Leaving the hospital with a newborn baby I was vividly aware that I didn’t know how to be a mom. The nurse helping us leave the hospital knew it too. I was so proud of my car seat! Too bad it was for a forward, facing toddler and not a 7lb newborn baby!! Breaking one of my cardinal rules ‘I won’t be one of THOSE moms who sits in the back with her baby’ I sat in the back so I could hold his head up for the ride home. The arm of the car seat was over his little head! I am still amazed that they let us leave.
The first solo trip I packed a diaper bag with everything but the kitchen sink, changed him, feed him, got dressed and was ready to leave. It took me so long to get everything ready that he had to eat AGAIN before I could leave the house. By the time I re-fed him, re-changed him, re-dressed myself and got out the door AGAIN, I was so flustered that I backed out of the garage without putting the garage door up!
I had no idea what I was doing. But I learned. And I loved it.
Next came a little sister. I didn’t know how to parent 2 of them! Navigating a newborn and a rambunctious 3 year old is not a piece of cake.
I had no idea what I was doing. But I learned. And I loved it.
I loved his little hand in mine as he toddled along beside me. One day he didn’t want to hold my hand anymore. He wanted to ‘dood it hisself’. He didn’t want me walking him into school that first day, but I did.
Soon she didn’t want to wear bows in her hair. She didn’t want me holding her too long or trying to feed her.
I had no idea what I was doing. Parenting older babies is different than parenting baby-babies. But I learned. I didn’t love it at first. I missed the little hands in mine, I missed the cuddles and the one-on-one time.
But I learned and I learned to love the different way they needed me.
It wasn’t long before he didn’t want to make hand-made valentines anymore. That made me sad. But she still liked doing them so I wasn’t sad long. Friends invaded our little world. They both got bigger and grew a little more independent.
Phones were introduced. That changed the parenting role. I didn’t know how to navigate friend drama. I didn’t know how to parent a smart phone. I didn’t know how to punish in a way that was meaningful. I didn’t know how to decide what battles to fight and which to leave alone.
But I learned.
I learned the world didn’t come to an end if she wore pink cowboy boots and a red pair of shorts and a purple t-shirt. I learned that fighting to have her wear a girly little dress and a matching bow just made us both late, left us both in tears and wasn’t a very good way to start a day.
I learned you had to start conversations by asking, “What was the best part of your day?” and “what was the worst part?” to get any real information. Asking, “how was school?” got you an OKAY. Asking what they learned gained a single NOTHING. To get details you had to ask some questions and you had to ask them more than once.
It look me awhile but I finally learned that he was always going to have a spot on his dog or a clip in the yellow for talking. That didn’t make him a bad kid, it made him a talkative one. I learned that some of the battles had to be waged at school while I fought some of the larger ones. Move a clip for talking in the cafeteria…let the school field that one. Don’t turn in homework, AGAIN, mom better step in and figure out what is going on.
He needed more help with her homework then she did. It took me awhile but I learned that. She was a slob and he wasn’t neat but kept things in the vicinity of where they went.
I learned that.I had to learn to punish. That isn’t an inherent skill. No TV worked for him but not for her. Sending her to her room when the family was together sort of worked for her. Keeping him at the table until he ate his vegetables was painful, took hours and did no good. She, on the other hand, didn’t need bribing to eat well.
At each stage I had to re-learn how to parent. It’s not a one size fits all type of thing. Parenting morphs and grows with the child. What worked one day won’t work the next. What they need one day is vastly different in the next week.
But you learn. And, if you are lucky, you love it. If you don’t love it—that stage—just wait it out because another one is right around the bend. Just when you think “okay-I’ve got this” they change or the circumstances change or they start a new phase in life and BAM! You are right back to square one trying to figure it all out.
And you think it just goes on and on and one. You think this bond you’ve built, this repoire you have developed, the affection…you think it will always be there no matter what stage or phase they are in.
Once a parent-always a parent. It’s a job that never ends. I heard my dad tell my 8 year old just this weekend, “you will always be your mamma’s little girl.” She asked ‘even when I am a teenager?’ he said yes. “Even when I am old” she asked. He answered yes. “Even when I am 100?” she asked. He said yes. And it’s true. I’ll always be their momma.
But I don’t know how to parent now.
I don’t know how to parent a child that is starting a life of their own. I don’t know how to not get my feelings hurt when I am not the first person they want to see, the first person they hug in a room or the first person they want to leave when they get into their college apartment for the first time.
When did I become an idiot? It wasn’t long ago I was kissing every boo-boo because momma’s kisses fixed everything. It wasn’t so long ago my advice was sought out and sometimes, not always, adhered to. It wasn’t long ago that what I said went. And that my rules were THE rules and you didn’t disobey them. When did it become okay to pretend that my rules mattered but you did want you wanted to? How do I parent when my rules no longer matter? How do you parent when what you-the mom- say, think or feel is no longer important?
Used to be that privileges were earned and that extras meant extra effort. Now privileges are expected and extra effort is considered mean.
How do you parent your way back to the basics? I have to learn.
I wanted my little ones around me…all the time. They delighted me as little ones and entertained me as kids. I enjoy and WANT their company as teens. I didn’t know how to transition from the mom that entertained to the mom that gets entertained. But I learned.
Moving from being the center to being allowed on the outside isn’t easy. But I learned, or thought I did.
Every stage of parenting has to be learned. And, in my experience, it has to be learned after the stage starts. It’s nothing you can prepare for ahead of time—not with any real success. And like all other aspects of parenting what you think you are prepared for is rarely how it goes.
When they were little and they fell I instinctively knew to pick them up, hug them and assure them it would be okay. I learned about Neosporin. I learned that Band-Aids cure everything and that putting a Spiderman or Barbie Band-Aid on it—even if it doesn’t need it—makes tears dry faster.
When they got a little older I learned to ask, “Where are you going, what are you going to do and who will be there?”
I learned to ask, “That sounds like a problem. What is your idea for a solution?” They didn’t always have one but I learned to ask so that they started to learn to solve things on their own.
I didn’t learn how to NOT be the one they called when they were hurt. I didn’t understand that one day they wouldn’t have to tell me the who-why-what-when and how of their plans. And I didn’t realize that they only solution they would want from me one day was the financial kind.
I have no idea about how to parent at this new stage of life. And…I don’t seem to be learning very well. I don’t know how to do it but I am pretty sure I don’t like it.
- I have to learn that I am no longer always wanted or needed.
- I have to learn that I am still the mom and that I can’t be afraid to act like the mom just because they have the ability to withdraw. The good old days of working it out—loudly—don’t exist anymore.
- They have to learn that I am a mom but I have feelings and those feelings get hurt. As babies that didn’t matter. As adults/young adults it does.
- I have to learn to not ask too many questions or have too many opinions.
- I have to learn to continue to teach to those that no longer want to learn.
- I have to ask some questions knowing I won’t get all the answers.
- I have to let the mistakes happen and pray they aren’t too big.
- I have to hope that the lessons I taught are there somewhere…deep down.
- I have to let go but not give up.
- They have to learn I am more than a bank. Or a punching bag (figuratively).
- They have to learn it’s not all about them but in all honesty I guess I need to learn that as well.
- I have to learn to love and parent from 90 minutes away.
- I have to learn to listen and not judge
- I have to learn to advise and not tell
- I have to learn to parent at 3 very distinct stages of life
He may be the one starting college but I am the one who needs to start learning.