After thirty one years teaching in a parent education classroom, I offer these thoughts. Take what you need and leave the rest.
Your own self care is the most important investment you make in your family. Eat well, sleep well, move a bit, listen to great music, watch crappy TV, get lucky, and treat yourself to time away without feeling guilty about it. Know what your self care plan is and practice it, religiously. Do you, you owe you to yourself and to your family.
Your kid is this once in a lifetime magical combination of genetics and experience and YOU are the lucky one who gets to raise him/her/them, how cool is that? Be a fanatical fan of your child. Children do better when they have champions. Be on the same team. Give them the best stuff you’ve got. Your time, your energy, your silly self, and a place to call home. A home that is comfy, predictable, and safe.
Discipline is defined as “to teach”. No one learns best by being scared, belittled, or mocked. Good teaching leaves you feeling inspired. The foundation of good discipline is dignity. All behavior is communication. Be nice to them, be firm, but be nice about it. And teach, by example, with your words, with your actions, with your heart. Your kids need a parent, they will have plenty of friends in their life, but only two parents. Be reliable, fair, and consistent.
You are raising children, really little children. They don’t know better because they have very limited life experience to draw on to shape their behavior and relationships. They have a lot to learn. You are going to need to teach some lessons like a gazillion times. It is imperative that you keep the faith. They are little, let them be. Slather on the patience, like you do sunscreen.
Children have a right to a Playful early childhood. Don’t get too caught up in a “readiness obsessed” culture. Your kids learn about the world through a lens that we, as adults, have long forgotten. The lens is filtered with joy, curiosity, silliness, and a sense that they can do anything. Your job is to support play, the foundation of learning, with plenty of time, space, and support that they need to do their work. Play is messy, chaotic, nonsensical, and self motivated. Fight for it as a matter of social justice.
Get out. Go outside to play, walk, hike, swim, bike, and breathe. Teach your kids to be good stewards of our planet by engaging with it. Help them fall in love with clean air, clean water, wildlife, plants, trees, and flowers so they will grow up to be people who fight to protect it all. Nature gives you perspective, peace, and wonder but you gotta get out of your car once in awhile to soak it all in.
Don’t rely too much on social media to meet your need for connecting. There really are no substitutes for real friends and real shared experiences. Don’t wait until your house is clean enough, or it will never happen. Getting together with family and friends builds memories and writes your story of friendship. Let your guard down, be real, be vulnerable. There is nothing like your “chosen family”. At the end of the day, hashtags, likes, and retweets do not offer to babysit your kids when you have a migraine.
Be kind to your parents. They are going to give your kids straight up, undiluted apple juice behind your back, so there is that. Let them know what you need and ask for it. Share your kids with them. Set limits with them when you need to. Allow them to spoil your kids a bit. Give them the gift of time with your children. There is no prize for going it alone.
You can rewrite your parenting story. If your story is toxic, cut bait. You are not your mother, or your father. You can do better, I have seen it over and over again. If the family that you grew up in was a giant mess, get the help you need so you don’t bring that toxicity into your new family. If there were some great moments you want to carry with you, grab them and hold on tight. Leave the other junk behind. This takes cognitive and emotional practice, lots and lots of practice. Do not give up. Just keep working on it, your kids are counting on you.
Be a couple. Be committed to focusing on the 80% of your partner that you fell in love with. That other 20%? Do your best to be fascinated by what you have to learn from those quirky, odd, weird, and often annoying character flaws. You prob wont change that 20% so do your best to let it go. Being in a committed relationship gives you a live in BFF, a live in co-parent, and a live in chore sharer, who wants to go it alone? If you can’t stay together, be parents first, always, but try like heck to stay together.
Be a good Neighbor. Show up where it matters to you. A strong community is an essential element of a safe, secure childhood. Know your neighbors. Hire the kid next door to mow your lawn. Shovel the sidewalk for the old lady on the block. Buy crappy fundraiser stuff from the kid brave enough to ring your doorbell, no matter where he goes to school. Pay top dollar for any child who has a lemonade stand. Volunteer in schools. Be a good Minnesotan. Care about ALL kids. Engage and vote. Be a part of the policy discussions around areas of interest to you.
You are not your clean house, your weight, your education level, your fashion sense, your chaos, your clutter, your bills, or your google calendar. What you ARE is the love that you share. You are love. Connect with your spiritual self, in whatever way that works for you. You will need something bigger than yourself to guide your journey. And love, love big. Love yourself, love your kids, love your partner, love your friends, love your family, love our neighbor, love your pet, love your life. Choose love, every single time. You will find yourself there. And know, without a doubt, how much I love you.