Top 10 Lessons from a Decade of Parenting

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This summer, our oldest daughter, Ava, turned ten. That means I’ve officially been a parent for ten years.

With a decade of parenting lessons under my belt, I now qualify as a parenting expert. At least in my own mind.

Some lessons I've learned the hard way, like how it's not a good idea to give your kid silly putty before she goes to bed. Others, I've learned the very, very hard way, such as there is no way to protect my daughters from experiencing pain or sadness or disappointment, no matter how much I try.

Top 10 Lessons from a Decade of Parenting

In honor of our daughter's tenth birthday, here are the top ten lessons I've learned about being a parent so far:

1. Screaming at your kids to get them to stop screaming is counterproductive.
Go figure. Every few weeks I test this one just to be sure it’s true. Trust me, it is.

2. Parenting is like watching your heart walk around outside your body.
Watching those four long legs (two per kid) walk into their first day of school last week broke my heart. Thankfully my heart healed quickly and was soon jumping for joy.

3. Stop trying to be the perfect parent,
I tried for too long to be a perfect mom, regularly raising the bar of perfection to keep me on my toes. What did I get in return? A healthy dose of resentment and martyrdom. Brilliant strategy, no? Now I strive to be authentic with my kids, to show them the real me. Am I too real? We won’t know for a few more years when the therapy bills start pouring in.

Our kids’ future therapy appointments will go like this:

  • Our Kid: Feelings, feelings, feelings, that’s all my mom cared about when I was growing up. She didn’t hide any of her feelings, and she encouraged me to express all of mine!

  • Therapist: How did her obsession with feelings make you feel?

  • Our Kid: Torqued and cranked. Why couldn’t she have pretended she didn’t have any feelings? Like normal parents. Would that have been too much to ask?

4. If you think you're in control, think again.
I want my kids to express all their feelings, needs and wants and feel safe doing so, but I’d prefer it to be on my timeframe. Preferably when I'm rested, fed and have finished using the bathroom by myself. Is that wrong?

Unfortunately, my kids couldn't care less about my agenda, preferring to express their beautiful (aka loud) feelings as we’re trying to get to school on time or on the rare occasions my husband and I are both feeling amorous. They are giving that way.

5.  White lies don’t count if they keep your kids safe (or make your life more convenient)*.
For years we’ve warned our kids about the imaginary snapping turtles that live in the pond behind my in-law’s home. Our girls never went near the pond without an adult, and we didn’t have to watch them every second they played in the backyard. A twofer: safe and convenient!

*Caveat: I assumed our ten-year-old had figured out the truth by now, but this summer, after fishing on the pond with her uncle, she expressed relief at not catching a snapping turtle. Really? I can only imagine that future therapy session.

6. Make peace with your kids' disgusting habits (and await the positive power of peer pressure).
I spent months trying to curb my oldest’s nose picking habit when she was four- or five-years-old. I tried to trust she would grow out of it, but mostly I tried to convince her it was a disgusting habit. She kept picking. By age six or seven, she’d stopped on her own, likely because her school friends teased her mercilessly.

I rarely notice when my youngest daughter picks her nose. She prefers to pick at home in the privacy of her bedroom (and to leave her boogers on her bedpost). I may have to wait a little longer for peer pressure to do its magic this time. At least until we start allowing sleepovers.

7. Accept the things you cannot change (aka put down the whip you use to self flagellate).
Our daughters are five years apart in age. I’m a different parent now than I was ten or even five years ago. Which one of my kids got the better parent? How badly did I screw up my first kid? Why hadn't I learned to relax and trust way back when? Why am I even asking these questions? Our daughters "get what they get and they don’t get upset." (At least until they have a therapist on their own payroll.)

8. Make peace with the "H" word.
I don’t freak when my kids tell me they hate me. I try to remember that hate and love are kissing cousins. And I hate them too at times. Yet my love for my daughters is more intense and real than any other I’ve had in my life, even the love I had for my husband early on in our relationship. Lucky for him, I’ve also learned to hate him too at times.

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