I have three girls, ages 14, 11, and 5, which means I have a collective 30 years of parenting experience. That makes me an expert, right? Yeah, no. If there’s one thing I do know, it’s that parenting is a never-ending experience requiring on-the-spot adaptation, a healthy dose of determination, and a lot of self-forgiveness.
We, and our children, are constantly evolving. What you once held sacred with one child — set nap times anyone? — goes out the window with another. I don’t know that I’m any better at parenting my third child than I was my first. The difference is I’m better at recognizing what’s important and what’s not for each of my children, and for me. With the benefit of hindsight, but still a lot of learning to do, here are a few things I know about raising kids:
1. Nobody’s perfect.
Not you, not your kid. Put that ridiculous Pinterest fantasy out of your head right now and you’ll be a lot happier. Before my oldest daughter was born, I read all the parenting books, asked my chosen pediatrician a gazillion questions, and took newborn care classes all so I could “get it right.” Ha. You will make choices you regret. It’s OK. There’s no right or wrong way to parent; there’s just the flawed, beautiful way that works for you and your family. Go with it.
2. They require less than you think.
My 5-year-old is currently sitting in an oversized cardboard box courtesy of Amazon, coloring the inside with magic markers. There was a time when I’d feel guilty about not playing with her or taking her to the zoo or some other curated activity. Now I know that sometimes less is more, and if she gets bored, well, dealing with boredom is a good skill to have.
3. Talk less, smile more.
More than anything, kids want to be heard. This is really hard for me since I’m usually the one doing all the talking, both informational and questioning. Depending on the kid and their age, asking a lot of questions can backfire. Now I just smile and listen whenever one of them starts telling me about their day or an annoying friend or what they want for lunch the next day. Feeling seen and listened to is the bomb, no matter how old you are.
4. They’re assholes.
Newsflash: Kids are assholes. My kids usually act out because 1) they don’t know any better, 2) they’re pushing boundaries they don’t like or have outgrown, or 3) they’re evil devil spawn messing with me with the sole intent of inflicting misery. Whatever the reason, I no longer assume full responsibility for their assholish-ness or take it too personally. I just keep calling them out on it, teach them to do better, and try not to lose my cool.
5. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t show up.
It’s not humanly possible for me to go to all of my kids’ sports games, science nights, recitals, bake sales, class parties, etc. Also, I don’t actually want to go to everything. I used to feel bad about missing their activities, and sometimes they did too. But guess what? They get over it, realize that they don’t need me there to do their best, and I get a break.
6. You’re in charge.
No matter how chaotic it gets — 2-year-old melting down in the toy aisle, teenager mouthing off and slamming doors — you are still the boss, the head honcho, the queen bee. I’ve found that when my kids are acting like lunatics and I enforce limits, they usually calm down more quickly.
7. They will amaze you.
Just when I think my childless-by-choice friends are on to something, my kid astounds me with her intellect and insight, simple observations, and unconditional love. The other night when I asked my youngest if she needed to pee before bed, she said, “I don’t need to pee, Mama. I just need to hug and kiss and love you!” For 24 hours, I was like, “Yes! Parenting rocks!” Then she accidentally left the hamster cage open, and it was back to my regularly scheduled insane life.
I don’t have the answers to all of parenting’s mysteries, dilemmas, and crazy-making scenarios (if I did, I’d bottle that magic up and sell it on eBay). The more I work this parenting gig, though, the more confident I am in my ability to do the right thing at the right time. And when I mess up? I tell my kids I love them, cut myself some slack, and remember that I get to do it all again tomorrow.