I don't feel like a parenting expert by any means, but I have four children ranging in ages from 12 to 1-year-old. I'm raising both girls and boys, academically advanced children and a child with special needs and everything in between, I have sensitive children and some tough as nails-, I guess what I'm saying is that I've experienced the unfolding and even challenges of raising 4 separate personalities during various stages of development and I do think I've learned a few things along the way.
(I am also very wary and cautious about sharing images and information publicly about my children. Especially now that one is in middle school and active on social media in her own right. So, please note, I am sometimes purposely vague and/or withholding of certain details for their sake.)
Some friends joke that I'm a "free range" parent. And I guess, it's true. I'm not a helicopter, I don't believe that my kids need me to be right there, next to them, guiding their every move. I think kids should be able to roam and make mistakes, to learn and experience the freedom we all need, without me directing their entire day. In the 1980's, this wouldn't have been considered radical. Oh, how the times have changed.
Anyway, here are a few of my big take-away's from the last 12 years:
Your kids will have bad days/moods just like a grown-up. And it doesn't matter if they are 6 months or 6 years old. It just happens. Will it be frustrating for you to deal with? Absolutely. But when we demand that our children be chipper or find the positive or demand that they always speak calmly and perfectly, we are actually invalidating the full-spectrum of their humanity. I feel it goes without saying that obviously disrespect and other aggression's should be addressed, but in our grace and wisdom, we should know when and how to do that. In our awareness, we should do our best to recognize when our child is having an off-day and offer them space and even draw them a bath and let them know they are fully accepted how they are and are allowed to process without us breathing down their neck.
Your kids need a break. Especially as they get older and start to participate in sports or theater or other extracurricular activities. If they are struggling to get out of bed in the morning for school, maybe just let them sleep. Sporadic self-care days where they aren't forced into the daily grind teaches them to listen to their body and to respect its cycles.
Your kids are not a Mini-You. Okay, obviously, they carry your DNA. So maybe little Johnny Appleseed looks just like you when you were a kid. Or his sister, Fiona Apple, has a very similar no-nonsense temperament just like you. But guess what? Your child is a unique, sovereign person. I see a lot of parents (unintentionally) pathologizing their children by projecting their unhealed inner child onto their own children. Your wounds are not their wounds, But, you can definitely pass them on when you refuse to see your child for the whole person they are outside of you. You also miss out on how cool they are when you do this. So, when you start to see a behavior that mirrors something that happened to you in childhood or makes you uncomfortable within yourself, take a deep breath and wipe the fog from your lens: they are them and you are you. Let them be themselves, wholly and fully.
Siblings fight. Let them figure it out on their own sometimes. Siblings are a great opportunity for kids to work through not always being understood or agreed with, and they get to learn how to move through these things in the comfort of their own home. And they don't always need us to be the referee. Arguing and then problem solving or forgiving their sibling by moving through their own processes teaches them on a micro level how to deal with bigger issues later on when they are out in the world.
Let it be messy. Throw on some music, bring out the paints, markers, crayons, glitter and let the dining-room be a disaster all day long. Kids love it and brings amazing art and vibes into the home. The days are long but go quickly The dishes can wait. The laundry can wait (well if everyone has clean chonies. Ha.). Enjoy the mess and freedom of a house filled with children.
Apologize when you make a mistake. I don't always say the right thing in the right tone. Especially when I'm exhausted and all four of them are all Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom--- I mean, come on. We all have a snap point. And when I get to mine, I apologize. Mom should not speak to you that way. That is unfair. or I am a bit stressed at the moment but that does not make it okay for me to be harsh in my tone. I am sorry. Kids need to know that one, they are valued and worthy of respect and two, that when we act out of character, we need to take responsibility for our actions. Apologies are a sign of respect. I want to teach my children what respect looks like.
I'll write more about this in the future, I'm sure. But, the baby will wake soon, and I should definitely shower before that happens. Maybe that's also something I've learned: a shower in solitude is more valuable than 3 cups of coffee when it comes to filling mom's bucket.