I thought my childhood was idyllic until I had children of my own. That is when cracks began to form in the foundation; I noticed weaknesses in myself stemming back to my upbringing and resolved to do better when parenting my own kids.
Nothing was necessarily wrong with the way I was raised — I think I turned out quite well if I do say so myself — but I am a different mother than my own mother was, with contrasting priorities, strengths, and weaknesses. My husband is not like my father, and our kids have different personalities and needs than we had as children. There’s also the obvious fact that the world is a very different place now than it was in 1979.
And so I’m taking what worked from my upbringing and leaving the rest behind, because when we know better, we do better.
1. Discipline doesn’t have to involve spanking.
“I was spanked, and I turned out OK.” How many of us have heard that?! To be honest, I’ve said it myself, and it took me longer than I’d like to admit to realize that spanking does not work — at least, not in our house. My oldest child’s personality has forced my husband and I to be more creative in our discipline, and honestly, finding other ways to handle undesirable behavior has made our home happier and calmer than it was before.
2. Self-care is not selfish.
My mother has pathologically put herself last for much of my life, and as an adult, I have witnessed the repercussions as her health has steadily gone downhill. Part of it is her personality — she genuinely loves to serve and care for others — but in order to be a healthy, balanced person, you need to have boundaries when it comes to your own well-being. So many things stop us from making our needs a priority: guilt, time, and resources, to name a few. However, no one is following us around the house reminding us to eat well, drink water, and get more sleep, and we are ultimately responsible for our own health and happiness. Being a parent will suck you dry, and if you don’t take time to look after yourself, you will suffer the consequences eventually.
3. I am aware that my children are not perfect.
While I don’t want to see them fail, I won’t stop them from doing so. When the preschool called and said my son pulled another child’s pants down in front of the entire class and that he would be asked to leave if it happened again, I did not immediately defend him. My cheeks flushed beet red, and I thought to myself, What the fuck? But I did not make excuses. I could have said that he and his brother love to play that game at home. I could have blustered, He’s only 4! But instead, I listened. I thought about how the other kid’s parents might feel. Even though he just thought he was being funny, my child was not the victim in this situation; it is my job to teach my kids why other people’s feelings matter.
4. I will not shield my children from the consequences of their actions.
Swooping in to rescue my kids from difficulty doesn’t do them any favors in the long run, and shielding them from natural consequences will only entitle, spoil, and ultimately rob them of the ability to function as normal adults. So I will try my best not to do that.
5. Life outside of motherhood is important.
Being a mother and a wife is my top priority, but friendships and other interests are vital to my well-being. One day my children will grow up and move out, and how will I fill my time when I’m no longer spending entire afternoons searching for the source of that pee smell? I need a back-up plan that involves other people, like friends, and personal goals, and hobbies.
6. Mental health is at the top of my priority list.
My own and my kid’s. This subject remains at the forefront of my mind at all times, right up there with eating a healthy(ish), balanced(ish) diet, and getting enough physical exercise. So many problems can be avoided when issues are addressed right when they crop up. And just as a side note, they never crop up at a good time, like…ever. But just like everything else when it comes to parenting, ignoring a problem never makes it go away.
7. It is not my job to determine who my children are.
It is my job to help them become the very best version of themselves. I can make rules and guidelines for them to follow, sure. But when it comes right down to it, even if I think that I know my children better than they know themselves, I kind of don’t — not really. My job is to help lay the foundation, and then I am supposed to take a step back, cross my heart, and hope that it was enough.
I wonder what my children see, what they will someday look back on and purposefully do differently with their own children. Maybe I’m swinging too far in the opposite direction of my parents. Maybe I’m screwing up.
There’s no way to know.
We’re all just doing our best.