A Decade of Parenting Lessons

Parenting Tips, Parenting Advice, Free Parenting Advice, Parents

This summer, our oldest daughter, Ava, turned 10. That means I’ve officially been a parent for ten years.

With a decade of parenting lessons under my belt, I now qualify as a parenting expert. At least in my own mind.
Some lessons I’ve learned the hard way, like how it’s not a good idea to give your kid silly putty before she goes to bed.
Others, I’ve learned the very, very hard way, such as there is no way to protect my daughters from experiencing pain or sadness or disappointment, no matter how much I try.
In honor of our daughter’s 10th birthday, here are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned about being a parent so far:

1.  Screaming at your kids to get them to stop screaming is counterproductive

Go figure. Every few weeks I test this one just to be sure it’s true. Trust me, it is.

2.  Parenting is like watching your heart walk around outside your body

Watching those four long legs (two per kid) walk into their first day of school last week broke my heart. Thankfully my heart healed quickly and was soon jumping for joy.

3.  Stop trying to be the perfect parent

I tried for too long to be a perfect mom, regularly raising the bar of perfection to keep me on my toes. What did I get in return? A healthy dose of resentment and martyrdom. Brilliant strategy, no?

Now I strive to be authentic with my kids, to show them the real me. Am I too real? We won’t know for a few more years when the therapy bills start pouring in. Our kids’ future therapy appointments will go like this:

Our Kid:  Feelings, feelings, feelings, that’s all my mom cared about when I was growing up. She didn’t hide any of her feelings, and she encouraged me to express all of mine!

Therapist:  How did her obsession with feelings make you feel?

Our Kid:  Torqued and cranked. Why couldn’t she have pretended she didn’t have any feelings? Like normal parents. Would that have been too much to ask?

4.  If you think you’re in control, think again

I want my kids to express all their feelings, needs and wants and feel safe doing so, but I’d prefer it to be on my timeframe.  Preferably when I’m rested, fed and have finished using the bathroom by myself. Is that wrong?

Unfortunately, my kids couldn’t care less about my agenda, preferring to express their beautiful (aka loud) feelings as we’re trying to get to school on time or on the rare occasions my husband and I are both feeling amorous. They are giving that way.

5.  White lies don’t count if they keep your kids safe (or make your life more convenient)*

For years we’ve warned our kids about the imaginary snapping turtles that live in the pond behind my in-law’s home. Our girls never went near the pond without an adult, and we didn’t have to watch them every second they played in the backyard. A twofer – safe and convenient!

*Caveat:  I assumed our ten year old had figured out the truth by now, but this summer, after fishing on the pond with her uncle, she expressed relief at not catching a snapping turtle. Really? I can only imagine that future therapy session.

6.  Make peace with your kids’ disgusting habits (and await the positive power of peer pressure)

I spent months trying to curb my oldest’s nose picking habit when she was four or five years old. I tried to trust she would grow out of it, but mostly I tried to convince her it was a disgusting habit. She kept picking. By age six or seven, she’d stopped on her own, likely because her school friends teased her mercilessly.

I rarely notice when my youngest daughter picks her nose. She prefers to pick at home in the privacy of her bedroom (and to leave her boogers on her bedpost). I may have to wait a little longer for peer pressure to do its magic this time. At least until we start allowing sleepovers.

7.  Accept the things you cannot change (aka put down the whip you use to self flagellate) 

Our daughters are five years apart in age. I’m a different parent now than I was ten or even five years ago. Which one of my kids got the better parent? How badly did I screw up my first kid? Why hadn’t I learned to relax and trust way back when? Why am I even asking these questions? Our daughters “get what they get and they don’t get upset.”  (At least until they have a therapist on their own payroll.)

8.  Make peace with the “H” word

I don’t freak when my kids tell me they hate me. I try to remember that hate and love are kissing cousins. And I hate them too at times. Yet my love for my daughters is more intense and real than any other I’ve had in my life, even the love I had for my husband early on in our relationship. Lucky for him, I’ve also learned to hate him too at times.

9.   Look in the mirror

Our kids reflect our best and worst qualities. Both of our daughters are loving, kind and responsible. They’re creative and dramatic, bright and persistent. They’re also impatient, stubborn, opinionated and dictatorial. From their dad’s side.

10.  Stock up on support & self-care

I get by with a little help from my friends. And when I say “a little” I mean the daily, near constant, sanity-providing support I get from my peeps, spiritual groups and overpriced therapist. I credit them with the rare glimpses of sanity I string together. They remind me to put the oxygen mask on myself first and make time for myself and dates with my husband a priority.

None of this parenting stuff would work without support. And babysitters.

What are some of the best parenting lessons you’ve learned? Although I’m now a certified parenting expert, I’m entering the tween years, so cough up the good stuff in the comments. 

38 thoughts on “A Decade of Parenting Lessons

  1. Excellent top ten. I guess the best we parents can hope for is to look at parenting as a constant learning experience. Have a great day!

  2. I love your list. Every. Single. One. And the mirror, so true. And the screaming, so true! They are all so true! Different parent with my oldest than with my youngest? True! My biggest lesson lately – unconditional love and understanding works better than discipline and acting disappointed. Who knew? Now if only I could remember that when talking to *myself.*

    I have missed your posts! They’re like gold, you know. But always, always always worth the wait. xo

    • I’m so with you on unconditional love working better than discipline and disppointment. I also struggle to offer that unconditional love to myself – we’ll keep at it, ok? I’ve missed you too, love!

  3. Oh, you are spot-on! Which kid got the better mom?…that’s the million dollar question in my shame-filled head. Perhaps I can let it go. Right after I yell at someone who is yelling.

  4. you are so wise. and i always feel like my heart is walking around these days split in 3 pieces outside of my body. it’s a very vulnerable feeling. but i’m in touch with those feelings, so it’s all good. :)

    • From everything I’ve read of yours (your childhood, your strong family ties, your marriage), I have no doubt you’ll be a wonderful mother! Hurry up and have those kids so you can teach me!

  5. I LOVE THIS!!!!!! Oh my gosh, you nailed it NAILED IT Mary!!! This is just brilliant. Amen to every single one of these! :) (I completely spit out my water with the picking boogers part! My sister’s wall was COVERED with boogers when we were growing up!)

  6. great post & read, I’ve been a parent for 18yrs now & the dreaded H word I haven’t heard but was called a meany plenty of times. I even recorded it to show him since he is older now how long he’s been calling me a meany. glad he turned out ok being the meany I am

  7. Since I’ve been sick, I’ve really been beating myself up… wondering how much I’ve ruined my son. I have to believe that all of this mess will somehow help him rather than hurt him. I have to believe this. And yes, there’s nothing like a real illness to strip you of your vanity. I’ve learned overnight that those external things don’t matter. They really don’t, Mary. Trust the good hearts that surround you.

  8. Mary I loved this! I tried to comment when I read it 6 mins after it was published and my phone did something weird (meaning I can’t work my phone sometimes). You’re an awesome mom – well done!

  9. I’ve been doing this parenting thing for 20+ years – survived one child going completly through teenage-hood and coming out on the other side – our youngest is 10 and our middle is 13 – your list pretty much nails it! I have not heard the “H” word but I have heard “You are the meanest mom in the world” my common reply is “You have no idea what mean is but keep it up and you may find out”. As the teenage years approach for you I will tell you this – it becomes even more important to pick your battles – and LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN to them when they talk to you so they will keep coming to talk to you.

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