What I Have Learned In 18 Years of Parenting

Our daughter turned 18 today!  It is an amazing time to watch so much unfold in her life!  I was thinking yesterday about being a parent for 18 years.  It has been quite a journey of self-discovery for me as a parent and person and a joy to discover who this other person is and to help guide that.

Parenting, in some ways, is a crazy job.  I mean, if I worked at a corporate job for 18 years, I would be at some fantastic senior level and would have it all down pat with  my  vast wisdom and knowledge from the things I have seen over the years.

Parenting isn’t really like that.  That is because every stage that your first child goes through, it’s the first time for you as a parent (whether that child  is 6 or 16 or 26) or if you are going through  the years with subsequent children it is bound to be completely different as all children are amazing individuals with incredible paths and journeys of their own.

However, I do think there are a few things I have taken away in 18 years of doing this that can encourage anyone –

  1.  You have got this!  It is easy to think when you are in the trenches that you are doing everything wrong, perhaps a cute monkey could do a better job raising your child at this moment, you aren’t sure you are doing the right thing…. and yet, for the most part for most children, stages pass and things even out, the things you worried so much about faded away.
  2. Plan for play and  fun!  I think if we can agree that most of the time things work out, and we provide balance, play and fun is something that children often need.  The world is much more highly stressful and structured with adult-led activities for children than it was even when we started out 18 years ago, and I think all children, teens, and adults need play. Play  as a family also helps build up a good memory bank so when things are hard or stressful, you have good connections to fall back on which opens up communication.
  3. There is no gift to children like time and attentive presence. The days are long, but the years are short, as the saying goes.  We all do the best we can do with this within the confines of our personalities, our own financial situations, etc., but providing time and a listening ear can go a long way!
  4. Balance is a key thing to help along.  Most children cannot provide balance to themselves as a developmental task, so it is our job as parents to guide things through our own modeling, through the use of rhythm in our home, through providing work as a balance to play, and to nurture responsibilty that comes with freedom.
  5. Every child is an individual, but every child is also a generalist.  By that I mean that I truly believe every child can learn to express themselves through the arts, to learn how to move their body best within their capacities, and to become someone who is kind, compassionate, and who can emotionally relate to others.  Yes, children and teens may find interests and passions in life, but being a generalist is a great foundation for life.
  6. Stability helps, but sometimes life just throws things at you.   We can teach our children to be resilient, and I don’t think we should be protecting our children from failure or from making mistakes or from learning mistakes.  Mistakes are life, and so are curveballs.  Instead, teaching a positive attitude and how to adapt becomes really important, along with boundaries and how those can help us build the life we want, even when things don’t go the way we wanted.

My top suggestions for those of you just starting out on your parenting journey:

Books and the Internet are helpful, but probably what is most helpful is to build up your own in person, in real life community (even if you meet them over the Internet first LOL).  My close friends have saved me so many times with their laughter, support, encouragement, love, gift of their time.  Every parent deserves that!

Start saving for college or trade school right away. This is so much more valuable than any baby shower gift.  Even if it is a small amount, it really helps in launching young adults out into the world.  Every little bit helps!  (Sorry, college applications on the brain!)

Enjoy parenting !  Sometimes you won’t enjoy every part of it, and some parents enjoy some stages more than other stages.  That doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you human.

And most of all, try to spend some time nurturing yourself and your close relationships in the midst of the busy in whatever way that means for you!  It’s hard to let things go for 18 years and then  try to get it all back!

Lots of love to you all, celebrating this happy day!

Carrie