First time parents are inundated with advice about breastfeeding, diapers, sleep schedules, and a great deal of other topics that seem to totally encompass what being a parent is all about.
The timeframe that this advice is relevant, however, is finite. Once your baby is no longer a baby, the days of choosing the right teething ring or diaper cream are immediately replaced by shaping your child into the person they will ultimately be.
This isn't an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, and there's a better-than-good chance that nobody really knows what they're doing and more or less make it up as they go along, which isn't necessarily a bad way to go.
My three children have taught me many things during the last 10 years, and we continue to grow and change every day. While I don't pretend to have all of the answers, this is just what I have learned during a decade of motherhood.
1. Admit your mistakes.
Yes, you will make mistakes, every day. You are a person, and that's just what people do. Maybe you took a wrong turn on the way to a birthday party, or maybe you said something with certainty only to be proven wrong. Whether the mistake is big or small, own up to it and apologize, if necessary.
There is an inherent fear in doing this that your kids won't take you seriously if they know you make mistakes. This actually isn't the case at all. The only reason for your kids to view you as infallible would be to satisfy your own ego, which isn't a great way to parent.
When your kids see you make mistakes, admit it, and attempt to make things right, they'll be more likely to follow suit. They won't get overly upset about minor bumps in the road, and they'll be less likely to lie or cover up small mishaps. Rather than hear your kids scream, "I didn't spill it! She did!" you'll hear the sweet sound of, "I'm getting a towel because I spilled my drink."
2. Teach them the importance of hard work.
Whether your child is learning how to ride a bike, tie their shoes, learn a dance routine, or play a new sport, they will go through the extremely difficult process of learning how to do something for the first time. They'll fall off the bike, trip over their feet, and generally just have a bad time with things.They will get frustrated and probably want to quit. Encourage them to stick with it. Practice might not make perfect, but it will certainly help them improve.
When it all starts to come together for them, you'll be able to praise them not only for doing a great job, but for working hard to get to that point as well.
The tenacity they learn while doing smaller tasks will come into play later when they need to put hard work and dedication into their school work or an after school job, as well as carrying into their adult lives.
3. Remain calm and look at the big picture.
There are some things that you will have to remind your children to do time and time again. (Mine is: "Make sure the refrigerator door closed all the way.") Sure, they should probably just remember after hearing the same thing every day for six months, but there's a good chance that they'll forget and you'll have to remind them... yet again. You might be dangerously close to screaming, "CLOSE THE DOOR! IT'S NOT THAT HARD TO REMEMBER!" but don't blow your top just yet.
Take a look at the big picture. Yes, it's important to make sure the fridge door shut for energy conservation and to prevent food spoilage, but is it really that big of a deal? No. It won't matter ten years, ten days, or even ten minutes later. If it isn't something that's going to cause major damage or hurt someone, take a deep breath, and be calm.
Patiently remind them again, explaining why you are telling them to do a certain task. By taking this approach—particularly something small that doesn't even really matter—you're turning into a learning opportunity, rather than just one more time of nagging and/or belittling your child.
4. Be flexible.
The expression "if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans" completely applies to parenting. No matter how thoroughly you plan an event, outing, or generally raising your child, things don't always always go how you envision. As best as you can, learn to roll with it.
You absolutely will not be the same parent you were when your child was born as you are when he or she enters high school. You can't be. As your child grows and changes, they'll need you to grow and change too.
5. Be honest about your emotions.
There has been a great deal of research lately into the emotional constipation that has befallen our country. It's a lot easier to understand how we have adults with emotional dysfunction when we think about how we engrain it into children.
Boys are told not to cry or be sad. Girls are often told to smile and not express anger. Though getting away from gender stereotypes has
As long as it's being done in a healthy manner, go ahead and show your children that it's okay to show emotions. It's okay to be really, really psyched up about stuff, or sad when bad things happen. When you show your kids how you are able to process your own emotions, they'll be better equipped to handle theirs.
6. Be yourself.
There's no telling when it started, but modern parenthood has somehow morphed into a Kobayashi Maru; an un-winnable scenario, largely due to the pressure to keep up with the Joneses. Not all parents are into the same things. Play to your own strengths, and don't worry about comparing yourself to others.
All three of my children have birthdays within a 3 day time span, and so they get one party. It generally winds up being completely over-the-top because I genuinely enjoy planning big parties. (You should have seen the Minecraft party of 2014.) If throwing these elementary school soirées was stressful to me or felt like a competition against other parents, I wouldn't do it and more importantly, I wouldn't feel bad for not doing it.
There are other things that other families do that I have no interest in (Elf On A Shelf, for one) so it just doesn't happen at my house. No regrets.
Do what you do best, and don't apologize for what you don't.
7. Be realistic in your expectations.
All children have different talents. Some kids are very academic, while others are incredible athletes. Just as everyone has their own special things that they do very well, all children have things that require a bit more effort.
If your child is having difficulties learning to read, do algebra, or kick a soccer ball, assist them as best you can so they can do it better, but don't freak out if it isn't going perfectly. Just because they're taking piano lessons doesn't mean that Juliard is going to be calling you when they're 8 years old. If they're giving it an honest effort, cut them a little bit of slack.
It's always important to have your child set goals and work to better themselves, but make sure that the goals are realistic so you don't feel disappointed and they don't feel like they're letting you down.
8. Be clear.
The easiest way for kids to do exactly what you've told them is to spell it out. Kids love loopholes and having selective hearing, so being crystal clear when communicating is a must.
Rather than saying, "clean your room," you may need to say, "put your laundry away, make your bed, pick up your books, and that does not mean shoving everything in the closet or under the bed." Though it might seem like overkill, taking out any wiggle room for interpretation in your instructions is generally easier in the long run.
Also, when you are clear about expectations, be it with chores, schoolwork, or behavior, your children will always know if what they are doing falls in line.
9. Be mindful about discipline.
There are many ways to discipline children, and most of them vary by personal preference and age of the child. As the entire point of discipline is to discourage bad behavior, finding something that is effective is everything. Don't discipline your child in a way that isn't productive to them and just makes you feel better.
If you yell until you're blue in the face but their behavior doesn't seem to change, it's probably not a good strategy. Once you find something that works, you and your children will be much happier.
10. Be their biggest fan.
More than anything, children want to please their parents. It'll be clear every time they bring home an art project, show you their report on the solar system, or regale you with a story about how they scored a touchdown at recess.
Of course, you don't have to be over-the-top and throw a ticker-tape parade every time they tie their shoes or ace a spelling test, but your child should always know that you've got their back. They'll get kicked around enough by other kids and life in general; try to be someone they know will be there to cheer them on.
Giving your child encouragement costs you nothing, but will mean everything to them.
11. Find a good way to vent stress.
Listen, no matter how positive and reasonable you try to be with your kids, there are going to be days that are just bad. There are going to be days where you feel so overwhelmed and out of control that you don't know what to do. Don't let the stress build up, because then you risk exploding uncontrollably, which is never any good.
Go to the gym. Escape in a book. Find an excuse to use a hammer on something. Do something that allows you to recharge your batteries that does not involve your children in any way. Whether you use that time to think of new ways of handling problems or take your mind off of it completely is up to you, but make sure that you get the time to reconnect with yourself and get your frustrations out.
12. Build a good support system.
The key here is to build a GOOD support system, not necessarily the most convenient one. This should include your child's physician (vaccinate your kids!), as well as family and friends who have similar parenting styles and can give you great perspective when you need it.
Online parenting groups, by and large, aren't recommended. They're often rife with judgement, hostility, and criticism. You'll get enough of that with people you already know, so why seek it out online?
13. Lead by example.
There eventually comes a day in the life of every parent where your child will say or do something that will make it absolutely clear that you are raising a miniature version of yourself. While genetics does play a pretty big part in why kids are the way they are, they also learn a lot by studying you. Anyone with a two year old who randomly drops the F bomb in front of Grandma can tell you that one in a hurry.
"Do as I say, not as I do" absolutely doesn't work with kids. They learn by watching, so be prepared for them to view all of your bad habits as an acceptable way of doing things.
The bright side is that you can teach them good habits without saying a word, just by doing it yourself. Show them what compassion looks like. Show them how to work hard. Show them the power of forgiveness, honesty, and gratitude.
14. Be present.
As someone who makes her living by typing on a keyboard all day, I understand how bad it looks that my face is constantly reflecting the glow of various Apple devices. I spend so much time in front of a screen, that I feel almost naked without it. I'm sure many other parents feel the same way, and we need to call a spade a spade and be honest that it isn't in our children's best interest to be constantly distracted.
Remember that it's okay to disconnect from the rest of the world and be there for your kid. This one is particularly difficult for me, but you don't want to be the parent who missed seeing their kid kick a game-winning goal because you were too wrapped up in your own world.
15. Be ready to let go.
Your children will let go of you many times: taking their first steps unassisted, heading to their first day of Kindergarten, going to a sleepover, riding a bike without training wheels, learning to drive a car, and heading off to college. Though these events happen in different forms, it hurts every time. A piece of you feels less needed, and there's no way to rationalize that emotion.
The only thing worse than your child letting go of you is holding them back, not letting them go off and become their own person, with the risks and rewards that come with it. Just trust that you have raised them to have the wisdom to take each chapter of lives with care and courage. After all, that's what parenthood is all about.
Well, there we have it. These have been 15 lessons I've learned as a mother thus far, and I know there is much more to learn in the years ahead.
So, go ahead and apply them to your own parenting style. Or not. Do whatever works for you. As long as you're putting your kids first and trying your best, you'll be just fine.
[Header image: iStockphoto/JackF]