My daughter just turned 18 and it reminded me of all of the growth I have had these last 18 years. We are all confused and innocent at the start of our parenting journey and there is so much to learn. For me, the list below reflects things I learned along the way that worked for my family. Maybe some of these will resonate with you. I hope my experience will be beneficial to someone else figuring things out and trying to learn and grow as a parent.
1. Save your money for important things like education, experiences and health.
2. Be generous with your time, knowledge, stuff and money. Be generous with your friends, your family and your kids. Let your kids see the joy you feel giving to others. Whether it is offering to drive their kids when a parent is sick, baking for their birthday, paying for dinner or watching a friend’s pet, be the family that people can count on.
3. Minimize or eliminate talk about appearance and weight. My biggest accomplishment is that my daughter did not know what a calorie was until she was in a Middle School health class (thanks a lot!). This world over emphasizes the importance of appearance, make your home a safe place where that simply does not matter.
4. Adopt a pet. We have bonded as a family around our pet more times than I can count. And all of us relish the fact that we saved her. We cannot believe our good fortune that we literally found the perfect dog for our family.
5. Watch TV together. We have always had a show that we watched together as a family. There is nothing I love more than all of us sitting down together and sharing the experience of watching a show. It is also a nice way to reconnect during the week when everyone is in different directions.
6. Go on vacations with your immediate family only (at least some of the time). When the four of us vacation together, we can figure out what it is that we like to do. What defines us? What do we agree on? How can we compromise? Introducing other family members or friends makes things more complicated and reduces the intimacy of just being the immediate family.
7. Give your kids the gift of time. Don’t overschedule them. For me this was easy because my kids don’t like being too busy and happily obliged, but even if your child loves being busy, I would recommend facilitating downtime.
8. Prioritize physical and mental health. Give your kids a mental health day (my kids have had more than their share!). Don’t insist they go to a game or practice or rehearsal if they are not feeling well. Insist that they get sleep. Keep your doctor appointments and find a doctor that puts you and your child at ease.
9. Let your kids develop their own study habits. Don’t force them to “do homework as soon as you get home” if you can help it. Every kid (just like every adult) has different approaches to their work. Encourage your child to figure out theirs.
10. Have family meals so often that they don’t have to be a big deal. Let your kid leave the table when they are done. Conversation can be organic because there is no pressure. We eat together often, but our meals are far from formal. And I am fairly confident my kids will remember this time together fondly.
11. Don’t overvalue a clean house. Mess means that people live and love in the home and for me that was always way more important (my husband may have a different take on this :).
12. Get the help you need: therapists, parenting books, friends, medicine, eating out at chipotle every single night. Do what you need to stay sane. A sane parent is much more important than an unhappy super-parent.
13. Encourage your teens to get a job. There is nothing like babysitting for 3 hours and realizing you can barely pay for gas with that money. I believe that kids learn the value of a dollar when they work hard to earn that dollar.
14. Foster relationships with Grandparents/Older Relatives. My kids were very lucky to have all four grandparents for most of their childhood and I know that is not common. My kids benefit so much from their time with their grandparents, whether it is watching movies, playing scrabble or going to meals, there is great conversation and time slows down a bit. Grandparents give unconditional love that fuels self-love in your children.
15. Cultivate relations with cousins or close family friends: Whenever my kids were struggling socially, I always knew they had their cousins to rely on. I have schlepped many times to my brother’s house in DC so my son could see his cousins and even though my sister is an hour away, we see each other like we are neighbors. Again, unconditional love is a gift.
16. Create traditions. I am not Martha Stewart by any stretch so our family traditions fall short of pinterest–worthy, but we do have routines that work for us. When we go to the same place in Florida every Christmas, we eat at the same restaurants and have a very predictable time. And we love it. We don’t have to think too much. There is very little need to negotiate or compromise and we can put our brains on hold for a bit and just follow the path we set out for ourselves from years of tradition.
17. Create an environment that supports authenticity. Allowing your kids to figure out who they are is the first step in creating a safe place to be authentic. One of the best gifts we can give our kids is the opportunity to know themselves and love themselves because of their eccentricities.
18. Laugh. Laugh at yourself in front of your kids, laugh at the dog, laugh at the ridiculous. There is nothing like laughter to bring things into perspective and reduce the stress. Diffuse a fight with laughter. Life can get so serious, bring in the fun whenever possible.
I know I am far from done on my parenting journey and things will continue to change and shift. I hope I bring an open mind to the process and learn and grow as time marches on.