Every day I hear young moms beating themselves up because they have a hard time living up to expectations – both their own and those of others. I want so badly to hug every one of them, and assure them that it’s going to be alright, that they’re going through the hardest part of motherhood, and that this, too, will pass.
I refrain from offering too much advice in person (usually out of fear of being hit with a sippy cup), but since that part of my life is behind me and I now have the clarity of hindsight, I want to share some hard-earned wisdom with all of you “younger versions” of me.
1. Cut yourself some slack. We all yell. Our houses aren’t as clean as we’d like them to be. We occasionally send our kids to bed without a bath . The list goes on. You don’t have to be a perfect mom to raise good kids. Last week I posted a photo on Facebook about positive parenting, and I was surprised at some of the reactions. A few readers interpreted it to mean we have to do awesome things every minute of the day. But that’s not the reality of parenting – every day is not a good day, full of rainbows and glitter. Try to find moments of joy amid the chaos, but don’t expect to be able to maintain storybook standards all the time. Work hard for your kids, but don’t expect Utopia. It doesn’t exist.
2. Your kids aren’t perfect. They don’t always clean their rooms when you ask. They tell lies to get out of trouble. They hit each other. Expect them to test their boundaries, because that’s part of growing up. It isn’t a failure on your part. It means they’re normal.
3. Teach them right from wrong. In our culture of acceptance and political correctness, we’ve gotten away from using terms like right and wrong. But we need to bring them back. Children need to know that everything is not OK.
4. Explain why. I’m not a big fan of the phrase “because I said so.” While its use is sometimes necessary, it shouldn’t be a standard response. Take the time to explain the “why.” You have to teach them the reason behind decisions, because someday they’ll be making them on their own.
5. Let them fail. We knew a family from school whose son was “over-praised.” His baseball skills were fussed over like he was A-Rod, and if he made a bad grade, his mother would march in and demand that the teacher let him re-take the test. The Trailblazer once said about his friend, “One day he’s going to realize that he’s not the best at everything. And he’s going to freak out.” The best character-building lessons in life are learned through failure.
6. Look forward, not back. When mistakes are made (by you and them), don’t dwell on it. Extract the lesson, throw out the pain, and move forward. Nothing is gained by rehashing the sins of the past once the lesson has been learned. This becomes more important in the teenage years than you can ever imagine.
7. Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Eat right. Exercise. As we all know from airplane safety drills, our own oxygen masks must be fastened securely before we can help them. But be realistic about it. (See item #1.) It’s easy for that to become another place where feel inadequate.
One day, you’ll wake up and your baby will be 11 years old. You’ll be able to actually enjoy quiet, instead of fearing it. You’ll be able to go to the grocery store alone. You’ll know that all the very hard work you put in while they were little is paying off.
When that day comes, go find a young mommy and give her a hug, and tell her everything’s gonna be alright.