My parents were baby boomers: brought up in traditional 1950s households with fairly rigid rules to follow and mores to adhere to. Like many kids of that generation, they spent their teenage years and early adulthood questioning those conventional values—in certain ways, smashing them to bits.
I am grateful that my parents were so forward-thinking. When my mother was little and asked questions about where she came from, she was told that she came from a bunny farm; so when she had kids, she made a point of telling us the truth about reproduction and sex (and did so thoughtfully and sensitively). My parents took me seriously as an individual and empowered me to grow up to be a pretty badass woman (if I do say so myself).
When it came to parenting my own children, they certainly offered me some pearls of wisdom (and some unwanted advice as well; I think this is pretty unavoidable). But their advice was sparse. The fact is, my parents shied away from giving me much advice at all about parenting—or life in general.
I definitely appreciate the space I was given to figure things out myself and to find my own parenting style. But a little more hand-holding might have been useful.
Here are some things I wish I’d been told before I dove headfirst into parenthood:
1. You are going to be more exhausted than you think is humanly possible. The sleep deprivation will feel like torture. But no matter how insane it is, or how many years it lasts, it won’t matter in the end. You’ll survive it—and probably even forget most of it.
2. You will worry about your kids when they are babies, toddlers, young children, older children, tweens and teens. The worrying will never end. There will always be a part of your heart beating in your childrens’ bodies, no matter how old they are.
3. Kids need freedom, but they also need structure. In fact, most kids thrive on it.
4. You don’t get to decide what kind of kid you’re going to get. A lot of a child’s personality is evident as soon as he or she exits the womb. What you can do is accept your children for who they are and nurture them to be the best version of themselves possible.
5. It’s important to be real with your kids, but it’s also necessary to have boundaries. Kids are easily impressionable and can easily absorb your depression, anxiety, heartache and trauma. Be yourself, but protect your kids from your baggage.
6. Don’t try to impress your kids. They don’t care what job you have or how much money you make. They just need your presence and love.
7. Take care of yourself. If you don’t nurture yourself, you can’t nurture anyone else.
8. Your kids will still need your guidance even after they’ve grown up and left the nest. They might not always ask for your help or reassurance, but look for the signs and give yourself to them without question.
9. Don’t compare yourself to other parents. Each family has its own very specific dynamics, and the reasons behind each parenting decision people make is complicated, nuanced, and most of the time, none of anyone’s business.
10. The times when your kids seem to be pulling away from you hardest are the ones when they need you the most.
11. You will be your worst parenting judge. So cut yourself some slack—a whole lot of slack.
12. Don’t forget to laugh. Humor is one of the most necessary ingredients in parenting.
13. Your kids will surprise you. They have their own inborn temperament and personality, but don’t pigeon-hole them. Expect them to grow, learn, be challenged, and exhibit bravery you didn’t know was possible.
14. Get them that extra scoop of ice cream. Let them stay awake until the ball drops. Take them on the vacation you can’t quite afford. You won’t regret that kind of stuff.
15. You will feel like you are failing every other minute, but if you are present—if you are trying—then you are doing everything right.
16. Kids are messy, unpredictable, and wreak havoc on your sleep, your plans, your bank account, your life. That’s okay; it’s supposed to be that way.
17. You will count down the minutes until they go to sleep, and then you will watch them while they are sleeping, regretting every time that day you lost your patience and yelled at them. You will want them to stay frozen in whatever age they are as you watch them sleep.
18. Each time your kids say “I love you,” your heart will melt all over again. It doesn’t matter how many times they say it or how old you are. It will always get you in the gut.
I know for sure there are certain things about parenting we all forget if only because being in the trenches is so different than reflecting after the fact. And maybe sometimes our parents shield us from the truth of parenting because they want to protect us (if my parents had told me the truth of how insane some of it was, I might not have had any kids at all).
Maybe my parents were too hands-off in some ways when it came to preparing me for parenthood. But even if they didn’t provide a ton of wisdom or advice, they did instill in me the importance of listening to my own gut and instincts—and not giving much credence to what anyone else thinks about my choices–which is perhaps the most important parenting (and life) lesson of all.