Now that all 4 of my kids are either adults or within spitting distance of adulthood, I have moments where I actually get a glimpse of the things—good and bad—we did in raising them, and the things I wish someone had told me when I was starting out. (“Oh, so that’s how it works!”)
I’m never going to write a book on the subject, since I still feel pretty clueless on the whole subject. (Being a parent offers you such a host of ways to feel like a failure at your job.) But I do have some off-the-top-of-my-head suggestions for young parents (not in any logical order, since raising 4 kids has destroyed any logical sense I may have ever had before):
1) No matter how bad things seem when your children are infants and toddlers (and you are a) sleep deprived b) at your rope’s end with frustration over ‘potty training’—I put that in quotes because I no longer believe in it—or c) ready to blow up at your child’s pediatrician/teacher/fill in the blank because they don’t “get” your kid, keep in mind that some day you’re going to look back on these days as the glorious time when you still had control over their physical location!
2) When a toddler is defiant, try to keep your sense of humor. Try to avoid letting their defiance go deep down into your gut where it can threaten your whole psyche—or at least your confidence in yourself as a parent. Remember: even if you are in the middle of a grocery store and a really patient mother of toddler triplets is watching you with mild condescension or a highly professional and important-looking person is trying to step over the massive pile of cereal boxes your child has created by emptying a shelf, and even if it is all being broadcast over the store’s tv monitor, it doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things. Think of it this way: keeping a sense of humor now will be good practice for later, when your child is a teenager.
3) When a teenager is defiant and insists on doing something that you know is bad/dangerous/unhealthy for him/her, don’t back down! No matter what! Try to remember the 2-year-old inside that teenager body, when he/she says something like, “You are completely psycho, Mom. Why in the world should I do that?” and answer proudly the words you should have learned at your mother’s knee: “Because I’m your mother, and I said so!”
4) On the other hand, when a teenager really wants you to let them try something new, even if you know they will struggle at it and even possibly fail, hold your breath and let go.
5) Grades aren’t everything, but they also aren’t unimportant. No one wants to be the parent who is obsessed with grades, but you also don’t want to end up watching kids who are dumber than your kid delivering the high school valedictory address just because they had parents who gave them $10 for every A!
6) Sometimes your children will get a) physically injured or b) mentally or emotionally pained or c) both, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it, except to avoid falling down the rabbit hole with them. When they are going through terrible times, your job is not to empathize, it is to sympathize and help pick up the pieces. If you empathize too much, you either make them think things are worse than they are or you make them feel responsible for your happiness—and that’s no fun, especially not to a teenager.
7) Enjoy the time you have with them at home and try to make it about something more than chores or homework or responsibility. Even if the house is a pigpen, play with them every now and then—and even if they get to choose the game—and even if it’s Monopoly!
8) Pat yourself on the back occasionally. It’s okay, as long as you don’t overdo it and become Ms. or Mr. “ Perfect Parent,” which is really obnoxious to all the other poor schmucks struggling through. But remember to do it when you know you’ve done something right—or at least that you haven’t botched things too badly—because those moments are few and far between and you need to grab hold of them. They give you strength for the moments when you really screw up.
9) Remember to take time for yourself every now and then and take good care of your health. Nobody needs/wants/or likes a martyr! Besides, if you’re just starting down the parenting highway, you’ve got years ahead of you of getting up in the night to a) change a diaper b) help Santa Claus deliver his presents c) hold a sick child’s head while he/she throws up oatmeal and blueberries d) make a screaming kid get up out of bed and walk out the cramp in his/her leg e) deal with a child’s “night terrors” without giving them a heart attack f) talk them down from whatever ledge they are on. Conserve your strength. You’ll need it.
10) Remember that love is everything—and the best guide you have. I seriously do not believe that you can love a child too much. You might do stupid little things because you love them. You probably will say the wrong thing, over and over (“I’m sorry” is a handy phrase, even for a parent.) But if you really love them the way you probably can’t help and the way you’ve probably done since you first saw their little monkey face in the delivery room or at the adoption, you won’t mess up the big things.