Having attended the graduation of son number one last year, we already knew the drill on what to expect when we loaded up our family van and headed north to attend our second son’s high school graduation. Our prior experience certainly benefited the planning for this year’s trip.
With knowledge of the terrain, weather and the sequence of scheduled events, we were more savvy about what to pack and what to leave behind. Remembering the limited buffet menu, we factored in the necessity to stock extra food in the cooler.
Recalling that the baby spent less time sleeping in the port-a-crib and more time hogging the bed between his father and me, we didn’t bother cramming the extra bed into the puzzle of luggage, sleeping bags, snacks, extra pillows and shoes.
This time last year I was patting myself on the back for having actually managed to achieve what I set out to do thirteen years prior. Sure I’d spent those years confidently defending my calling to home school, but when the day came to watch that first son accept his diploma I felt a kind of vindication.
Having already had the opportunity to bask in the limelight of success, I found that this year’s graduation had me thinking about what lies ahead for the rest of my children/students.
My eldest sons joke that they were our trial kids, the ones we stumbled through parenting. Now with another major milestone met, I’m considering the valuable lessons they taught me.
If I could go back and counsel my younger self, here are the top 5 Do’s and Don’ts I’d offer:
1. Don’t worry so much about appearances.
My first two sons were just 11 months apart in age and nearly equal in stature (in the beginning), so I had fun dressing them like Irish twins when they were toddlers (think matching striped jumpers).
Not that I was ever overly neurotic about their attire, but I definitely looked sideways when I saw some stranger’s kid wearing ripped pants and a dirty t-shirt to the local fast food eatery.
Today I understand that clothes really don’t make the person, and childhood may be the only time you can lose your inhibitions in the middle of a mud puddle or sanely wear an Elsa wig, bathing suit and cowboy boots to the mall.
Do take your daughter grocery shopping with her princess dress on and do allow your sons to sport their favorite jeans with the gaping holes in the knees on that play-date.
2. Don’t try to raise a star athlete, concert pianist, math wizard, novelist, ballerina, and black-belted karate kid.
Once you get beyond the early sleepless nights and diapering days, children grow up way too fast. Don’t waste that precious time shuttling them from one extracurricular event to another under the delusion that your kid is destined to be the next Beckham and Mozart.
Indeed there is value in allowing a child to pursue an interest, but not every whim requires organized lessons. I used to feel guilty that we couldn’t afford piano lessons, but then my kids watched friends and utilized YouTube videos to teach themselves how to play not only piano but guitar, too.
Do give children the tools to explore (an old piano to bang on, a bucket of balls to kick and toss, a library card) and teach them how to be lifelong learners who can independently follow their passions.
3. Don’t do everything for your kids.
Every chore, assignment, and hard-earned grade is an opportunity to exercise responsibility, self-reliance, creativity and ingenuity. One of my children hated to ask for help. It became an ongoing battle throughout his educational career that whenever he needed extra guidance he’d balk at admitting he needed assistance.
On more than a few occasions I had to demand that he, as opposed to me, speak with an academic counselor about whatever assignments had him stumped. While pressing him to ask for help generally involved a battle of wills, he eventually got over his phobia of admitting he wasn’t a genius.
Do have your kids make their own lunches, handle their personal laundry, help around the house and speak to adults (librarians, cashiers, teachers).
4. Don’t reward your kids for showing up.
I was eavesdropping during an end of season soccer party. The coach went down his MVP list. From the Most Valuable Player to the Most Improved Placeholder, he made sure no child was overlooked.
While I understood he had good intentions, I couldn’t help but think those awards were meaningless. No one would bother tuning in to the Olympics if every contestant won a gold.
Do let your children lose with dignity. Teach them to find pride in the process and encourage them to try harder if they want to succeed.
5. Don’t wish away the time.
I know, I know, it seems close to impossible to relish the days when the toddler is throwing a tantrum, the dog is barking, the phone is ringing and you have a deadline to meet, but trust me these days will soon be a memory.
Yes, I read some other parent’s article wherein he admonished people who give this advice, but it is true. Experience the moments, every one of them—the good and the bad.
Do live life with your kids. Now I don’t mean that we should get caught up in every childish drama or become friends with our kids. I mean get down on your knees every once in a while and crawl around with them. Put your cellphone down and follow a butterfly. Take a deep breath and answer your daughter’s questions again.
I’m thankful that these lessons weren’t completely by-passed with sons one and two, but I’ve definitely been (and continue to be) a work in progress when it comes to parenting.
Fortunately, if you still have children in the home, like we do, then there is still time to change course if necessary.
The best gift a parent can give to his/her children is love. Not just emotional love, but the action of loving. Giving your children time and attention is an investment that you’ll never regret.