We've lived a few different places in the life of our family of five. Ten to be exact. Usually not far from the last place we'd lived–except for that one time we crossed oceans. But that may be a story for another time–we always tried to keep our family unit strong, and our lives flexible for the next opportunity. When the kids were little, we had a few constants that kept our normalcy in rhythm and, as they grew, those things seemed to matter sometimes less, yet in other moments more.
And here lately, I've been confronted with other new things as a parent. Well...now that I think about it, isn't that the story of parenting life? Everyday brings the unexpected. Things you never thought you'd face coupled with the feeling that somewhere along the way, someone tried to tell you.
But I still feel like this is different. The house is empty. I mean, not completely as in "empty nesting" for good. But right now, it's just me in a dimly lit room near a side-table lamp in a house built in the 70s, without the convenience of overhead lighting...because we decided not to update the electrical in the front room. It's our house. At least, it has been our place for four years now. Not the house I brought babies home to, not the one we built with our own hands, a set of blueprint-sketched dreams, and every last penny we could scrounge. It's the one we bought when the kids were wearing clothes borrowed from our closets and shoes nearly as big or bigger than we had to buy for ourselves. And yet, I have a feeling it's the place that I'll forever remember as the nest that offered rest to the little fledglings who tested their wings, plummeted at times, came back, and ultimately soared far away from.
There are moments...like today when everything is so quiet that I can hear a pin drop–or, more likely, the ominous sound of conspicuous kerplunks in the ductwork that seem entirely unnoticeable when the house is full...that I sit and think about what brought us here. And a certain sadness creeps in. But, for the most part, there's a strange comfort in knowing that this is how it was always meant to be. Those precious souls entrusted to me were never mine to keep. And life goes on as the world goes round and round. Their lives. Mine.
But still I'm learning how to be their mom. It means something different than it used to. Most days it looks like listening to their stories when they care to share. Feeding them when they come around, and secretly hoping they will ask my opinion on at least one little thing in their lives. It looks like hugs and kisses that rarely come other than to say hello and goodbye.
These times, I'm finding are just as precious as the moments I captured on video when they would express their inner toddler selves. For in front of me stands a life that I had part in nurturing to become, what I hope, is the best version of who they are meant to be. But I don't think we got here by accident.
As a young mom, I loved to schedule things. Laundry day. Family nights. Date nights–all the things that were important to our family life. It was essential for a person like me to maintain some semblance of sanity. It came in handy too, when trying to keep up with individual schedules as the kids got further and further into their lives of independence. But flexibility was, in my mind, always a given–Warning: things are never a given when it comes to kids. That's not fair. You know, that whole: "you should know better"? Hogwash. In fact, I think I went overkill on expectation and planning at times because occasionally when things aren't done the way we have previously discussed, my kids still seem to suffer a little anxiety over it. And so I've realized even with a plan, we miss things as parents.
And that's okay.
What matters is that we went into this intentionally, and our plan has always been to see them through–not until the day they leave our home–but as long as we are blessed to share life.
When I talk to parents today about my own phase of life and parenting when they might be looking for the best tips to get through toddler days and can't really relate to teenage talk, my first reminder is always: you're in it for the long haul. Never forget that. Toddler days are challenging, and books and courses have been written about how to help you through emotional and physical stages of those wondrous years. You should read them. But for your own mindset, parent, please never lose sight of how that incredible personality of a 3-year-old will come through as a teen stretching her wings even further. It's all connected.
I guess what I'm saying is, that when you come to this turn in the road that takes you to more and more of those quieter days, you might be just fine–loving it, perhaps. Because you meant to come here.
As I've thought on all of these things, I've come to a few conclusions about mindset. Practical how-to's for specific issues? Probably not. But overall, what I believe will benefit us as we seek to maintain the best relationship possible with our precious people. I hope they help you, parent.
1. Mindset: I'm not in a rush
–This is a lifelong journey–not a sprint through infancy, onto preschool, elementary, high school, and then to college. (even though that all does seem like a blur)
–Know as much as you can about what your child's developmental stage is as you confront each one, but never lose sight of the fact that, if you are both blessed with life, this is not the end all. That mindset changes how you look at the gravity of any given situation.
2. Mindset: I can't control everything
–Constantly exchange dependence for independence. I have learned that this is hard for most of us, but something I was so blessed to receive as a child whose parents viewed me not as an 8-year-old all my life, but as I grew, respected me for each stage I was in. Mind you, I didn't always get to do what I wanted, but there's a beauty in watching your child do for themselves what once they couldn't. It should be gradual, age appropriate, but it should be ongoing. So often I see parents halt around the 10-year mark, afraid that their soon-to-be teen will slip into a life of debauchery should they be allowed to have a playdate without mom.
–I must add here that firm rules are still okay. We had a "no sleepover" policy in our home for most of the years our kids lived here. By the time we had let them sleep somewhere else, we had every conversation we could think of to explore the potential scenarios that could come up, and they were old enough, aware enough, to get out of any situation that would make them uncomfortable. That's just one example. Rules are fine, even though they won't always keep them. But at one point, they will make up their own rules, and we have to be prepared for that.
3. Mindset: My door's is always open, but I respect that yours is sometimes closed.
–Talk about everything, LISTEN, but be at peace with not knowing everything. Most parents say that their kids can tell them anything...but here's the thing. They won't. Ugh. That one hurts. Our kids need to hear from us about where we stand, how we feel, what we believe, and what we expect of them. But from the time they can scheme to "not tell mom or dad" about something–you know, like age 2–we will be in the dark about parts of their lives. Acting like we can or should know everything is just hard on everyone.
–And, boy, is this one tricky! Discretion and a lot of prayer play a part here. There seems to be an epidemic of anxiety and depression in our children which indicates that we are not talking, listening, or maintaining healthy conversation. But we can try. Know when to knock on that closed door and insist that you are there for them, like it or not.
4. Mindset: I know I can't do it all.
–Ask for help, and even hand over the baton at times. There's a reason for the saying: "it takes a village". The momentary embarrassment of what you think you don't have the answer for is worth the exchange of talking it out with someone who has been there before you. Read all the books. Talk with your trusted people.
–Sometimes your kid doesn't need you. Painful, I know. But the power behind the exact words you would say to them that they hear from another trusted voice is invaluable. And honestly, even if it's not the advice you would give, the beauty of them finding a certain liberty in life choices, and the evaluation of different outcomes is a lesson they must learn. It's what we're striving for.
5. Mindset: I see the good.
–Expect them to choose well. There's nothing worse than feeling like someone expects you to fail all the time. But how often do we assume our kid's going to get in trouble? I remember a teacher who refused to give one of my children a good grade because "they must have cheated" since they had rarely applied themselves in class that way before. It did more damage to their drive, academically than I think they realize even to this day. Failure is inevitable, but if our children believe that we see the best in them, chances are, they will see the good in themselves, and therefore, make better choices more often. The truth is, my child always had the potential of that great project within them, and the good choice to bring it out should have been the expectation all along. There should have been no surprise that they finally got an A+, because the potential of them performing that way should have always been recognized.
–There's pressure attached to this one. Sometimes our child will think that she is expected to be perfect if there's not balance in our reaction to when she chooses to smoke when pressured, stay out past curfew, skip that homework assignment, or simply sneak that cookie before dinner when she knows the rules. React well to their poor choices, believing they have the good sense and strength to choose better next time.
6. Mindset: My journey matters.
–Share your wisdom. I've been mulling over a lot of parenting talks and ideas for nearly a year. But I've been reluctant to share for fear that people will think I've got it all together and be sorely disappointed when they see the truth: our family is not perfect. But what I'm finding is that I'm learning from other people, and they are learning from me...regardless of our imperfections that we rarely show on our carefully curated social media feeds. So I've decided to share mine, and I hope you will too!
What's your greatest parenting lesson learned thus far?