OK, so there is a lot of parenting advice out there.
Books, articles, advice (solicited and unsolicited) from friends, family, and mothers-in-law. It can be overwhelming to remember, evaluate, and apply to your daily life. I’ve found much of my parenting decisions default to WWMMD: What Would My Mom Do?
But I have gleaned a few parenting mantras that didn’t necessarily come from my own mother or mother-in-law. Rather, they’re a collection of learnings from articles, books, advice, and experience (and even a Disney movie). They’re easy to remember, and although I don’t always succeed in their execution, I am trying.
Isn’t that the best any of us can do?
1. You feel what you feel, and those feelings are real
So yes, I’m quoting Sven from Frozen 2 here, but said another way, I try to acknowledge my child’s feelings even when I’m frustrated and they’re on my last nerve. I don’t always succeed, and sometimes I yell or put them in time-out, but I’ve read so many articles about the importance of validating their feelings, and I’ve seen it work in practice, especially as my kids are growing and I’m getting to know them better.
Having a child who deeply feels all the feelings (otherwise known as an empath) has made me more aware of my own feelings, and I’m learning to be more empathetic. As L.R. Knost, an author, feminist, and social justice advocate with parenting quotes all over Instagram, says, “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join in their chaos.” So sometimes, I need to take a deep breath and ask a few questions to get to the root of a problem.
2. Sit on your hands
Often this means literally. As your kids are learning to do things themselves, it’s easy to grow impatient and step in to help them zip their coat, buckle their seatbelt, or put on their shoes. But not letting them try is only teaching them they’re not capable. So, sit on your hands if you have to.
Luckily, my youngest has been my parenting guru for this mantra. “My do it myself!” was one of her first sentences, and I’m grateful for her assertive reminder to step back and let her try unless she asks for my assistance. As my oldest has grown and gone off to elementary school, I’ve started weighing the consequences when she forgets things like returning a library book, bringing her water bottle, or packing her show-and-share item for school. By not running home to retrieve the forgotten item, I hope I’m teaching her responsibility and resilience now when the consequences may only include a couple of tears at school.
3. Limits show love
When my oldest daughter was a toddler, I was a stay-at-home mom for a brief stint. She and I would spend our days visiting the library, doing errands, and more. But I made a parenting mistake I still see manifested in her years later. Whether we were at the grocery store, HomeGoods, or Target, I’d always buy her a little something. It got to the point when she’d ask complete strangers in the grocery store if she could get a box of Disney Princess fruit snacks after I told her no (thank you to the strangers gently telling her, “You have to go ask your mom”!).
Yes, these are small choices early in life, but I didn’t do a very good job setting limits at her young age. And she still has an expectation of acquiring something new every time we go anywhere, whereas her younger sister doesn’t even ask.
I know this is a small example, but as they grow, boundaries are an important way to show your kids you love them. As teens, they will be bent on pushing back against the limits we set for them as a test of this love. So, starting when they’re young will help (at least that’s what I tell myself).
4. Let them get bored
I like playing with my kids… to a point. Building a LEGO set, playing a board game, or having a dance party are a few ways I enjoy spending time with my kids. But being the constant entertainment source for my children is exhausting. And often guilt is added to the pressure of finding activities, crafts, and games to play. When I opt out of playtime, sometimes I feel guilty for not soaking up every single play-with-me-mom moment of their childhood.
But the experts agree, boredom can be an invitation to imagine, invent, and create. It also teaches children it’s OK to sit with their own thoughts. So, letting them get bored is actually a gift, not something we should feel guilty about.
5. The days are long, but the years are short
But back to soaking in every moment. I think “The days are long, but the years are short” is the most real parenting quote I’ve ever read. And I use it as my own reminder to be present. I’ve made an effort to put my phone down more, even resisting the urge to photograph every activity or adorable face because I’ve realized it makes me happier to pause, look up, and engage with what’s happening around me.
Long, lonely nights spent nursing to the glow of my phone are only a memory. Some nights, I now find myself scrolling through old videos of my kids on my phone while my husband is watching football or after he’s gone to bed. I wonder how I’ve already forgotten the sound of their little baby voices, how I translated their toddler talk, and how were they ever so little.
I think I’m currently living in one of those sweet spots of parenthood. My kids play together, say “I love you” unprompted, and give out spontaneous hugs. They still climb into our bed for a snuggle almost every morning and believe a princess bandage can heal most wounds. My mind will wander as I stay in the snuggle some early mornings. I can’t help but notice how long my 7-year-old’s legs have become as she lays next to me or how much heavier my 4-year-old feels as I help lift her in bed. I remember wishing away those long, lonely nights, early morning wakeups, and mundane days in the moment. I remember looking forward to a time when things would get easier. I think I’m here now.
Sometimes, the days are still long, but I’m trying not to wish them away because I know sweet spots don’t last forever either.