I have a soon-to-be eighth grader and rising seventh grader, a returning first grader, and an (I’m-gonna-bawl-my-eyes-out-when-she-leaves-me) kindergartener.
When our family has been together this summer–which hasn’t been often because Clayford travels like crazy now, and the kids have been scattered here and there–I’ve watched my babies, pondering in my heart just how fast fifteen years of pregnancy, birth, babies, toddler, tweens, and now teens has flown by.
During my first pregnancy, if I’d had a dime fall for each ‘enjoy every minute,’ I’d have been one rich woman. (Damn the sky for not raining money!) The problem with hearing that phrase is, when you’re the one whose time is flying, you don’t stop to think about it much.
Not that I was dying to have babies (Let’s be honest–raise your hand if you thought I could handle a dog, let alone a child?), but I certainly wasn’t paying attention to my own age and how fast I’d gotten to twenty-one.
Now my oldest is a short SEVEN years from twenty-one, and I know from experience just how fast that birthday will come. I find myself replaying scenes from his life over and over again–scenes from each of my babies’ lives–and regretting so many words I’ve said, times I’ve been busy, and ways I’ve flat-out failed.
I’ve had parenting successes; don’t get me wrong. My babies are well-rounded, they behave in public (That’s the one that matters, right?), and when they screw-up, they own it.
But successes don’t come without a few failures, and I’ve bungled the hell out of some parenting along the way.
I yell too much, I’ve acted a fool a time or two, I’ve said things I didn’t mean, or worried too hard, or fussed over unimportant issues. I won’t even mention that time I carried my child’s toys to the curb because of his ungodly obsession with Pokemon. (I feel so guilty about that one, I’ve sworn to buy back every single toy before he has kids…and he doesn’t even play with toys anymore.)
Some Tips I’ve learned on the Journey of Parenthood:
1. Try Your Hardest Not to Mix Your Childhood into Your Parenting
I would say this has by far been the most difficult part of parenting for me.
An example: No one in my family is athletic. By ANY stretch of the imagination. And I always believed athlete=normal boy. (I had two older brothers, both of whom were crucified in school for being different–not totally their fault (see tip three).
When my oldest son really didn’t care for organized sports (he hated the pressure of competition), I FREAKED out. I thought he was supposed to be this all-star jock.
Because of my childhood issues and fears, I couldn’t allow him to be okay with who he was.
Turns out, his passion is writing (like mother, like son) and making films. Future Steven Spielberg? We’ll see.
Subsequently, our son Bear is OBSESSED with sports.
Our oldest daughter tried cheer, hated it, tried soccer, hated it, and has since discovered the guitar. And our youngest daughter loves tumbling one minute and soccer the next, but she knows for sure she hates princesses.
We love them for who they are, no matter what.
Which brings me to my next point.
2. Love Who Your Child Is
WHATEVER your child is…unless he’s a pyromaniac or an animal-torturer, I guess, but I haven’t had that experience. (I won’t speak too soon because Bear has all the trappings of a future looney-toon.)
Does your child like football? Get him (or her) to a stadium faster than your little feet can shuffle.
Do they love to sing? Jam tunes throughout your house like a mad woman. If you can afford lessons, pay for them; if you can enter them in competitions, go for it.
I don’t care if your child’s passion is play-dough crafting, support your child. You never know what future he or she might be molding (pun totally intended–cue drums and cymbals).
3. Allow Your Child Freedom to Be (to an extent)
There’s a gut-sinking feeling inside me that I might catch flack for this one, but I don’t care. We have a saying around our house. It’s, “Play the Game.”
We all have to play the life game, to an extent.
If I allowed my youngest daughter–tom-boy in every sense of the word–her way, she’d wear boys’ swim shorts and no top to the pool. Seriously. But she can’t. She has to play the game.
My oldest couldn’t care less how he dresses and would wear clothes that don’t match half the time if I let him. But he can’t. He wears nice clothes (note I said NICE, not necessarily EXPENSIVE) and looks presentable. We play the game.
This is one of those areas I learned from experience. I do not judge people for smoking. AGAIN–DO NOT JUDGE PEOPLE FOR SMOKING–but when I was a child, my house was a smoke-filled dungeon. I went to school smelling like the Marlboro Man slept beside me every night.
I shutter to think how I must have been prejudged by others. But that’s life; we all make assumptions about people in our subconscious, whether we want to or not.
Even adults play the game. I’m not a social person in any sense of the word, but I play the social game because I like to have friends.
The way we dress, the way we meander through society. It’s part of the game.
4. Fill Up Your Child’s Love Tank More than You Empty It
This one has been a HUGE source of comfort to a screaming failure of a mother like myself.
Having grown up with a constantly empty fuel tank, my children knowing I love them WAY more than they drive me nuts is of paramount importance to my soul.
If and when I have to do the hard things: tell them something they may not necessarily want to hear, punish them for something stupid they’ve done, I make sure I fill that love tank back up to full as quickly as possible.
Listen, this is a tough one. You know the drill: your kids come to you and want to tell you every little tidbit of a story or something they saw or something they did. And sometimes, you’re screaming in your head (or maybe on the outside, too) that you have so much to do and they are driving you nuts, and don’t you give them enough attention?
When your children come to you, it’s sacred. Oh, please, please trust me on this point: It. Is. Sacred.
There will come a day when YOU will have to draw things out of THEM. And sometimes it will be like pulling teeth.
Your children are inviting you into their heart. I can’t tell you how I’ve learned this the hard way, both as a child and as a parent.
5. Ask for FORGIVENESS. I repeat: ASK FOR FORGIVENESS.
When you screw up royally (and most of us will), run straight to your child and ASK THEIR FORGIVENESS.
I cannot stress how important this is. If you want to have an AUTHENTIC relationship with your child, ASK THEIR FORGIVENESS, even for things–especially for things– you don’t think hurt them.
It doesn’t matter what your opinion on your child’s feelings is. THEIR FEELINGS are real. If they are hurt by something you’ve done, ask forgiveness. It’s that simple.
Truth is, we’re all parenting on the piggy-backs of our own expectations and experiences, so my advice might be different from yours. But I think these five nuggets are pretty universal.
Gonna leave y’all with a little example of encouraging your kids in what they love. What do you do when your book consultant needs your picture for the back cover and promo work ASAP? (And B-T-Dubs, you haven’t had a professional pic taken since, like, 2000?) You get your artsy twelve year-old to take them, of course! Here are a few little snippets from the “cover shoot.”
Happy Parenting. Love your kids. It’s a jungle out there.