No More Single Digits: More Thoughts on Parenting

It’s official. As of this morning, our house has no more people with ages in the single digits. MC is 10, and she’s been looking forward to today for weeks (in true MC fashion). She has the week off (because Maine schools give students a week long break twice after Christmas, supposedly so the kids in the north could help with potato harvests, back in the day), so she’s living it up for the whole week.

It’s always fun to see my kids grow and watch as their interests develop over time. MC can be super focused on whatever project she’s working on, and she’s got the patience to stick with them over time. She made a rubber band bracelet that’s probably something like 7 yards long. She loves playing Minecraft and Zelda (and is always a sucker for any video game that’s handy), and watches Netflix with abandon. She loves to build things, and she’s way into puzzles.

I see some of myself in each of my kids, though with three, different parts of me come out at different times. Sometimes that’s a good thing. When they’re doing things the way I would do them (and experience has taught me that particular way is good), then yay! When they’re making the same mistakes I make? That’s rougher, especially since there’s no real way to convince them that I’ve already been down that path, and they don’t need to do it too. Then there’s times that you wish they would do things the way you would do them, and it’s frustrating to see them make different choices.

Not that any of that has to do with MC’s birthday, or anything that she’s doing right now. Rather, it’s been a learning experience for me, as I’ve had to discover (lo and behold) that my way isn’t always the right way, and that other approaches can be as good or better. That’s something you don’t really get the chance to learn through a relationship other than a parent. With every other interaction in my life, I was never “in charge” of that person. I can’t tell my friends what to do (well, I can, but it doesn’t work out that well), and the same goes for family. Children, on the other hand, are people you at least theoretically have some control over. Finding the balance between giving them free rein and giving them the guidance they need to succeed is a tricky thing. With Tomas, I think we were much more heavy handed than was helpful. It just seemed to make sense: if you want it done right, make sure they do it the right way. But you see over time that simply doing everything you can to make your child succeed doesn’t actually help them in the long run, since they also need to learn how to get things done on their own. (Not that Tomas doesn’t know how to get things done on his own, but if I’d laid off a bit, he would have had an easier time of it, I think.)

Some friends of mine just had their first baby, and the father has asked me for advice multiple times. That, plus this birthday, has gotten me into a very reflective frame of mind. So much of parenting advice seems to conflict with itself, and I think some of that is because parenting is full of self-correction. You go too far one way, and then you have to compensate in the other. Back and forth, back and forth, and you do your best to do it right. And when you finally “figure it out” with one kid, you realize that each kid is different, and you have to figure it out all over again with the next.

So my advice might be totally wrong for a different child, but how is that helpful advice? In the end, here’s what I’ve come up for that might be universally applicable to parenting:

  • Keep your relationship with your spouse strong. Assuming it’s a good, healthy one to begin with, the best thing for a family will be for that husband/wife relation to be the core of it. Spouse comes before child, though that might seem counterintuitive. Kids come and go. Your spouse does not. The two of you raise the child together. If you’re not on the same page, everything else is going to get much, much more difficult.
  • Communication is key. Telling a kid “because I said so” might seem to work for a while, but there will come a time when that won’t cut it anymore, and if you don’t have any better reason for why you’re asking them to do something, then maybe you shouldn’t be asking them to do it.
  • Consistency helps an awful lot. Consistency between what you and your spouse tell your child. Consistency in house rules. Consistency in expectations. That said . . .
  • It’s okay to admit you’re wrong. In fact, it’s important. You will make mistakes. That’s okay. Kids need to know how to handle mistakes, and you can show them by example. So if there’s a rule you’ve made that’s not working, have a conversation about it, and change course. A family is a living thing. It will need to change and adapt over time.
  • Be their parent, not their friend. It’s not that you’re supposed to be friends with your kids, but parents aren’t friends. They’re like friends, but different. As a parent, you will have to do things at times that no friend will do. You have to be the bad guy. You have to enforce rules. And you have to have your kid’s respect so that those rules will be followed.
  • You need your kids to know they will be accepted and loved no matter what. You might not always love what they’re doing, but you still love them. If your kid makes a mistake, they need to know they can tell you, and you’re not going to overreact. Otherwise, they just won’t tell you. Secret mistakes have a habit of becoming much, much larger mistakes.
  • You need to do things together, even if the thing they want to do isn’t something you’d normally want to do. One of the biggest ways to show love is to give your time to someone else. Not begrudgingly, but because you genuinely want to do what they want to do. By spending time with them, you’ll know them much better, and they’ll know you. Yes, you have to make money to support the family, but you also have to invest a whole lot of time. Without that time investment, everything else suffers.

I’m sure I could go on for a while longer on my soapbox, but that’s all I’ve got time for now. I have definitely not done all of those things perfectly, but I think I’ve always had those as the goal. I do wonder what things I’ve done as a parent will be the things my kids later on swear that they’ll do differently, because they didn’t like it. I’m sure there’s a list, but I’m not sure that I actually want to ever see it . . .

In any case, happy birthday, MC!


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