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. 

Step, Step, Slide

As I wrote about in Life Patterns, our four year old has a new fascination with patterns. Her face routinely breaks into a smile as she spots a series of colors or shapes and gleefully shouts, “I see a pattern, Mom! A pattern!”

Yesterday during one of our afternoon dance breaks, both of us swaying to the “Grease” soundtrack, she said, “Mom, do you know our step, step, slide dance is a pattern? Step, step, slide.” (Better she focus on our dance pattern than the words to “Beauty School Dropout,” one of her favorite songs.)

As I danced with my daughter in my arms, awed by her wonder and joy, I mused on the patterns I pray she develops, ones that will sustain and enrich her life, like the patterns of believing she is beloved and of accepting herself flaws and all.

Step, step, slide.

I found myself wishing I could warn her future self to look out for patterns that will hurt her, like pleasing others instead of herself and attaching to people who don’t treat her with adoration and respect.

I considered making her a video of patterns good and bad. Or perhaps a vision board detailing my hopes for her. No pressure.

Step, step, slide.

I felt a momentary rush of fear, aware that lecturing her on life will be easier than witnessing and supporting her as she grows, develops her own patterns and finds her way.

As I breathed in her just-out-of-the-shower scent, I prayed for guidance on our journeys and acceptance of ourselves along the way.

The best I can do today is show her through my actions how to embrace all the patterns life offers, ask for help around the ones that don’t serve me and trust the process of life, love and joy. I can model reaching out my arms for love, and letting the world unfold its beauty in front of me and inside me. Gifts await. For all of us.

Step, step, slide.

Patterns For Life

Patterns For Life

What patterns do you hope your children embrace and avoid?

Parenting Through Tragedy

I had the opportunity last week to attend a workshop at my daughters’ school about talking with kids about tragedy in the world and its portrayal in the news.

I chose not to go; convinced my husband and I were already doing a fine job protecting our daughters from the onslaught of media attention surrounding national tragedies and processing our own emotions so they didn’t come out sideways with our kids.

I was confident we had this parenting topic nailed. At least for now. And what were the chances anything would come up again soon?

I got a pedicure instead.

Photo via Good.is

Photo via Good.is

On Monday afternoon when I picked up our daughter, Rhys, from preschool, I was prepared to be a responsible, loving parent. Or so I thought. After tucking her safely into her car seat and listening attentively to the details of her day, I flipped on the radio and was horrified and riveted to hear about the Boston Marathon tragedy.

I listened for a few minutes, praying my daughter wasn’t paying attention, but too caught up in my own emotions and morbid (albeit human) fascination to care. Finally, I shut off the radio and turned to check on my daughter.

She was attentively feeding Goldfish crackers to her stuffed animal, Knufflebunny, and appeared happily ensconced in her own little world. Relieved she was blissfully unaware, we went about our errands. I swallowed the pit in my stomach and resisted my visceral need for information, knowing I’d have time later at home to devour the media coverage surrounding this tragedy.

When we picked up my older daughter, Ava, an hour later, she bounded to the car and eagerly spilled her news, “Mom, mom, did you hear about Boston? School was so scary today.”

Surprised and concerned, I encouraged her to tell me what happened, but urged her not to mention any details in front of Rhys.

“Mom, we heard about the bombings and all the people that got hurt. What happened? Will you tell me what you know?” she asked.

“NO. Not now,” I snapped. “I don’t want to talk about this in front of Rhys. Tell me what happened in school, but don’t mention the b-o-m-b-s.”

Ava’s precious little face fell at my scolding. I was peripherally aware of my hypocrisy, but more willing to try to control Ava’s need for information than my own.

Ava explained that during U.S. Studies, a boy in her 4th grade class read about what was happening in Boston on his iPad and immediately announced the details aloud to their teacher. One of Ava’s friends started screaming and crying that her mom was running the Boston Marathon. Ava and her other friends lovingly comforted the young girl as their teacher made phone calls trying to get information on the mom’s whereabouts. Thirty minutes later, the teacher was able to confirm that the young girl’s mother was safe and accounted for.

“Mom, I told [my friend] that bad things only happen to moms in Disney movies and fairy tales, not in real life,” Ava said.

Relieved that her friend’s mom was safe, I didn’t address Ava’s naive comment but simply smiled and told her I was proud of her for comforting her friend. Ava beamed. I breathed, knowing Ava and I would have more conversations about this topic later, out of Rhys’s earshot.

Moments later, Rhys asked, “Mom, what about Auntie Rita? Did the bombs hurt her like they hurt those other people?”

My intake of breath was sharp and audible. As tears filled my eyes, I realized I had forgotten all about my older sister who lives in Boston. And Rhys hadn’t missed a detail, Knufflebunny or not.

I wept openly as we dialed my sister’s number, unwilling and unable to control the emotions that had built up in me over the past few hours.

So much for protecting and influencing the flow of information in my children’s lives. So much for processing my own emotions before talking with my children.

At least I have pretty, mint green toes.

My sister is fine, unharmed. I’ve forgiven myself for my parenting mistake and have been processing my own terror and sadness along with the rest of the country. My daughters and I have had several conversations about this most recent tragedy.

Talking with my daughters about violence and those who transact it is not a parenting skill I ever intended to get good at. Unfortunately, it’s become a necessity.  And I’ll be in the front row at the next workshop.

What Do You Remember From Your Childhood Vacations?

After spending a lovely, expensive week on Florida’s Gulf Coast, I was surprised to hear my children talk about the vacation memories they’ll cherish.

For a glorious week, we slept in, swam in the pool, played in the ocean waves, fought like the Kardashians, built sandcastles, read great books and spent time with family and friends. We even visited Winter the famous, tailess dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, something we’ve been wanting to do ever since watching the movie Dolphin Tale.

Will my kids remember Winter?

Will my kids remember Winter?

What did my kids say they enjoyed most?

Ava (9 yo):  Playing with my cousins and having a TV in my room.

Rhys (4 yo):  Having a TV in my room and playing with my cousins.

Basically, they would have been happy at home. After a trip to Costco for televisions. Good to know.

TVs are more memorable than this? "Yes, Mom!"

TVs are more memorable than this? “Yes, Mom!”

My strongest memories of family vacations as a kid involve swimming pools and free sweet rolls at a little pancake restaurant called Wolfie’s. No matter where we went, as long as we had a pool (and free mini cinnamon buns to wash down my pancakes) I was happy.

A good friend recalls traveling as a child with her parents to European cities many of us would consider dream destinations. Her most vivid memory?

Frosted Flakes.

She clearly remembers the sugary cereal she wasn’t allowed to eat at home. Apparently, hotels around the world are familiar with Tony the Tiger’s innumerable charms.

Photo courtesty of Kellogg.com

Photo courtesty of Kellogg.com

What memories stand out to you from your childhood vacations?

A highlight of this family vacation for me was unexpectedly running into an old friend on the beach …

I haven’t seen Laura since she moved away to the Chicago suburbs years ago. She has three beautiful children ranging from 11 to 6 years old who I haven’t seen since they were babies. Imagine walking on the beach in Florida and running into a long-lost friend. Serendipity!

Laura and I caught up on our non-spring break lives while our kids built sand castles together. Laura mentioned that her son, the oldest, asks her to hang out with him at night before he falls asleep. She doesn’t always want to, but because she knows he won’t be asking for much longer, she’s says yes. And she’s discovered they have their best conversations as he’s drifting off.

Her words really stuck in my head. I’ve been saying no to Ava a lot lately when she asks me to hold her as she falls asleep. We read together every night and by the time we’re done, I’m usually ready to have my own down time. Reasonable? Of course.

But last night when she asked me, I remembered Laura’s words and said yes. We cuddled and for a few minutes I experienced one of the purest joys of motherhood – cuddles and kisses from my not-so-little girl.

Soon my daughter won’t want me around as much. I already see her wanting to spend more and more time with her friends. I celebrate and support her friendships, yet I’m more aware of the precious, fleeting moments we spend together. At least some of the time.

My kids are so much a part of my life today I can’t imagine a time when they won’t want my undivided attention. But that time is quickly approaching. And I plan to enjoy every moment we have left.

So, move over, kids. Mama needs to cuddle.

From my favorite daily affirmation site:  Notes from The Universe (www.tut.com)

From my favorite daily affirmation site: Notes from The Universe (www.tut.com)

Guess Who’s Having a One-Year Blog Anniversary?

I planned to write a wise, funny yet gripping one-year blog anniversary post featuring a riveting celebrity-type interview (think Vanity Fair or Oprah Magazine) of me (playing the celebrity) by my daughters (playing the adoring interviewers). Here’s how that worked out:

Plan A:  The Celebrity Interview-Style Post

Me:  “Ava, it’s time for the interview. What questions do you want to ask me about blogging for my one-year anniversary post?”

Ava (9 yo):  “What’s your favorite subject to write about?”

Me:  “Great question! I love writing about the lessons I learn from you and Rhys about …”

Ava:  “Mom, the right answer is ‘Ava.'”

Me:  “I love to write about you, honey!”

Ava:  “Good. Are we done yet? I don’t have any more questions.”

Me:  “None? Don’t you want to ask me what I love about blogging or when I started writing or what I wanted to be when I was a little kid?”

Ava:  “No. I really want to go back to reading my book.”

Me:  “Okay … Rhys, honey. You know how I told you it’s my one-year blogging birthday. What questions do you want to ask me?”

Rhys (4 yo):  “What is three plus three?”

Me:  “Six. What else?”

Rhys:  “That’s all, mama. You did great!”

###

Plan B:  Interview Myself (with some questions I stole from a celebrity interview in Oprah Magazine.)

Best Childhood Memory:  Jumping off our home’s front stoop and biting through both sides of my tongue. It didn’t really hurt, and I still remember all the sympathy, ice cream and Italian ice I scored.

Best Childhood Memory (not involving injury or copious amounts of blood):  My mom’s homemade chocolate/strawberry/whipped cream birthday cakes. Every year for decades. The best.

Best Childhood Memory (not involving injury or copious amounts of blood or food):  Let me get back to you on this one …

Best Hidden Talent:  Holding it in. But I’m working on it.

Best Karaoke Song:  Santa Baby (I can’t carry a tune, but when I turn on my pout-y, entitled gold digger persona, ain’t nobody got nothin’ on me.)

Best Surprise:  Feeling increasingly nauseous while in a theatre watching the movie Rabbit Proof Fence with my husband in late 2002, rushing to the nearest drug store for a pregnancy test and finding out we were unexpectedly pregnant with our first child. That and this red tandem bicycle.

gift fail, tandem bicycles, romantic gestures, inexpiable gifts

My Second Best Surprise

Most Memorable Holiday Moment:  Christmas 2002:  Telling our families that we were pregnant with Ava. I wrapped a book, “The Expectant Father,” and gave it to Mike to open in front of my family on Christmas Eve, then rewrapped and presented it to him again on Christmas Day with his family.

Best Escape:  Going to Costco or Target by myself. Or perhaps you meant travel? New York City. Or anywhere I can walk/sightsee/people watch with my husband or dear friends, be inspired by great art and theatre and get a massage.

Best Keepsake:  Curls from my daughters’ first haircuts and the many blankets and sweaters my mom lovingly knit for both girls.

Best Attribute:  Willingness to own my side of the street (eventually)

I Never Miss an Episode of:  The Good Wife with my husband (And we all know what kind of trouble that causes.)

Best Parenting Tip:  When in doubt, call 911.

Best Mom Skill:  Calling 911

I’m Proud of My Kids For:  Expressing all their feelings, speaking up for themselves and knowing & asking for what they want (I didn’t say I always like it, but …)

Most Prized Possession:  Other than my laptop for digital photos, this goose (which I am now aware is, in fact, a duck). I’ll write the story someday, but until then, I’ll tell you this goose/duck went with us to the hospital for both of our daughters’ births.

Duck, Duck, Goose

Duck, Duck, Goose

Anything Else You’d Like to Add:  On the one-year anniversary of A Teachable Mom, I’m beyond grateful for the love, acceptance and inspiration you all have shown me this past year. Thank you!

–As told to me by me.

Xo,

A Teachable Mom

And That’s Why God Created Doctors

Where did I get the idea that as a mother I have to be an unmitigated expert at everything?

I blame Google.

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I’m honored to be guest posting over at The Mommy Mess today talking about our family’s latest trip to the emergency room, our third in the last six months. A veritable trifecta! (Surely we now qualify for the hospital’s frequent visitor program. I’m expecting discounts on medical services, complimentary valet parking and a commemorative plaque in the lobby.)

If you haven’t been following our ER saga, you can catch up here and here.

And if you aren’t familiar with the talented Adrienne Bolton and her touching, funny and poignant blog, The Mommy Mess, get thee over there pronto. You won’t be sorry.

Here’s the link again:  And That’s Why God Created Doctors.

The Mommy Mess