Lately I’ve spent time with friends I love who have young children. That time has made me consider things I’ve learned in the process of parenting — things I wish I had known back when my children were younger. I decided to write myself a letter — the kind of letter that Marty McFly and Doc Brown or Doctor Who could deliver:
Dear Jan in 1997,
Chill out. Just enjoy it all as much as possible. I believe in you and know you’ll do your best. But here are a few extra tidbits to remember along the way:
Help your children. Model the behaviors you want them to have. Always be aware that your actions have repercussions. Do the right thing — and remember that sometimes the right thing to do is nothing (which also happens to be the hardest thing to do as a parent).
All that said, know now that as hard as you try, things will never be perfect for your little ones. You can do all the “right things,” but somewhere along the way, this tiny, perfect beautiful baby is going to run into situations that you can’t fix. No amount of preparing on your part could prepare that little doll you hold in your arms to flourish in every situation that’s going to come her way.
Even so, she’ll be OK.
In some ways you’ll parent as a reaction to your parents — that’s how these things go. Just know that you don’t need to change it all. Your parents did many things well. With today’s tendencies to encourage children to be engaged and play with all the right toys, watch all the right shows, be in the best schools, think back to when you were young and how some days your parents told you not to come inside until dark. Granted, that’s probably not a good move with a toddler, but try hard not to over-parent.
Know that your children need time and opportunity to be unsupervised. They need to be in places where they can take risks. A skinned knee is not the end of the world. A bump on the head is sometimes necessary. Trying to protect this child into perfection will not happen. Basically, I’m telling you to get over yourself. Your kid may end up doing great things — and you will play a role in your child’s development, but so will other people.
This one is going to shock you. Secondly, brace yourself, but know that there will come a time when your child isn’t telling you the truth. Throw out the whole sack of pohooey about always believing your child and never questioning them with last week’s meatloaf. No matter that you’ve always told them the truth. Still, there will come a time — and hopefully there won’t be too many times — but that sweet thing will inadvertently or deliberately deceive you. You are not a bad parent when you ask a few extra questions.
Next, and this is an important one that a lot of people seem to have let go in recent years, but you need to find effective ways to punish your child when she behaves in a way that is not appropriate. This will sound really harsh, but I have come to believe that — and this observation isn’t totally based on personal parenting experience, it comes in large part from teaching in a middle school, but here goes — children need a certain level of awareness and even a mild fear of consequences. They need to know that there will be consequences if they do the thing they are not supposed to do. Disastrous things happen when children don’t have a basic respect for authority, but I’m not suggesting beating their beautiful little spirits down.
Also, don’t feel like you’ve got to pack up the car and head out to every event that your child might enjoy. There’s serious beauty in just staying home and doing very little — together.
Lastly, make sure your children have chores that they alone own. Make these chores vital to the running of the household.
Oh, and when the time comes, buy Apple, Google and Amazon.