Lessons I've Learned

I realized the other day that I had been a parent for almost ten years.   Ten years ago, I was seven months pregnant, and as I look back now, there's so much that I wish I had known.  I knew I wanted to be a mother, I knew I loved this baby more than anything, I knew I really liked buying the pretty little dresses.  I had grown up babysitting, so I knew how to burp a baby, how to swaddle and how to stay patient and calm with a fussy infant.  But I didn't really know how to be a parent.  Even after ten years, I know that there's still a lot to learn.  But there are some lessons that have managed to sink in over the past decade.

- You shouldn't count how many times you nurse your child, or how many times you kiss them. Do it as needed.  It's not something you'll ever regret.  

- Always read to your kids.  Not just before bed, but in general.  Make it a policy that when asked, you'll sit and read with them.  Fill your house with books, leave them in the car and keep them in the diaper bag.  Make it a coping technique, nothing stops a temper tantrum faster than my offering to read to my kids.

- Remind your kids that they are stuck with each other. That we are a family, and there's a connection there that's unbreakable. They don't have to love each other all the time, they don't even need to like each other all the time.  They do have to know that when the chips are down, their siblings are going to be there.  

- Potty training is just messy.  As much as you can, let your child lead the way on this one.  But know ahead of time, there's going to be naked toddlers, urine everywhere and a lot of mopping and carpet/upholstery cleaning in your future.  Hopefully, it won't last long, but there's no way to avoid it.

- Nighttime dryness is not something you can achieve by limiting drinks, waking the child up in the middle of the night to go, or sacrificing to the God of Dry Sheets.   I've got three kids, one was dry at night before daytime dry, one got it just after mastering using the potty during the day, and one routinely wet the bed until kindergarten.  It's developmental, don't make a big deal about it.  It'll happen when it happens.  

- Pay attention to a child's diet over a week, not over a day.  

- As much as you can, encourage your child to play independently. Don't appoint yourself the cruise director, in charge of their entertainment.  

- Create traditions. The ones that everyone celebrates are a good start, Shabbat dinner, or Passover Seders, and Rosh Hashanah apple picking.  But traditions you create as a family, special hooky days from school on their birthdays - or Chinese food on election day to celebrate the right to vote, or the night every year that you put on jammies and drive them around looking at Christmas lights until they fall asleep. Those are the traditions that they'll pass down to their kids.

- Put your kids first. Because nobody else is going to consider their best interests in making plans or decisions, and they deserve that. It doesn't always have to be the deciding factor, but always consider them before making decisions.

- It doesn't take a village, it takes dedicated, devoted and thoughtful parents. Pay attention to their world, and make intelligent determinations about the childhood you want them to have.

- Don't be afraid to admit when you've screwed up. Nobody, NOBODY, knows what they're doing. We're all winging it, and we all make mistakes. Own it and fix it when you do.  Kids are more resilient than we think, and while it's true that we're probably screwing them in a million ways that we can't foresee, make sure they know that you're doing the best you can.

- Don't be afraid to have your child hate you. Because they will. And that's okay. It's temporary, and they'll thank you for it. Really. I've found myself avoiding disciplining them, only to finally put my foot down and find that life is so much easier.  Kids like structure and rules and knowing what comes next. They also like knowing that they can count on you to make the rules.

- Always reassure your kids that you are on their side, that you want for them to succeed and be happy.  Make sure they know that you love them more than they'll ever know. As obvious as it seems - they still need to hear it. Over and over again.

- You can make a meal more popular by naming it after one of your kids, and you can get a lot more cooperation around eating when you give kids a say in what's on the table.  Teach your kids to cook and bake, and about what makes a healthy meal.  

- Let your kids see you and your husband fight, not often, but show them that it's okay to get mad, to talk it out, and then to compromise and make up. And make sure they see you loving each other more than they see you mad at each other.

- Encourage your kids to take risks.  To go a little farther away from you than you're completely comfortable with.  Think about what you were doing at their age, and ask yourself if your child is as capable as you were.  If not, then try a little harder to let go.   

- Go ahead and just accept that your house is going to be just a little bit of a disaster. For years. Stay on top of laundry, dishes and the floors, and just accept the clutter and mess. Towers will get built and not put away, army guys and princesses will battle it out and you'll learn to hate Polly Pockets and tiny little lego guys with a passion.

- Periodically, throw away (or donate) a bagful of toys. They won't notice, and it'll feel great.

- Every now and again, you have to leave them. You have to walk out the door so that they know you'll always come back. You have to let them form attachments and bonds with other people, even when they hate every single second of it. It's a very fine line, balancing out meeting their needs and their wants, and even harder when those two things are completely opposite each other. But learning to be okay without you there is so critical.

- Be strong when everyone else tells you that you're wrong. If you know, absolutely, that this (whatever this is) is the right path for your child, know that you know your child better than anyone else. Everyone else can have an opinion, but not everyone else has the knowledge base that you do about your child. Consider the advice, but don't be afraid to disregard it if it flies in the face of what you know is right.

- Remember to hug each one, individually, every day. Believe me, you can overlook this accidentally if you aren't paying attention, especially as they get older. Take a minute, each day, and really connect on a one on one basis with each child.

- Every now and again, go ahead and have ice cream for dinner.

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