Everyone has strong opinions about how to parent.
You have to breastfeed, but not for too long. Cloth diapers. No, wait–Compostable diapers. Everyone should co-sleep. No one should co-sleep. Public school is the only way to go. Scratch that, send them to private school. Or homeschool them. Better yet, unschool them. When I was childless and a teacher, I thought I would be such an amazing parent. I saw so many people who I was sure were doing it wrong. I would do better. I knew better. I would do everything the “right” way.
Then I had kids.
Parenting is the hardest and most rewarding thing I have ever done. I feel confident about my parenting choices. Nothing I had ever experienced before prepared me to make them, though!
I like to think I have the Heinlein Stranger in a Strange Land approach to parenting. (If your preteen years were SciFi free, see also Isaac Asimov.) Thankfully, their dad and I are on the same page about this stuff. Parenting is tough enough without a constant battle about how it should be done. You get these brand new creatures. They don’t know the customs here. They don’t know how to do anything. It’s your job to show them, as gently and kindly as possible, how to live on this planet. This makes it crucial that I keep trying to get better at it myself.
The other amazing piece of the parenting process what I learn from them. I get to watch them experiencing all the magic of life for the first time. Through their eyes, I get to remember what it’s like to see a see a rainbow for the first time. I get to do all the fun kids’ stuff over again like flying kites, playing in the snow, jumping in the leaves, and making blanket forts. I get to re-learn how to be amazed and in love with life. I think most of it I knew as a kid and forgot as all that grown up wisdom crowded in and squashed it. Some of it is unique to the wonderful little people that they are, and I’m learning more from them daily.
“How do we make our bones? Are they made of anything? How do they keep getting bigger? Did I have all my bones when I was in your uterus? How do babies get into the uterus? What is cloth made of? Is it made of the same stuff as me? Can you touch the spot where the sky ends?” (Finn, age 5)
Curiosity is awesome. It may have killed the cat, but I’m pretty sure it also helped find cures, build cities, change laws, and spark the minds behind all of our favorite inventions. Curiosity is what drives me much of the time, but should I forget, they always remind me.
“I don’t know that man, and he doesn’t know me, but I waved at him and he waved back. We’re friends now! (Finn, age 5)
I think we are born with that maitri “unlimited friendliness” so close to the surface. We get older and guard it too closely, or save it until we think someone deserves it. Spending time with children is a great way to remember how to give it freely.
“Don’t kiss butts. That’s where poop comes out!” (Finn, age 4)
This is good advice, both literally and figuratively. Meet everyone with a steady gaze and a firm handshake. Even the person you esteem the most doesn’t need your brown nosing.
“When I am a famous rock star, I will be really busy flying around in my private jet, doing shows and saving the earth, but I will still come see you a lot too.” (Caroline, age 7)
It’s good to dream big! No matter how far your dreams carry you, you should still make time to go see your mom.
“She’s brown and she doesn’t speak the same language as me, but we like all the same stuff!” (Caroline, age 4)
We grow up. We think we are so enlightened, but I think we forget the basics sometimes. We’re all the same on the inside. It really is that simple.
“Mommy, I love you even though your breath smells horrible right now. (Caroline, age 6)
When you need to criticize, try to be kind! Caroline is a straight shooter and will tell me if she thinks the veggie tacos look like throw up, if my hair is crazy, if she doesn’t agree with me. She will also preface it by saying she loves me and follow it up with a hug. This is something I should remember to do more often.
“I need a hug.” (Both kids…all the time)
It’s good to ask for what you need. We all need hugs.
Even when especially when we are a mess.