Lessons I Learned Parenting My 21 Year Old Daughter, and How I'll Raise My 1 Year Old Son

My children are twenty years apart in age. That's two whole generations.  My daughter had the misfortune of being born in 1992 when I was just 21 years old and had no idea what I was doing. She is my "starter child." My son was born in 2012 when I was 41 years old, and between you and me sometimes I still have no idea what I'm doing.  

But, I did have the chance to do something not many parents get to do. I was able to examine twenty years of parenting my daughter to see what worked and what I could do better while parenting my son.  Don't get me wrong, I have a beautiful, strong daughter of whom I'm very proud. But hindsight is always 20/20 and I would be remiss if I didn't learn some parenting lessons.  So here are three things I did right raising my daughter and three things I want to do better while I raise my son.

Things I did pretty good the first time around:

Unconditional love. I can remember telling my daughter that no matter what, I would always love her. As a ten year old she would test me. Wide-eyed she'd ask, "Even if I stole something?" I assured her I would love her, even if I didn't like what she had done. Looking back, telling her this and showing her unconditional love has allowed her to have the confidence to tell me anything. She doesn't sugar coat bad news or lie trying to get out of it. I may not like what she has to say, but I've given the her the confidence of always having my love to say it.

Honest and open communication. From the time she was a toddler, I would encourage her questions. As she got older and the questions got harder, I tried my best to answer them. If I didn't know the answer we would try to find it together. Because I laid the groundwork when she was younger, she knew she could come to me with any question and any issue without judgment. That sure made talking about the really important things such drugs and sex as a teen much easier.

Making sure she stayed busy. This was a lesson I learned from my mother. As a teen I worked a part-time job in addition to being active in journalism, theatre and speech in high school. I was so busy that I didn't have time to get into any trouble. I made sure my daughter was equally busy. For her, it was volleyball. If she wasn't playing on the high school team, she was traveling to tournaments with a volleyball club. As a result, we had a relatively trouble-free teenager.

For every one  thing I did right with my daughter, there are about ten things I want to do better as a parent to my son. But for brevity's sake, I narrowed the list to the top three things to do better this time around:

I want my son to work hard. Because I was raised by a single mother, I started working  at age 14 so I could contribute to our household. But I wanted something different for my daughter. I wanted her to enjoy her high school life and not have to work. She didn't get her first real job until a few weeks before she graduated high school. Looking back, I think that put her at a disadvantage. It took her much longer to develop the work ethic and sense of responsibility she needed to follow through at a job and she also didn't have a realistic view of what was expected of her as she worked.  She also took much of what she got from me, her grandmother and her step father for granted, because she didn't have to work hard to attain it.

I want my son  to experience the consequences of his actions. The technology we have these days is incredible. I could access my daughter's grades in each high school class with the click of a mouse, and I did just that almost every day.  If her grades fell I was on her in a second, pushing her to raise them and punishing her if she didn't. If she had problems with teachers, I would facilitate a solution.  I never let her fail. This left her extremely ill-prepared for college, where it took her all of two semesters to lose the scholarship I pushed her to attain. It would have been easier for her to learn failure back in high school when it didn't cost us $3,000 a semester in tuition and books.

I want to do a better job of preparing my son for life. My daughter can read a 400 page book in a few hours and do such a great job of PhotoShopping herself into a picture with her favorite celebrity that all her friends are fooled. But she never learned the importance of a strong handshake, how to confidently introduce herself to a room full of strangers or balance her debit card. I can't believe I didn't spend more time teaching her some of the basic life skills she would need to  navigate her world. It hurts me to watch her struggle to do these things now and I want my son to have an easier time. 

So there you have it. I know my son and my daughter are two very different people. I also realize that I will probably make just as many mistakes raising my son as I did my daughter. I just hope they both forgive my failures and show me the same kind of unconditional love I will always show them.

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