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Parenting, the experience in life that has it all: fulfilment, joy, love, annoyance, frustration, and a never-ending role that we run toward and away from at the same time.
How I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger mom Self some advice from older mom me. Like most people, I knew nothing about parenting before I had kids. I could barely take care of myself so I wasn’t prepared to take care of any other humans. Like most people though, life happened and it had other plans for me—parenting plans. Two kids and 15 years later, and I definitely have a little bit of a better understanding of kids, how we prefer to raise them, what works for us, what doesn’t, and how little control we actually have.
If I ever had the chance to impart some parenting wisdoms to my younger mom Self, this is what I would say:
1. There is no one-size-fits-all
This is a big one, and it took the stark differences between my two kiddos for me to realise I don’t have to do it all in the same way for every milestone and circumstance, for each child. We are all different in our personalities—how we respond to the world and people, how we communicate with those around us, how we learn, grow, and evolve, and so much more. What worked for one kid could possibly be a total disaster for another. Take the time to learn what makes your child tick and how they respond to you. One child might only have to get a look from you to stop a behaviour while another child might need a time-out. It’s the understanding of who this little person is that will help you figure out what works.
2. We don’t have to do it like our parents
When I first became a mother, I had no idea what I was doing, so, subconsciously, I started parenting how I was raised. But, it just didn’t fit my daughter or me as a mom. I started reading parenting books that spoke to me and even took an online class. What I realised in this part of my journey was that it was okay to do things differently than my parents. It may not be easy (and we may not get the most encouraging feedback from family), but it’s better to stick with our gut if we feel some things are better off not repeated. Again, each child is different, so what worked for us or our siblings, may not work for our kiddos.
3. We can change and evolve with our child
We don’t have to have it all figured out on the day of their birth. Parenting is a part of life that changes you immensely. Be prepared to change and evolve with them, and allow that growth. We, as parents, are learning right alongside them—and that’s a good thing. Coming from a place of allowance and leaning into that growth can be a powerful teacher for our children. It can be subtle and may not be spoken aloud, but when our children see us accept and even acknowledge that we don’t know everything, they will accept growth and learning into their lives as well. It is okay to mess up, inevitable even, so letting our kids know when we’ve made a mistake is a great window for our children to see life as it really is—humans make mistakes. Even parents. When we as parents show our kids that it’s okay to admit we messed up and don’t know it all, we allow them the space to open up and accept life and all the things it can teach us.
4. They are humans just like us
Our children are not puppets that we can train and turn into whoever we want them to be. Let your kiddos be who they are and embrace that. The less we try to control and the more we spend time just enjoying the experience of watching an evolving personality, the easier life will be, for us and our children. This doesn’t mean we don’t have rules and boundaries, those are still key, but acceptance goes a really long way. Also, talk to your kids like the humans that they are. Children deserve understanding, kindness, and respect just like any adult. Just because they are children doesn’t mean they don’t deserve these common niceties. It’s easy to forget that we adults have a hard time controlling and managing our big feelings, so of course our children will, too.
5. Routine = stability
Kids want to feel safe and stable, and they need routine for that. The world and growing up in it can be a scary place; coming home to familiarity and knowing what to expect can make that scariness a whole lot easier to manage. This can look so different for many families and living arrangements. It doesn’t have to be the typical image of the perfect house with the white picket fence to equal stability, just some kind of routine where a child knows what to expect each day. This can provide a sense of stability and gives kids a sense of control over what may otherwise seem like an out of control life.
6. We cannot control them—it’s only an illusion
The need to control other people and our environment can be fierce but the truth is, we cannot control anyone, and if we think we can, it’s only an illusion. None of us want to feel controlled; we all want to feel like we assert some kind of control over our lives—yes, even children. We tend to do things that give us a sense of control when we feel like our life is crazy around us. When we try to control our children with threats and negativity, it only creates a divide and eventually some kids will realise they can resist. The more we try to control our kids, the more that sh*t will come back to us.
This is why kids will do things to push back, like not eat when we tell them to, ignoring us when we ask them to clean up, holding their poop instead of being open to potty training; they use things that we can’t possibly make them do to assert some kind of control over their lives—even when it negatively impacts them.
What we can control is our actions and reactions. This goes back to allowing our kids to be themselves and do life their way, even when it drives us crazy sometimes. When we create an environment where our kids feel like they have a choice and some things are in their control, they are much more open to accepting things we suggest and ask. Giving choices (starting at a young age if possible) can be a game changer. When children feel like they have a say, the push back becomes much less frequent. Our purpose as parents isn’t to create a mini version of ourselves; our purpose is to uncover the most amazing version of them.
7. We are doing them a disservice by helping them
I have found this mantra extremely significant in my parenting journey, and I am always saying it to myself. It’s so easy to swoop in and help, and do things faster. But when we are always there to save them, they don’t know how to save themselves. Deep in their small subconscious minds, they may think they aren’t capable or we think they aren’t capable, so that’s why we step in and do things for them.
Let them fall down, let them mess up, let them make the wrong choice and figure it out. Let them take care of themselves and figure out what works for them.
Do you want them to go through the hard lessons in life? No, it’s painful to see your kiddos struggling. But is it necessary? Yes, so very necessary. Is this easy? Hell no. I find it’s much easier if I am not present. For some reason, Dads find this much easier, so this is one of the times where I value that Dad parenting. It has taken me a lot of years to figure this out and I am still working on it. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone into my son’s room and cleaned up, only to realise halfway through, “Sh*t! He needs to be doing this,” and I’ve had to put back all the mess for him to do later. I’ve bitten my tongue so many times from saying all the things: “Do you have your coat? Tie your shoes. Did you remember your lunch? Here, let me do it. Sure, I’ll order for you.” It takes a constant reminder in my brain that I am doing them a disservice by helping them. Let that oxymoron sink in.
8. You will f*ck them up in some way
Like I said above, we all make mistakes. You will do something in your parenting journey that will have a negative impact on your kids—it’s just the cold, hard truth. Even coming from a place of love, sometimes we just say or do the wrong thing in the moment. Accepting this, and owning it, can be incredibly powerful. My mantra for parenting is to just do the best I can in the moment and that is all I can ask of myself. No one is perfect and we are all going to make mistakes that impact those around us.
When my children are grown and it’s time to set them free, I will know I have done my best (even in the moments I f*cked up) and all I can do is hope they fly. Sometimes, we can do this parenting gig all “wrong” and our kids become amazing, and sometimes, we can do all the parenting things “right” and they will still make poor choices. Sometimes, it just boils down to environment and personality. At some point, we just need to let go and let them live their lives.
If I had the chance to fill my younger mom Self in on these few tips, I probably could have saved myself a ton of stress and worry. In this parenting journey, when we are running toward it, we can give it our best shot, and when we are running away from it, we should allow ourselves some grace.
All we can do is try to do our best in each moment, accept that sometimes our best isn’t going to be great, learn from our mistakes, and enjoy the present moment with our kiddos. Before you know it, time will do its thing and these moments will be distant memories.