After 10 years of children, I feel like I have learned some things. Definitely not everything. I am not Super Woman, or Wonder Woman, or any kind of superhero. Every day I’m learning something new. But here are some thoughts that, after 10 years in the trenches, seem to have stood the test of time, at least for this mama.
Pick your battles. You’ve definitely heard this before, but it is true. (Ground rules are non-negotiable, obviously.) Letting my toddler twins eat popcorn for breakfast on the way to preschool so they won’t have a tantrum after I wake up with a migraine is just saving myself more pain. The next day they’ll probably freak out when I make them eat a banana instead of popcorn, but I’m better able to deal with it at that point. And the day after that, they won’t even think about popcorn. Sometimes it’s not worth a fight. Remember — you can always offer them a choice, but both those choices are things YOU want them to do. “Let’s get dressed, do you want a red shirt or a blue one?” With four kids, our standards are pretty low: If it’s not bleeding or on fire, let it be.
What you think is important actually isn’t. My son had a pacifier until he was 4 years old. His teeth are fine. I had to formula feed all four of my kids due to medication I was taking to keep me from getting very, very sick. They still grew. My mother-in-law always says, “They won’t go to college wearing diapers,” and guess what, she’s right. I have and still do worry so much about these parts of parenting, despite knowing that in the big picture they don’t matter that much. But what really terrifies me is figuring out how to make sure my child is kind, honest, giving, and helpful to others — and even with his own siblings. This is the important stuff — and the stuff that’s much harder to figure out. I think there is endless Pinterest and Instagram advice about the small parenting things because we are all scared to tackle the big parenting things — and it takes more time, more thought and more effort to go into them. A lot of parenting is trial and error and with parenting multiple children that is always true.
Stay home, or work, or both. I’ve done both. The child I stayed home with and the children I had while I was working (and chose to stay working) seem to be making equally good progress in life. What’s key here: Do what works for you and your family, and reassess after every baby. There’s no right choice, only the right choice for you at that moment in time. What’s best for your kids now may not be later, and what’s best for you now may not be in a few years. Things may change later, and that’s okay, too.
Follow through. Set basic consequence rules ahead of time with your children so they know what to expect. If you threaten no TV for a week (don’t ever do this, you’ll be the one who pays when you just need 30 minutes to fold the *%&$! laundry), you better be prepared to follow through on that and have your co-parent back you up. Different consequences work for different kids, so they might not always be fair but they should be all equal. If you threaten to leave [insert fun place here] if your child repeats XYZ behavior, and they do it, then leave. My toddlers test their boundaries every second, so I’ve learned the hard way I have to do what I say or I pay for it later.
Give yourself a break. I don’t mean run off to the spa. I mean let it go. If someone wants to wash your dishes, let them. If you’re nursing a newborn and someone texts and asks if you need anything at the store, say YES. Don’t feel bad. One of the hardest things for me in becoming a parent was letting go of control over everything. I’ve learned over and over the hard way that I don’t need to be the one to do everything, and how as long as it gets done, it doesn’t matter too much in the end how. Extend some grace to yourself and you’ll be much happier.
Spend your time wisely. This is the ever so popular #selfcare part of this post, but I mean it in this way: To the extent you reasonably can, don’t spend time doing things that don’t fill your cup. You’ll only end up more drained in the end and have wasted the time (which is most precious). Forget the airplane oxygen mask analogy (helping yourself first before you help your child). Motherhood is really more a minivan — you’re driving, and they’re all in the back screaming. Make sure the tires your precious babies are riding on are in good shape (you are in good shape) so you can steer the ship and arrive safely.
Hearing “I lub you, Mama,” is the greatest gift ever given. So try your best, love them your hardest, and they will be okay. I promise.
What’s your best parenting advice?