Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ten Things I learned in 22 Years of Parenting

 When I first became pregnant with our first, I suddenly understood the joke my parents made about newbie parents.  Facing what seemed like an intractable impossible unreasonable problem (toilet training, bedtime, meals), a problem that destroyed all confidence, all personal belief in one's capacity to parent, they'd say, "Welcome to the NFL" and laugh.  Translation: You just got your first real hit.  Now get back up and get out there.   It's  game time.

Jennifer Fulwiler wrote a brilliant piece, 22 Things I learned in my first ten years of parenthood.  I loved it, shared it and got to thinking.  Jen has had six kids in ten years. But she's yet to discover the next big frontier of parenting, adolescence.  So being a blogger type friend, I wanted to be a Yoda to a fellow mom of many about the more yet to come. 

Let me preface it with a big smile.  "Welcome to the NFL."

10.  None of these people will have the same drama.  Any pats on the back you might give yourself for raising rugged individuals instead of cookie cutter offspring will be offset by the frustration of never quite becoming an expert, only less of a rookie.  I'm still not sure if I prefer the struggle of a kid who won't drive or the one who really wants to.  Ditto on dating, shopping, makeup... 

9.  The world likes to pretend it has professionalized everything, but most folks haven't surrendered their entire existence to a single sport or talent.  Most families are peopled with human beings who demand a degree of reasonableness to life.  So don't break in a cold sweat when the Tiger Mom Want-a-be starts talking about how the only way to have your kid make the team in high school let alone beyond is to join the exclusive league that travels six months a year and costs more than college tuition.   I promise you haven't robbed your son or daughter of a future, you've actually allowed them the luxury of a childhood.

8.  Have boys? Get them in sports and something social.  Something that keeps them from staying home locked in their room.  It can be anything, but it has to be something.  Going outside is different than looking at the outside.  The same is true for experiencing people and events.

7.  Have girls? Get them in sports and something social. Something that keeps them from staying home locked in their room.  I don't care if they chat online, it doesn't suffice.  Rock band isn't the same as guitar lessons.   We live in a world that provides substance free substitutes for all the real things that matter. (BTW, 7 and 8 do not contradict with 9, 7 and 8 are about getting your kids to be present with and for others, 9 is about not letting a talent keep your child from being present even to themselves).

6.  Date night with your teen may seem awkward. But it's actually fun, even if you are the only one who calls it that in your head and never in print or anywhere they might see it.   Call it pizza and a movie in, or let's go get hot chocolate or want to get a pedicure or I'm making slice and bake cookies, want some? but schedule time, frittery time. 

5.  They still need hugs, playtime and opportunities to be immature.   Provide them the opportunity and the experience in abundance.  Cards, video games, football, watching Sherlock, it doesn't matter the what, what matters is the who.   

4.  Jobs.  During the summer, they need jobs.  Summer school counts, but don't limit it.  Some of the biggest growing up comes from official type real responsibilities with pay and consequences.   Some of it comes from discovering what you don't want to do the rest of your life and some comes from simply discovering you can do something you didn't know how to do before.  Daughters disassembling a bed for example, proved to be a source of pride.  Son power washing the deck, also created a sense of accomplishment.

3.  Pay attention to all the messages you are sending.  I've had to work on taking better care of my appearance, as part of teaching them to be better stewards of themselves. Teens are great at pointing out where you stumbled up to now.  "Why should I get a hair cut? You don't." earned me a trip to the beauty parlor first.

2.  The kindle, computer, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, cell phones, blackberries, laptops and ipods can create a bubble which lets everything and everyone else in the world into their lives except you.  Don't let the electronic communication tools of today create a wall of silence.   These are things they can use, but there are limits and provisos.  Follow everything and everyone.  Use your veto power.  The machines like the internet, can be and sometimes should be turned off. 

1.  There will be a time when you stare at their room, their hair, their friends, their grades, their tweets, their something, and you will wonder, how, why, what have I been doing with my life? Did none of it sink in?  Where did the baby/child I loved go and when are they coming back? When the ugliness reaches its zenith and you honestly think, they're almost 18, they're almost 18 and at that point, as no other, prayer.  Prayer and patience.  This is the birth pain/labor of raising an adult, and them fighting hard to hold onto childish things.  There will be a little something, maybe they make their bed or slip a note under the door or bring a diet coke, a sign to you, they love you for not letting them remain children, and though it admittedly seems like it will never come while you are waiting, the payoff is worth it you forget the pain.


Jerry Windley-Daoust said...

I love this! Thanks for the heads up as we head into the teen years with our brood!

Anneg said...

I love Jenn's piece and have passed it around to some of the young moms I know. As a mom of almost 40 years, may I endorse these wholeheartedly. The advice about jobs is great. My son, whose motto was why stand when you can sit, learned a lot working for a local farm one summer, specifically that he did not want to do that again and he'd better find something else to do.
Regarding sports, I would add that boys, especially, like to do dangerous things. It is better if they do those with adult supervision which sports provide.
Also, I found 11 a challenging age for both boys and girls. 11 year old Girls think they know everything, contrasted with 15 year olds who know everything. 11 year old boys are as likely to give you a hug, slam the door or start crying, all in equal measure.
I really appreciate this and those of you with big families.

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