With high school in the rear view mirror, my middle son prepares to embark on a three month pre-graduation trip, and as he gets set to fly the coop, here are five things I wish I had known as I held that six and half pound bundle in my arms eighteen years ago:
1) The child they hand you in the hospital is not a blank slate.
Not by a long shot. That infant you take home has all the trappings and qualities of the adult he will one day become. You cannot make them in your own image. My children were uniquely themselves, in a way I couldn’t even fathom, on the day they were born. All you can do is help them become their best selves and embrace them as they are.
2) This parenting gig is not a sprint, it is, most definitely, a marathon.
You are going to be parenting for a long, long time. If you enjoy it, it’s a journey and if you detest it, it’s a very long haul but either way you need to preserve your stamina and your children’s stamina, so don’t talk to your first grader about college and don’t worry about it either. Believe me, you’ll be jumping off that bridge sooner than you think.
3) It’s hard to screw this up. By the time I had my kids the word “parent” (to parent) had morphed into a verb. We were all “parenting” rather than just being parents. When I was growing up, “parent” was solidly a noun, as in what you become when you raise a child. And then it got so complicated with attachment parenting, helicopter parenting, no-rescue parenting. The battles raged on about breast versus bottle, co-sleeping versus not, potty issues, working versus stay at home parent issues. There was so much external noise that I almost missed the inner voice, the one that really mattered, the one that whispered, “He’s yours and you know what’s right for him.” Listen to your gut.
4) Define the qualities that are most important to you. It’s easier to look backward than forward. Try looking forward and thinking about the qualities you want the eighteen-year old version of your baby to possess. These qualities will be different for everyone, so try not to judge others. Some people feel that learning a musical instrument is critical, and others place a premium on sports or religion. Don’t try to convince someone else that your ideas are the only ones or the best ones. If something is important to you, insist that your child puts quality effort into it.
5) It takes a village or at least a few other mothers. In each of my children’s lives, I’ve been truly blessed with fellow moms who have literally saved me. From my first bout with post natal depression to the strangling fatigue of sleepless nights-I couldn’t have done this alone. With my first child, we moms pretended that the playgroup we organized when they were three weeks old, was for the babies, even as we lay them drooling on the floor barely able to hold up their heads. At the end of the day, that group was about the moms more than the kids. You need a lifeline, reach for it and you will be enriched beyond measure.