relax and trust way back when? Why am I even asking these questions? Our daughters “get what they get and they don’t get upset.”  (At least until they have a therapist on their own payroll.)

8.  Make peace with the “H” word

I don’t freak when my kids tell me they hate me. I try to remember that hate and love are kissing cousins. And I hate them too at times. Yet my love for my daughters is more intense and real than any other I’ve had in my life, even the love I had for my husband early on in our relationship. Lucky for him, I’ve also learned to hate him too at times.

9.   Look in the mirror

Our kids reflect our best and worst qualities. Both of our daughters are loving, kind and responsible. They’re creative and dramatic, bright and persistent. They’re also impatient, stubborn, opinionated and dictatorial. From their dad’s side.

10.  Stock up on support & self-care

I get by with a little help from my friends. And when I say “a little” I mean the daily, near constant, sanity-providing support I get from my peeps, spiritual groups and overpriced therapist. I credit them with the rare glimpses of sanity I string together. They remind me to put the oxygen mask on myself first and make time for myself and dates with my husband a priority.

None of this parenting stuff would work without support. And babysitters.

What are some of the best parenting lessons you’ve learned? Although I’m now a certified parenting expert, I’m entering the tween years, so cough up the good stuff in the comments. 

Rushing Is the New Crack

The time is 9:03 am. I have to leave my house in 22 minutes to arrive at my 10 am dentist appointment on time. Instead of writing this essay, I would be wise to get in the shower and get dressed. My morning would run much more smoothly if I pushed my chair back and moved purposefully toward the bathroom without stopping to water a forlorn plant or check what’s trending on Twitter. But I won’t. This essay can’t wait. And earlier this morning, cleaning the crumbs off the counter before I drove my daughters to school couldn’t wait. Unloading the dishwasher, checking my blog stats, plucking a stray eyebrow or Googling an ex-boyfriend typically can’t wait either.

I suffer from “just one more thing” thinking. And though I have no actual proof, I routinely believe I can squeeze in one last task before leaving the house and still get to where I need to go on time. While I’m rarely more than a few minutes late to a meeting or appointment, I’m constantly rushing.

Why is rushing so appealing? I’m convinced I’m addicted to the anxiety, the stress and the adrenaline that rushing brings. The adrenaline makes me feel alive, gives me energy and keeps me from feeling any pesky feelings that might intrude on my day. Adrenaline is my drug of choice, and the fastest way for me to mainline adrenaline is to set-up my day for maximum rushing opportunities.

At times I’m in denial about how long I need to complete tasks. And I enjoy seeing how much I can do in the least amount of time. I’ve convinced myself I can shower, dress, and eat a snack in less than ten minutes, so if I have 11 minutes before I need to leave, I may as well type out one last email. Or check what’s trending on The Huffington Post this morning.

Some days I allow myself plenty of time to get ready, only to add in an arbitrary task before walking out the door.  Doesn’t everyone see the value of folding the socks I’ve avoided all week before leaving the house? I’m talking about efficiency, people.

If I gave myself plenty of time to get where I’m going, I’d have nothing to rail against, no anxiety to fight. And god knows a lot of important tasks wouldn’t get done!  Why would I possibly want to arrive somewhere early and give myself all that unfettered time to think, feel and interact with people? Scary.

I’m loathe to procrastinate on starting a project or paying a bill, but try to get me out of the house on time and I rebel, playing beat the clock with myself and enjoying a constant series of internal calculations:

“If my appointment starts in 30 minutes and my drive time is 23 minutes, I can leave now and be at my appointment with seven extra minutes to spare,” I’ll think. “Or I can check Pinterest for a new smoothie recipe before I leave – that’ll take one or two minutes tops!” Right?

I wish I wanted to change. My husband wishes I wanted to change. What I want is for everyone to get out of my way while I’m rushing so I can enjoy my adrenaline hit in peace.  Is that too much to ask?

Unfortunately, I seem to be modeling unwanted behavior for our two daughters. Or so they tell me.

“Mommmmmmmm, you’re rushing me again!” our nine-year-old exclaims, exasperation clinging to each syllable. “Your two favorite words are ‘hurry up!’”

Who taught that kid to count anyway?

While I’m not proud when I hear our four-year-old scolding her dolls, “Hurry up, girls, we’re going to be late, hurry, hurry,” I am amused that her dolls respond to her urgings only slightly more often than my kids respond to mine.

Look at the time! Two minutes before I have to walk out the door. Forget the shower, I’ll have just enough time to find photos to accompany this post and hit “publish.” And maybe check Zappos for a new pair of boots.

While some adrenaline junkies need this …
Photo By Norcal21jg, via Wikimedia Commons

I prefer to get mine the old-fashioned way.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Linking up with the supportive folks at Yeah Write. Check it out and come join us!

Top Ten Lessons From My Newly Minted Four Year Old

Dearest Rhys,

You, my little love, are pure sunshine, a miraculous bright light in this world. You own my heart and rock my world in so many ways, big and small. I adore every inch of you from your wispy, tangled brown ringlets to your curvy, mini-me toes. You are joy to me and to countless others.

In our few short years together, you have patiently and repeatedly taught me many things about life. In honor of your fourth birthday, I want to thank you, my sweet girl, for the following lessons:

1. Love:  Pure and simple. You love me because I’m your mama and that’s enough for you.

2. Getting Your Needs Met:  You know what you want and are willing to ask for it verbally and non-verbally: One of my favorite ways is when you poke caress my face when I fall asleep take a short break during our daily mommy-daughter reading time.

3. Importance of play:  When I wrote a “things to know” list for our new babysitter, you took the list, looked at the babysitter and said, “It says, play, play and more play!”

4. Self-Worth:

Me: “Rhys, I will come to see your bubble drawings for the fiftieth time again after I finish my dinner.”

You:  “Mom, I am more important than food.”

5. Philosophy:  “Mama, cuddling fixes everything.”

6. Clarity:  “Mom, I’ll have a bagel with cream cheese, cut in half, with cereal, three kinds in different bowls, with milk and separate spoons and a spoonful of cream cheese on the side.”  (I identify with your love of all things carbohydrate and cream cheese as these are also two of my favorite food groups.)

7. Creative Problem Solving:

You:  “Mom, do you need any company in your bed tonight?” (When Daddy was out of town.)

Me:  “No thanks, honey. You can sleep in your own comfy bed.”

You:  “Mom, if I have a bad dream can I come and sleep with you?”

Me:  “Sure, Rhys.”

You:  “Mom, ahhhhhhh, I’m dreaming! Hurry, I’m dreaming! Oh no, I’m dreaming! I have to come sleep with you!”

8. Prioritization:  “Mom, I can’t shower now. I haven’t colored in five or six years and I want to color now.”

9. Fashion Sense:  “Daddy, when we play Cinderella, do not wear that to be the prince. It’s disgusting!”

10. Attention to Detail:  I was eating pasta with tomato sauce and you were on my lap. You handed me a napkin and told me, “You’ll need this, you’ll get some on your face” and pointed to both sides of my mouth.

My little bug, thank you for teaching me, guiding me and reminding me of all that is important in life, especially my relationship with you, plain and simple. I love getting to know you and appreciate having the privilege of watching you grow.

I wish you joy and the ability to see yourself as you really are, a beautiful, loving, curious child, one who deserves to treat herself well and be treated well by others. May you have a big life, full of victories, mistakes, re-dos and abundant self-compassion. May you continue to be teachable and accept yourself along the way. May you have wonderful relationships with others that nourish your soul and tickle your insides. May you hold your head up and believe the universe is acting for you, for your good. May you know love in every iteration; giving and receiving. May you count your blessings and bless your circumstances. May your life be yours and beyond your wildest dreams.

I love you,

Mama

I’m all that & more!