A few years ago I wrote an article about what I’ve learned while parenting a teen. That kid is now 21 and has five younger siblings. Not so surprising, I’ve learned a few things since then. With countless years remaining, I am constantly revising strategies for every age in order to keep my sanity (and by default, my family’s). So I thought I’d share, in no particular order, things I have learned most recently in my adventures in parenting:
Do not make a treat for the middle school concerts.
No one cares if you’ve made something home-made. If you really want to be a hit with the middle schoolers, bring a bag of Takis.
Be the room parent. But ONLY if you love it.
If you don’t, stop doing it. Yes, there is guilt involved. Acknowledge that guilt and move on. I do not have the skill set to be that person. Godspeed to those who do. I will Venmo whatever I owe for the class gift and thank them repeatedly for their time and effort. Field trip participation is also optional. Maybe you enjoy it, but if you really don’t enjoy it, your kid doesn’t care AND the teacher doesn’t need you, don’t sweat it. Move on.
Life will be okay when your youngest heads to kindergarten. I promise.
The best piece of advice I was given when my youngest went off to kindergarten was to give it a year before making decisions for my own future. Whether it be going back to school, volunteering, staying at home, working part or full time, do not make any immediate changes. Settle into this new stage of life and see what direction life takes you. Or, do what I did and get a puppy.
Go to therapy.
Take your kid to therapy if you think he or she needs it. Go even if you are embarrassed or think you are admitting that your family life isn’t perfect. Go because your inner voice is telling you something just isn’t right. Go even if your kid tells you they’re “fine,” and don’t need to go. Go for yourself even if you have to admit you need some help and support. And know that you aren’t making a life-time commitment here. Maybe you’ll go to a few sessions and move on. Or, maybe you’ll find that you or your kid needs to go regularly (which is REALLY okay). Finding support for you and/or your kid is the best thing you can do for your family.
Put your own oxygen mask on before helping others.
As someone who seems to have all my ducks in a row, I have to be extremely clear (especially with my husband) when I have had enough and need some help. In addition to asking for help, do something that feeds your soul regularly. Go away for the weekend with your spouse or friends without guilt. Make your relationships with friends and family a priority. Get that tattoo you always wanted or get a bike that makes you happy. Do it so that you can continue to grow as a human and so your kids see you as more than the person who yells at them to pick up their stuff.
Make time for your older kids.
Take your middle schooler to that movie they want to see without the “annoying” younger sibling. Take your college kid out to lunch for ramen while the other kids are in school. They appreciate some time away from the younger kids and so will you. It has also been the greatest delight for me to focus on one kid at a time and watch as they grow into young adults.
Learn from your mistakes.
News Flash: I am not always right (don’t tell my kids). Realizing that signing your kid up for basketball wasn’t such a great idea doesn’t mean you failed as a parent. You’re going to make mistakes, and when you do, admit it, learn from it and move on. I am also constantly reminded that just because we parented our first kid one way doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for our fourth. So, being flexible and open to changing my viewpoints is imperative.
Most importantly, TRY to live in the moment.
This continues to be THE most challenging but most important for me. I am often stuck in my own head considering the logistics of how to get it all done. But, if I spend too much time worrying about carpools and dinner I’m going to miss the every-day beauty and blessings of my life. Taking a deep breath during the chaos and saying a little prayer of gratitude under my breath makes all the difference. Because someday I’m going to blink and the chaos will be gone and the house empty.
We are constantly growing and learning in this life. I can’t wait to see what I learn next as I continue on this journey.