When we found out we were having a baby over 40 years ago, we were like most young parents. We were excited and terrified. What if we weren’t good parents? What if we weren’t ready? What if we were too hard or too soft and ended up with a brat? These babies didn’t come with manuals and all we had to fall back on was the way we were raised. We might not have agreed with everything our parents did, but we didn’t turn out too badly, so good point of reference. Of course, we fell in love with each and every one of our kids and we got better over time in how to handle things. We can’t claim to have been perfect parents, just loving, caring ones that made our share of mistakes. With the first one, everything is a first, but by the third one, it was old hat. We started out thinking we had to have the perfect child, and then realized, they just needed to be happy kids.
As our kids grew up, we ended up with “extras”; kids that hung around the house a lot, spent the night or weekend, and called us Mom and Dad. They knew they could always talk to us, ask for advice, or cry on our shoulders. We helped when we could and filled in when their parents weren’t available. It just seemed natural. We were part of a group now. An elite group called “parents” and we bonded without even knowing each other. The welfare of other kids was as important as our own. It’s like the automatic reaction you have to a kid calling out in a department store for his mother. Every mom within hearing range looks up, her radar on and eyes alert, even when she didn’t go shopping with her own kids. I react strongly every time I hear a young baby crying hard and see frustrated young parents. You know you can’t go snatch the baby away and cuddle him to calm him, explaining to the parents that it’s nothing they did wrong. You just force yourself to walk away and smile about the times it happened to you. All the things you would have done in that situation flying through your thoughts. They will learn. They will get better. They will make their mistakes. Just like you did and millions of parents around the world will do.
You start out parenting by believing that you only need to get through the first 18 years and then you can breathe. Nothing could be further from the truth. Parenthood begins with that first child, but never ends. My oldest is 41 and it doesn’t matter how long ago she left the nest, I still worry, fuss, and guide. More from a distance now, but the need to parent remains. And when you think they’ve grown enough to let up on the reins a bit, they introduce grandchildren and the cycle begins again. You get to be more fun with grandchildren, but when they are in your care, you are still parenting. It does give you that opportunity to play “O Wise One” by calming that hysterical grandchild with a little cooing and rocking, or showing off by grasping that baby’s ankles, lifting up and whipping off that diaper and sliding another one under them so fast that it looks like you’re roping a calf in competition. Time? 8 seconds! The look on their faces is priceless. You get to play “Savior” by stepping in and saying, “Go get some sleep while I take care of the baby” or “Let me get up with the little one for the 2am feeding, so you can sleep for 6 hours straight.” You know exactly how they feel and you know what to do. And then you get to go home. All of that practice paid off.
In some respects it’s a thankless job and yet, one of the most wonderful experiences in life. You can’t keep score with anyone over how many noses you wiped or diapers you changed, how many time outs you called, or how many times you managed to keep all of them from fighting all day. No, you just sigh with relief when they are tucked into bed for the night and you see those beautiful faces in the light of the nightlight. Most of the time, you can only pat yourself on the back for not giving them away that day and get on with the next day. At least when they grow up, you get to hear what a great mom you were or how much all of their friends loved coming over because you were the cool parents. I love being asked as they are struggling to deal with their own child, “Was I like this? Did I do these things? Did I give you a hard time like this?” I smile and chuckle. “Yes, my darlings, that and more. Paybacks are hell.”
So, just remember a few things when you decide to have children.
1. They are yours for safe keeping. At any time, something could take them away from you. There is nothing more precious.
2. What they see, hear, and do is a reflection of you. They learn the most from you and in the first 5 years. You don’t have a lot of time to figure this out.
3. Do everything with their best interest in mind. You are no longer the most important person in the world. You are the one that needs to make sacrifices, not them.
4. Give love, get love. What you show them in loving ways, they will return to you again and again.
5. Raise them to be happy, healthy, and productive people. Offering them the right opportunities in life is a gift that keeps on giving. It’s not always about money or status or prestige. It’s about love, respect, compassion, and understanding.
6. There are going to be trying times and you will ask yourself what you are doing wrong often. Just remember the above 5 things, and it will all sort itself out. We can only be the best parent we know how to be, so don’t give up, keep learning, and be open to the changes. A flower can’t bloom and grow to its potential in hard, dry, cracked soil.
7. Let go when it’s time to let go. That’s a tough one.