On May 31st my baby child graduated from high school. In about a month I’ll drop her off at college.
Wow, cue the water works. When your kids are little it seems like you will always been in some state of raising them. Then, days like graduation and college drop offs happen and it hits you like a truck: it’s over. Your job is done. Between you, me, and the fence post, I’m not entirely sure I’m old enough for this empty nest thing.
What I am sure of is that I would like a mulligan, please. Now.
It’s funny how when it comes to the decisions I’ve made in living my own life, I wouldn’t change a thing. And I’ve made some hum-dinger-dumb decisions. As a consequence of those decisions, I’ve had plenty of ups and downs. Some downs were quite significant. However, I wouldn’t change any of it because of where the journey took me and what I learned along the way. “God bless the broken road,” as one of my fav country songs goes.
My life as a parent is different. There are things I could have done better.
Don’t get me wrong, I have three absolutely amazing daughters and I am infinitely proud of them. What’s that? Tell you what’s so amazing about them? Okay, I’ll brag since you asked. Two fluent in French. Three undergraduate degrees and one minor (so far). Two Masters degrees (so far). One Harvard graduate. Three pet lovers. Two gifted photographers. One who works to make education better nationwide. Three of the biggest hearts you will ever meet. One (multiple) marathon runner. One therapist who helps put families back together. One who should honestly be a stand up comic. Three who have worked internationally with those less fortunate. Three who love the Baby Jesus.
So, maybe I have done something right along the way, with some (haha) credit to their other parents and God and their teachers and their own hard work. But, I have tips for my young friends out there (and my own daughters) who will raise kids one day or who are raising them now. Things I’m glad I did and things I wish I had done differently.
Pull up a chair and learn something.
This goes beyond attending sports and dance and school plays and awards ceremonies although, obviously, show up at those, too. What I mean is, attend school functions whether or not your child is participating. This is how you get to know the parents of your child’s friends – as well as your child’s friends. It teaches your child to be supportive of their friends. Also, show up at community events. Teach your kids that there are all kinds of fun things going on out there that will enrich their lives. Take them to the sports and dance and other significant events of their cousins as well. Do everything you can to maintain and strengthen those family bonds.
Particularly when they’re little, get down on the floor and play with them. Play baby dolls or trucks or whatever it is that’s tickling their fancy that particular day. No you don’t have to play with bugs if you don’t want to. Or mud. A little nail polish won’t kill ya, not even you daddies out there. Yes, they should be able to play by themselves, but play time is bonding time, precious conversation time. No matter what it is you think you need to do more than play with your kid, trust me, you don’t.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
My sweet daddy had a number of brilliant trademark slogans. One was, “if money can fix it, it’s not a big deal.” Not that we had a lot of money, because we didn’t. He was trying to say: life is short, so put things in their proper perspective. If your kid draws on your walls a time or two*, go out to Hobby Lobby or Michaels and get a frame to hang around that masterpiece. This doesn’t mean that if they take the car out and run it into a ditch while they’re texting you shouldn’t
beat the crap out of them let them suffer the consequences, but never, ever forget that under all that teen bravado there is still a child’s fragile heart that needs constant reassurance that you love them no matter what.
Take Them to Church
Every Sunday (or whatever day is your holy day) you can, take them to church. Somewhere up there, God is scrambling around for His lightning bolts ’cause it’s not like I did a great job of this – I didn’t, I admit it. In fact, I believe that God is ok with
me you sleeping in on a Sunday every now and then. I also believe that having a spiritual life does a lot of things for a child in addition to the primary objective of worship. It teaches them that, believe it or not, they are not the center of the universe. They learn that they are never alone. Going to church teaches them the skills to appropriately handle any challenge life throws at them. Character-building happens at church. Just as importantly, talk to them about God. Let them know that He is important in your life, too.
You Are Not a Helicopter
MaeMae calls me the non-helicopter mother. I hardly ever got Number Two out of bed for school – though sometimes it was not for lack of trying (ha!). Number Three set her own alarm since kindergarten. Rarely did I check to see if their homework was done; never after elementary school. I can count on no fingers the number of times I took late homework to one of them at school. I’ve
massacred edited their papers when they asked, but only when they asked. Amazingly enough, it turns out that they made pretty darn great grades and wrote pretty darn great papers without any help from me. Every time they learned they could do a thing themselves, they put another coin in their self-confidence bank.
Listen, listen, listen. You can give your child no greater signal that they are important to you than to put down whatever it is you’re doing and listen to what they have to say. Listen without judging. Listen without reacting a/k/a going into parent mode. Listen also to what they don’t say. *Stay tuned for silent signals.* They are there and they can be significant.
Talk with your child about little things and big things. Don’t shy away from “taboo” subjects. In fact, IMHO, there should be no taboo subjects. Give them the information they need about relationships, choices, sex, love, anger, divorce, friendship. Believe me, you’d rather all that information come from you than from their friends or the media or movies or what have you, because those people are wrong about 125% of the time. The more you talk with your child, the easier those “difficult” conversations become.
The womb is not too early to read to your child. Read to them every chance you get when they arrive. Bedtime was always an extra special time for reading at our house. It’s honestly hard to say no to one more book, right? Instilling a love of reading is a lifelong gift. One thing I love about my relationship with my girls is our shared obsession with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (and Harry Potter). It also made naming Janie a/k/a Jane Pawsten pretty easy!
Put Them In Their Place
I’m not just talking about time out, although sure, put them there, too, if the situation warrants. I’m not being ugly, but they need to know where they are on the totem pole of life. News flash: it’s not first. It’s not even second and maybe not even third. In a family, their place is likely second or third behind God and a spouse. Dontcha think maybe it takes some pressure off of them not to be first? They can just be kids, which is what their job is anyway. Not being first teaches them to put others’ needs before their own, whether inside or outside the home. It gives the gifts of character and humility.
My kids know if they come within reach I’m going to grab them and kiss their faces off. I love them madly, as I’m sure you do yours. Love them also when they drive you nuts. Love them when they make you mad. Love them when they do the goshawfulstupidestthingever. Love them when they fail a test. Love them when they excel. Love them when they break your heart. Love them when they’re hardheaded. Love them when you’re hardheaded (this includes saying you’re sorry). Love them when they put a dent in your car or get fingernail polish remover on your leather chair. <<ahem>>
Laugh at yourself. Laugh at them. Laugh with them. I remember growing up I’d do something stupid (my brothers would tell you it happened a lot) and my family would laugh at me and I’d get upset and MaeMae would say “We’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you!” and I’d say, “But I’m not laughing!” I confess it took me awhile to learn to laugh at myself. It’s truly a gift. Teach it to your kids. Life has enough sad and serious in it; we need all the laughter we can get. Funny I should mention it, since #3 gets her wisdom teeth out on Monday. She’s all worried about needles and I’m like, “plug in the video camera!”
In the words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.