The Best Parenting Advice We've Ever Received
It was 2012 and we were having a girls’ weekend at the home of fellow Mama Who Knows It, Ann. Ann’s kids were almost 3 and 1 year’s old at the time, and I didn’t have children of my own yet (although I would by the next year). As we were watching the kids run around and were talking about child rearing in general, Ann’s husband Adam said: “Your life isn’t your own for about 8 to 10 years. It just isn’t.”
What I think he meant by that—or how I interpreted it—is that a lot of the things you do in your free time as an adult you flat out won’t have time for when you have young children. Time you had after work to cook, eat, watch TV, read a book, or hang out with friends is now used exclusively for rushing to feed tired children, bathing them and getting them to bed, laying down in exhaustion on the couch, and rousing yourself to get up to prepare for the next day. Time you had on the weekends to run errands, see movies, engage in hobbies, and be lazy is now set aside for a parade of birthday parties, sports events, and other extracurricular activities.
At the time I remember thinking to myself, “Wow. Really?!” I’d never heard any parent say that before and when I got home I talked to my husband about it. After much discussion, we ended up embracing that thought as we planned to have children. We started seeing parenthood as a contract we were signing that said: “My life will not be my own for a while; it will be about my kids. And I’m okay with that.”
It was an important realization for me because my first 30+ years of life had been all about me (and then for those last few years about my husband, too). And it’s a big change going from a daily existence of “What do I need?” to a whirlwind of caring for someone who needs, basically, everything and can barely communicate with you.
Some parents may take issue with considering that their life is not their own for the first years of their children’s lives, and I get that. It sounds like you lose your sense of self, and nobody wants that. But I’ve also shared this story with other people with young kids and gotten the response: “Huh. I really wish someone would have told us that because sometimes we look at each other and wonder what happened to our lives.”
Now that I’ve laid out this could-be-interpreted-as-bleak outlook on early parenthood, I’ll say that now with an almost 4 year old and a 20 month old, there are definitely traces of our pre-parent lives coming back. We love to travel near and far and have brought our kids on 10 vacations and road trips this year so far (with 3 more to go!). We love to bike, and we strap them on their bike seats on the weekends and go for a ride when we can. But my weekend afternoons of cooking up a storm have long since gone, and I haven’t picked up a pair of knitting needles in years. So, I’ve found that it’s all about prioritization. Vacation and biking rank higher than cooking complicated meals from scratch. And now I sleep on my train rides back and forth to work instead of knitting.
Adam’s advice turned out to be a gift. It saved me from frustration when examining my life as a parent. It gave me perspective and allowed me to be joyful about the things I loved to do before I was a parent that I can now do with my children. And as they get older, it’ll get easier and easier to incorporate more of my favorite pastimes with their favorite pastimes.
And now it’s our turn to share all the gifts of parenting advice with all of you. Keep reading for more stories of treasured advice given to the Mamas Who Know It.
When I was expecting our first son 14 years ago, the athletic director at my husband’s school, caught us outside the gym after his son’s game and offered some parenting advice. What I thought at the time to be cliché, he said, “Enjoy every moment.”
I walked away from the conversation thinking to myself, “Well of course I will enjoy every moment.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but “every moment” meant EVERY moment. Not just the sunshine and rainbow moments, but the 2 A.M. won’t stop crying moments, the cleanup in aisle 11 moments, the Saturday trip to the ER moments, and the all the boys fighting in the back seat moments. (Side note: I’m inventing the limousine glass partition for the minivan-currently being trademarked.)
Because each one of these moments is precious to the parenting story, good or bad. At those 2 A.M. crying sessions, I found that I can handle more than I thought, that I have a great partner to help me when I am pushed to the edge, that I was able to cuddle and rock my sons just a bit longer, all while discovering that PBS does band features in the wee hours of the morning covering bands like the Black Keys. I realized in the middle of aisle 11, while staring at a perfectly smashed jar of spaghetti sauce, that other parents get it. I realized that there are people that just want to help, and I know that no one can do this parenting thing alone.
During the Saturday trip to the ER moment, my son let me hold him while we watched cartoons in the lobby, and I sat there remembering Saturday morning cartoons being a big deal. So I got to share with him that you could only watch cartoons on Saturday morning or for an hour after school back in the day, while he looked at me with complete disbelief. And while driving and listening to my kids have a fight in the back seat moment, I realized that I can come up with ideas on the fly to distract them, I realized that car DVD players are meant to keep parents from abusing children, and I realized that kids can figure it out and eventually get over it.
You see, every parenting moment can be one to treasure if you find the good in the bad and hold on to patience while you get through. Because all these moments add up to your parenting story. And your kids are going to love hearing it one day.
I recently received some good advice from a work colleague on how to handle problem solving for my sweet little girl. It's a technique that gives the power of problem solving back to the child instead of the parent solving the issue for them.
Preschool was great for my daughter...when the routine was the same, with the same teacher and the same classroom. But when the normal preschool teacher went on vacation, the nervous stomach and tears appeared every morning before we departed. My daughter would repeatedly tell me that she didn't want to go to school and that she didn't want to go to the “other” classroom.
After discussing my woes with a colleague later that morning, she revealed a technique that she used and continues to use on a regular basis. She said that the next time you daughter looks to you to answer and provide the solution, gently respond and ask her what she thinks she should do. Such as:
- What kind of things can you think of to make you feel better?
- How can you solve the problem?
- What do you think you should do about that?
I tried this the next morning. When my daughter again said that she didn't want to go to school, to the other class with the other teacher, I asked her what she thought she should do to make it better. She paused for a moment and came up with the idea to sit by the teacher and help her with her with things. We were able to build off of this and came up with some ideas to occupy her like helping the teacher clean or passing out breakfast. The next time got easier with a regular reminder of the solution we came up with.
Someone once told me when my kiddos were babies to always be aware of how I talked about myself in front of them. For example, one of my girls once asked what I was doing when I was putting on my makeup. Without hesitating I said: “Making mommy beautiful!” It’s these little comments, or the times we say “Oh, I look TERRIBLE in that picture! That shirt makes me look HUGE!” or simply refuse to take our cover up off at the pool because we’re ashamed of our stretch marks and cellulite that stick in the minds of our kids. The truth is that no matter what our criticisms are of ourselves, our children see none of that. By putting ourselves down we’re teaching our kids to be critical of others and themselves, too. No makeup, jiggly thighs and sweat pants = a perfect mommy in their eyes. The trick is trying to see that in yourself, too.
I was a mostly stay at home mom for the first 6 years. Our kids are only 16 months apart so things were always a little hectic. When my kids were babies, my fabulous sister-in-law (who has three kids each about 3 years apart) gave me some great advice. She told me that if my little guys ever asked me to read them a book to stop whatever it was I was doing and just do it. Washing bottles? Sit on the kitchen floor and read that book. Folding laundry? Grab a clean blanket, snuggle up, read that book. Flipping around on the iPad?... You get the idea. It was the best advice I ever got because it gave me permission to take a 5-minute break to focus on the kids. I never regretted a single book-time snuggle fest.