Before our daughter headed off to college she wrote letters to my husband and me. I cried and laughed, and then I did that combo laugh/cry/snort thing. I experienced a sense of relief because, although we weren’t finished parenting, the really hard stuff that we were responsible for was over, and according to her letter we had not crashed and burned in our attempts at raising a caring, responsible human being.
If you’re still in the parental trenches, you can breathe easy. One day a light will go on in those sweet little heads of theirs and they’ll thank you and appreciate you for the most surprising things. For example:
Stop and listen
How many times did I stop work and listen to my daughter yap about school, friends, and her big toe even though I had a deadline looming? How many times did I let the dishes stay in the sink and the laundry pile up on the floor?
Honestly, not all of the time, but enough times that it mattered. My daughter said stopping and listening “let me know that I am so much more important than the fact that it’s Monday night and your article is due the next day.”
Try, try again and then quit
Our daughter took piano lessons from the second grade until her junior year in high school and there were quite a few tears and some heavy foot stomping along the way. If I hadn’t seen her experience sincere bouts of enjoyment then I might have let her quit.
Parents have to take a long, hard look at their children to decide if the lessons (or any other activity) are worth the hassle. For the record, she thanked me for not letting her quit. Whew.
Teach by example
Our children are watching. Yes, I’ve heard that before, too, but it wasn’t until my daughter gave me specific examples did it sink in. Let me tell you, it was a sobering realization. Sobering because it scared me how many times I could have gotten it so wrong.
What did she learn by watching? Small, but important things, like making eye contact when speaking with people and handling conflict. Not participating in the mom gossip (and if I did, making sure I didn’t do it in front of her). Caring for others when they needed an extra hand, a home-cooked meal or a ride to an appointment. Embracing the elderly with respect and admiration. Using good manners, being a good friend and laughing often.
Take off the parenting hat
Talk to your kids about something other than homework and chores. Some of the best memories my daughter has are when I was being a friend and not a mom – not a cool mom without boundaries, but a mom with whom she could develop the art of conversation.
She recalled a walk we took with our dog. “We were walking the dog and talking about the “The Scorpion” and that evolved into a conversation about Osama Bin Laden and somehow that turned into a conversation about food.” It was one of our rambling conversations about nothing in particular, but those conversations meant something to her.
Here’s the thing. Develop the art of conversation with your child now and it becomes difficult for them to turn it off later. Oh, they’ll try to give you the cold shoulder and not say two words to you, and they might succeed for a short while. But, as my daughter said, “I couldn’t imagine not talking to you and trust me I’ve tried. It’s bloody difficult.”
Wear the taxi driver hat
Right now, your kids don’t show an ounce of appreciation and rarely do they throw a thank you your way for your chauffeuring duties. They have no idea how much gas costs or how quickly tires wear down. Frankly, they don’t care. However, drive time is the only time you can hold your children captive, pick their brains and teach them what good music really sounds like.
Squeeze hard and squeeze often
A hug is like a heated blanket on a cold winter’s day. A hug makes you feel loved; it makes you feel safe; it squeezes away hurt and fills the heart with warm fuzzy feelings. No matter how mad, how disappointed, how frustrated or how neutral you feel, hug hard and hug often.
Kids needs need to know you have faith in them. Even when they bomb a test or do something stupid, they need to believe that we believe they can do better.
Hey, don’t we all?