Do you think you might have been a lousy parent? I know I often wondered this when I stayed home raising my kids, and usually the answer isn’t apparent until you see the fruits of your labor in your adult children. Perhaps the real proof in the pudding will be watching how my own children raise their kids.
Now that I’m hitting the age where I can begin to hope that grandchildren are in the not so distant future, I wonder how much of their own experiences my kids will bring to their parenting. And I wonder just how challenging it will be for me to learn to step back, as stepping back and minding my own business has never been my strong suit.
As they say hindsight is always 20/20, and when it comes to parenting, there are so many things I wish I’d known then that I know now. Here are five lessons I learned along the way that I will be sure to respectfully share with my kids when their time comes! (That’s not meddling; that’s my job. Right?)
5 Lessons I’ve Learned:
1. You can teach them, guide them and protect them, but you can’t and shouldn’t try to change them: This was one of the most liberating revelations to me in my years raising kids. When my daughter insisted on wearing a Disney Belle gown to school everyday for a year, and did cartwheels in the t-ball outfield while kids flew around the bases, I realized that even if I wanted her to be less princess and more feminist, it wasn’t happening. Fighting upstream doesn’t work and is exhausting for all. Embrace who they are and encourage them to be themselves. Once you let go of your vision and grab hold of his or hers, life is much easier and so much more fulfilling for everyone.
2. Don’t sweat the school stuff: When my son was filling out college applications he said to me, “had I known that nothing counted until high school, I wouldn’t have done half that crap.” Out of the mouths of babes… Sweating the 4th grade Lenape log house project or not taking them out of school for a trip to Disney is just plain crazy. Teach them study habits and the importance of doing their best, but don’t sweat the African safari diorama. (You know, the one where they ask you for a shoebox at 9:00 pm on Sunday night cuz it’s due tomorrow.) Oh…and DON’T do it for them!
3. Don’t sacrifice yourselves for sports or activities: Little Johnny has been playing soccer for ten years and is now a senior. He’s had private trainers, played on the best club teams, never missed a practice and you didn’t even go look at colleges because of all the tournaments across eight states. You missed your sister’s wedding for the college coaches showcase and you have volunteered 600 hours to the booster club. It’s all paying off…He will start on varsity. Then…wait…who’s that? Oh, that’s Andres; just moved here from Argentina. Awesome soccer player…plays your kid’s position. Argenfreakingtina? Seriously?
4. Find the balance between challenging them and overwhelming them: Whether it’s for activities like Key Club, Boy Scouts or Latin Club, (yes, Latin Club, just ask my oldest) or for class levels, it’s important to challenge them, but not to make their lives and yours miserable. Listen to your kid when they say something is too hard, too stupid or too boring. They might be right. Trust me, they don’t have to take every AP class the school offers, save Haitian refugees or get into the “gifted and talented” program to have full lives. They should experience a little bit of discomfort, but also be able to succeed without four hours of homework each night and no social life. I’ve learned there is a college for everyone…
5. Put them into situations where they need to practice independence and tough decision making: We try so hard to protect our kids from everything that we forget that they have to live in the real world without you sometime. For this, practice makes perfect. They need to swim with the sharks and survive before we throw them into the ocean. Age 18 comes around fast and if they’ve never been in an uncomfortable situation or tested their ability to make the right choices, the consequences are usually quite ugly. Kids whose parents never allowed them to go to sleepovers or parties get to be the parents whose kids are home after the first semester of college. Let them practice because you DO NOT want them home…
As we know this list could go on and on and on. But, it’s probably best not to scare off those new parents with too much too soon. Hopefully, you’ll get to be around to add your two cents pretty often and your kids can consider you the old wise owl offering fantastic tidbits, or perhaps in my case, the scary vulture waiting to pounce.
What lessons will you or have you (lucky you) shared?