16 Lessons I Aced at Parenting University
Written by Elizabeth Spencer
Welcome to Parenting University’s Master‘s of Motherhood Program!
Now that my children have gone back to school (thank you, God, for public education), this seems like a good time to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned in 16 years as a parent. Also, if I do this, I can put off cleaning my house.
I’m a little (okay, a lot) compulsive this way, so I’ve compiled the following tidy 16-things-in-16 years list.
1. If your three-year-old comes into your bedroom in the middle of the night and complains that her tummy hurts, do not tell her she’s “fine” and to “go back to bed.” Most especially do not tell her this if her bedroom is in an old house with cracks between the floorboards.
2. As a mom, you have power. Basically, you are a spin doctor, and your family members are your patients. For instance, if you tell your spouse and children, “We are having SO MUCH FUN on this vacation even though we got a flat tire and we all have poison ivy and the motel room looks like something out of Psycho…who wants to take a shower?” they will have fun. Possessing this much power is a huge responsibility (re: “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”), but it’s also a huge opportunity.
3. The great thing about surviving a household lice infestation is that it gives you a point of reference for everything else life throws at you. Family share-plan stomach flu? Flooding in the basement? A ‘D’ in algebra? Whatever. At least it’s not lice.
4. There are very few crises that family pizza night cannot at least take the edge off.
5. If you don’t like the stage your child is in right now, wait a week or two. Who knows? You might love the next one. I almost gave up on my younger daughter (fantasy t-shirt wording: “It’s a good thing I’m the second child, or I would have been the only child”) when she was a trying two-year-old and spent her days throwing tantrums and Sharpie-ing the guest room walls. Good thing I rode it out…this is the same kid who last week made me cookies and cleaned up the kitchen afterwards.
6. Not every decision you make for your child boils down to one right answer that will make him the happiest kid on the planet and one wrong answer that will RUIN HIS LIFE. Usually, it’s more a matter of making the best choice you can figure out at the time and dealing with the pros and cons as they come. So pick a preschool. Go ahead with kindergarten or wait a year. Sign him up for this team or that one. It will be okay.
7. If you are a mom of daughters, buy black elastic hair ties and white tank tops in bulk. Also, buy stock in the companies that make these essentials of femininity.
8. Never dip below two bags of chocolate chips in the pantry at any given time.
9. Those crispy corn taco shells shaped like little rectangular boats? They’ll change Mexican Monday or Taco Tuesday FOREVER.
10. Your kids would probably rather have a mom who can say “Happy Birthday!” without clenching her teeth than an over-the-top party that makes you look like Martha Stewart without the prison record.
11. Imagine you’re worried, based on previous experience, that you’ll get a night-before call from your elementary child’s teacher asking you to provide two dozen cut-out cookies for the “decorating station” at the winter holiday party the next day. You decide to take the bull by the horns (or, as the case may be, the reindeer by the antlers) and volunteer ahead of time to provide said cookies. Now: just make sure if you do this that your child’s teacher does not want you to cut out all those cookies with a Christmas tree cookie cutter that is very nearly life-sized. If you think there is any chance of this happening, make a preemptive strike and volunteer in advance to bring the puffed faux-cheese balls instead.
12. Ice cream therapy for out-of-sorts toddlers or tweens or teenagers works, mama.
13. That mystery plastic thingy of unknown origin and questionable usefulness you found on the kitchen floor? Keep it. Because if you throw it in the trash, you’ll figure out it’s critical to the functionality of the most valuable object you own about 10 seconds after you hear the garbage man pull away.
14. Just because your kids could be good at something does not mean they should do it. My older daughter had the makings of a great runner, while my younger daughter was scary-good on the piano. But they did not want to run or play piano. Instead, they both dance, and my teen plays clarinet in marching band (motto: “if it were easy, it would be called football”) while my tween plays percussion (motto: “we aren’t just drummers and we don’t just hit things”). Will matters at least as much as skill, as it turns out.
15. Good enough is a good thing a lot of the time. It is not “settling.” It’s figuring out what matters to your family and letting go of what doesn’t.
16. Your children do not need a pet or a pool or a Porsche to be content. There’s nothing wrong with these things, of course, but happiness apart from them is entirely possible. I know this because we have none of those things, and a few months ago, I dared ask my daughters, “Do you think we have a happy family?” They looked at me like I was crazy for a few seconds (what else is new?), then said, “Of course. Why would you even ask?” Which made me feel, for the moment, like I’d just graduated at the top of my class.
About the Author:
Elizabeth Spencer is mom to one tween and one teen daughter and would be rich if she were paid psychotherapist’s fees for the emotional rehab she does after school every day. She’s been married for 20 years to a long-suffering husband who carries on valiantly as the token male in a house of estrogen. She avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending too much time on Facebook and blogging at Guilty Chocoholic Mama.