I was asked what I would do differently if I were to have my children now — only, knowing what I now know. Wouldn’t that be nice to be able to do that in life? Just go back and do things once you know how you should have done them the first time around?
Well, I am unable to time travel, but I can tell you what I would change and what I would do the same. Perhaps you’ll find it useful.
1. First of all, spend quality time with your children. Sure, the more time, the better, but really — it’s about the quality in your time. Be fully present. That is without question the most important thing I can tell you.
I’m pleased to say I did this. I absorbed every moment into every cell of my being.
2. Stop with the guilt already. Just stop. It is useless. Do the best you can and let the rest go. Guilt fixes nothing and it makes life less fun for everyone.
I wish I could have gotten this into my pretty little head. Guilt is something I still struggle with from time to time, but I’m here to tell you that it is something that you create in your own mind. Guilt will rob you of your joy and it is fruitless. Fight it with everything you have.
3. If your child doesn’t want to dress like a pirate to go to the freaking pirate birthday party, don’t make him. (Oh, did that seem a little too specific? Sorry.) But seriously, those little things that your child puts their foot down on — let them have their way. It won’t matter in the long run to you, but it may to them. Plus, when you get to the pirate party, you’ll find that half the kids are dressed like Barney because they don’t like pirates either.
I have always been a rule follower. If there is a rule, I will find it and abide by it. Some rules are trivial. Don’t suck the fun out of things because you are afraid to bend the rules a bit. I’m still learning this.
4. Make them do some sort of team activity for a while. Learning to work with others who aren’t necessarily their friends is an important skill.
I believe in this wholeheartedly. My kids fought me on this and sometimes I gave in, but the lessons learned from the commitment and the cooperation are important and they carry on into later life. Plus, when they look back, they will have some good memories of the time they spent on a team — even if they complain about it now.
5. Let them dress like a freak if they want to. Who really cares?
I always let this slide. If you’ve read my prior articles, you know this. Clothing is an expression and sometimes they need it to escape. Sometimes they need to stand out. Let them have this.My son wore his winter coat for weeks one summer because he thought it made him look like a superhero. My daughter wore some crazy outfits as well. Those things helped them in that moment.
In the long run, it matters none at all that you walked around with your child dressed in a silly outfit. What does matter is that you stood behind them and let them be who they needed to be in that moment.
6. Never make them be friends with a kid just because you are friends with the parent. Not awesome. And, they remember it forever.
I did not learn this lesson soon enough. I had some friends with children who were downright awful, and my kids were subjected to this. Looking back, I realize now that I should have gotten together with those friends without our children in tow.
7. Sleep in blanket forts with them. Trust me on this.
Ah, blanket forts. This is a way to enter a magical world that consists of only you and your sweet little child. We used to set them up and watch movies inside and then fall asleep giggling. Do this. As often as you can, do this.
8. Frame their artwork. It’s the most precious art in the world.
My home is filled with dragons and ballerinas. Why would you go out and buy some meaningless artwork to fill a wall when you could boost your child’s self esteem and display a beautiful memory forever. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Look at Picasso and Dali, their work is a brilliant mess.
9. Don’t worry about what the other parents think.
There were many times that I was worried that the other parents were judging my child’s behavior. I would catch myself scolding my kids for things that didn’t even bother me. It is confusing to your child to be scolded for something that would not normally be an issue. Everyone has their own rules. Stick with yours and don’t worry about the nitpicking of others.
10. Help your child to pursue their dreams and try new things. If they are suddenly interested in fencing, find a fencing school nearby. Whatever bizarre or silly thing they are interested in — let them explore it. This is the time in life when it is easiest for them to try any and everything.
I went to a million hip hop dance competitions, robot building excursions, etc. They learned things, gained confidence, figured out what they liked and didn’t like and had a lot of fun. Now’s the time to explore. Really, there is no time that’s not good for exploring, but let it begin now.
Let’s see, what else?
11. Never — and I mean never — make your child try new food when you are guests in someone’s home, if your child is resistant. Never. If you have to, say your child’s stomach hurts (and then make them something to eat when you get home). Trust me on this. The slight uncomfortableness that you feel as you tell the host that your child isn’t hungry is far less awkward than the level of discomfort you feel when your child throws up after the first bite.
I learned this one the hard way.
12. Always tuck them in at night.
Even as a high school senior, I told my son goodnight each night. I went in to his room, kissed his forehead and told him I loved him. Do this. There is no way this could ever be a bad thing, and many times they will end up talking to you about things that are going on in their lives because they are happy to have a moment alone with you.
I’m sure there are a million other things, and perhaps when I think of them, I will write a continuation of this article. For now, I will leave you with this all-encompassing word of advice and the recurring theme, which you noticed if you were paying attention:
Your child is smart. They are small but wise. They know what they like. They know what makes them feel comfortable. Listen to them. Sometimes they are wrong, and yes, it is your job to guide them. But, hear them. Their confidence rides so much on whether you treat them as if they are actual humans with thoughts and emotions.