Full Disclosure: I do not like whiners. Especially adult whiners. Especially adults who constantly whine about how hard child-rearing is. (With this caveat: if you have a child who is emotionally or mentally challenged, stop reading. I do not know how it feels to be a mother to a child with autism or any related issue. I understand from friends it is both hellish and joyous.) But for all the rest of the women out there who have chosen to become a mother I offer some small bits of wisdom. Not advice: you can go to dozens of sites for that. But simple wisdom.
— Being a parent can be exhausting. So what. Lots of things are exhausting and few of them are as wonderful as raising a child.
— Motherhood is the only job you are guaranteed to fail at. No matter how good you are. Own it.
— You get your kid. Not your friend’s or your sister’s or your cousin’s or your co-workers. You get your OWN kid. So that kid has to fit into your life. Not vice versa. If you want to travel, travel; if you want to work, work; if you want to live off the grid, then do it. The kids will adapt. My children lived in two foreign countries and went to a French school in one. The day they entered they had perhaps ten words of French. When we moved there I had none. We learned together.
— Bedtimes and mealtimes are up to you. Yes, the experts say a regular early bedtime for young children is best and that they should learn to go to sleep alone. But if you don’t care that your child stays up until he drops on the carpet in front of the Tonight Show then do it and don’t worry about it. And yes children should eat a balanced diet, they should sit at a dinner table and eat real food, but if they don’t occasionally, they won’t starve. No child past the age of two has willingly starved herself. If you give in with special meals and snacks then don’t whine about it. You did this. Own it.
— Don’t announce the name of your upcoming child or how you are going to raise him unless you want feedback. If you don’t want feedback then be quiet. It is no one’s business but your own (unless you do something egregious enough for a call to CPS; then that’s on you).
— Don’t bemoan the fact that you have no time to write or paint or clean the house or make dinner. You don’t because it isn’t important enough for you to figure it out. Kids can play alone. Kids can also watch a movie for an hour; it will not kill them.
— Guilt fucks up more kids than anything else. YOUR guilt. Not theirs. Kids have no guilt. But if you do things out of guilt then be prepared to be manipulated into continuing to do them.
— If a time out doesn’t work for your kid, take one for yourself. This especially works well when parenting teenagers. Teenagers may not want to go to their room but you can. You can go to your room and simmer down until the crisis is less threatening and then you can deal with it.
— Your kids’ crises are theirs, not yours. Their success is not yours, nor are their failures. Be there to help and love always but do not take on the burden of who they turn out to be. So RELAX. Just be. Take a note from Ram Dass: Be here now. Don’t agonize or beat yourself up about every misstep or failure.
— And if you yell, apologize. Parents need to know how to say I’m sorry when it’s needed. Mistakes go with the territory.
Frankly, I am glad I raised my kids before Facebook, before helicopter parenting and tiger mothering and free range this and that. I parented by my guts and when I needed help I asked. I had no good role model as a mother so I found others. But mostly I listened to my kids, treated them like people and was dead honest. I did not, however, allow them to frame the narrative at any time. I was the boss, pure and simple. It was my house and my rules. And they knew that.
Now that they are well into adulthood I think they are amazing, spectacular people. They have internalized the values I thought were most important, while also figuring things out for themselves. They are a joy to spend time with. They have given me far far more to kvell about than any pain and angst (although there was that, of course) and I look forward at some point to being the same bossy, loving, mater-of-fact grandmother I was as a mother.
(This post originally appeared in The Broad Side)