I learned a lot of lessons while parenting my three, beautiful, unique daughters. I also learned some lessons from teaching high school, middle school and elementary school for 32 years. I learned these lessons not from doing things right, the best or even on the equal side of good. I learned them because I am innately a screw up in interpersonal relationships. I will discuss that at a later time, but right now I want to talk about the lessons I learned the hard way, and thus they stuck like using Super Glue on your palms and then putting them together and expecting them to come apart.
Parenting Lessons that left me black and blue.
Lesson 1. The saying ‘pick your battles wisely’ is too short and does not tell you how to pick said battle. I picked a lot of wrong battles and did not fight others I should have. I learned that the battles you never quit on are the battles that you know will impact the human you are raising all their life – even to the grave. Making your bed and cleaning your room they will learn once they leave the house if you along the way taught this, even if it was a yearly occurrence. Not a battle to get invested in even if it drives you up the wall. Getting their education is a battle to fight to the death because it will impact what kind of job, what kind of life, and whether the young human can reach for their dreams or not.
Lesson 2. Teaching choices is critical, but only effective if they understand and look at not only the benefits, but the down side and all the responsibility that each choice comes with. One thing I apparently did well with my oldest, that I just figured my next younger one got by osmosis, was to tell her at 14 years of age, since she was entering high school, if she decided to open her legs for sex, and got pregnant, not to expect me to allow her to dump her child on me, or to get an abortion, or put the child up for adoption. She needed to be ready to raise this child, nor not have sex. She recently told me that scared her enough that she waited until she was 18, had a job and was basically on her own before she did this.
Lesson 3. Children are in need of boundaries. But with different children, this may look different. Because I may not have liked the boundaries my parents set, to go really liberal and have little to none for my child, does not mean this is the best for that child. It may will make my job harder. Oh they push on these, and fight with you, especially in the teen years. However, if they are good boundaries that protect, and you hold firm, then the child may step over the fence a little, but they will not get lost in the chaos of life. One of my children only needed a fence of twine, and another needed a steel wall. So what this is like will depend on the intelligence, temperament and need of the child. Each of my children now that they have reached parenthood themselves have thanked me for this, even though I started to go grey in my 30’s.
Lesson 4. You can never give them too much love, but you can give them too much stuff. Money, things and no time is not love. Sitting and listening to the stories of their day, and the dramas that you see as petty, will mean more to your young human than all the Nintendo games on the market. Also, it will give you understanding on your child and how to set boundaries, and if they get out in the field of chaos, how to find them and bring them back.
Lesson 5. Our children are mirrors sometimes of our worst selves. So when they are really acting up, we need to ask what need they are not having filled, and if that does not yield and answer, who are they mimicking. (Ouch, some days this really sucked to ask.)
Lesson 6. Accept that when they make a mistake, it is because they are human, and we need to look and see if the lesson from the mistake is learned. If it is, then we need to start to trust. But sometimes when the trust is broken badly by a mistake, this is not going to be an easy or quick event. It may take years, even going into their adulthood. Broken trust is usually broken on both sides. So building this only comes from both sides being able to be transparent and open in communication, and both sides being willing and able to take the part of the blame that is theirs. And both sides wanting and working to build it back. It may well be that there will never be the trust that was once there, or it may look very different after the event.
Lesson 7. Never discipline your young human when you are not in a place you can respect yourself. I am not talking about stopping them from running out into 12 lanes of traffic at rush hour when you feel bad about yourself. I am talking about when a discipline needs to be given, and it is going to be one with long term consequences that will need to be upheld. If done while the parent is not respecting his or her self, then the child will not respect the discipline. If it is a discipline that you would accept for yourself if the table was turned, and you could do it with dignity and learn from the experience, then it will be an appropriate one for the child. There will be no end of yelling and screaming matches if respect is not in discipline. When a child yells, they are not respecting you, himself or the process. If you are doing this respecting yourself, then you will not feel the need to yell back, and can see that if the child yells, they are wrong, just at a higher decibel than they were the moment before. Usually, you can say, “We need to take a time out, and will come back to finish this” and then discipline with a clear head. Or when they are no longer yelling. You do not always have to discipline in the moment. Especially with teens. In fact, when you do this, it scares the shit out of them. Stop trying to discipline when said young human starts to yell. Let them yell for a moment, and then tell them, in a very, very soft voiced, that if they continue, then they will have less ground to negotiate on, as they are digging themselves into a hole. To go to this quiet place, you have to be in control of yourself, and this control only comes when you are respecting yourself.
Lesson 8. None of us are perfect parents. None of us were perfect children. And what works at one point in a life to teach a person changes as the person gains life experiences. We, and they, have to learn to be open to the one thing none of us like – change. When we quit changing, we have a dead life. How we change is always in the hands of the individual. If an individual is closed to listening to us, even for a season, then sometimes, to keep the change in a positive forward motion, we need to seek out people who will help our child change in the appropriate direction for a full life, not a life full of dead ends, but a life with roots and wings. A person they will listen to, and one we can trust. Sometimes the person who worked last month, is not longer a person we can use this month. Not easy.