This week, my youngest started preschool. All along, I haven’t thought twice about it. She was, after all, in an early learning program located on the first floor of the school for the past two years. But when I dropped her the first day, I was really sad. When we arrived, she begged me to pick her up. I was firmly against it.
“No Mommies or Daddies are carrying the kids going upstairs.”
Downstairs is now a thing of the past for our family. Everyone is headed up.
I think walking MP up those stairs reminded me that we, as parents, are constantly helping our kids up: up the stairs to the “big kid classrooms”, up a grade, up a shoe size. Then they grow up, and we send them out. Out into the world to serve the next generation.
So as our time and our influence on them shrinks, how do we make the most of the time we have together?
I have the true privilege of raising two amazing daughters as well as working with an incredible group of young women at my church. I like to think I have a three year old, a five year old, and a dozen 16 year olds. I see how the girls relate with their mothers and I know the days of holding mine on my lap and kissing them too many times won’t last forever. I do see some great relationships between them and their parents. But I also see the attempts to break free. The time to send them out is close at hand.
However, there are some basic things I work at that I believe will prepare my children (and myself) for the next step. Please note, I am not an expert on this subject, nor do I actually put all of these into practice as I regularly as I should. Yet no matter where we are on the parenting train, I think they are worth a try.
Practice what you preach. There’s no better time to give this a whirl than immediately. Whether your child is 5 or 15, they are watching your every move. If you expect it of your child, the least you can do is practice it yourself.
Put away your phone. Now, trust me, I’m just as guilty as the next parent about this. The new world of constant communication puts a real strain on family relationships. But once your children have their own handheld connection to the outside world, they will do like you do.
Don’t lose sight of who you are. Don’t drop your life for your child. KP and I were just talking the other day about how our entire world and life focus honed in on our firstborn the moment we laid eyes on her. All affection, including for each other, was pulled toward that soft bundle. It was actually quite a bit of work to get straight. But we did. We have a life outside of raising our children. We are convinced it’s beneficial for everyone.
Establish communication habits early (But it’s never too late!) Find a way to make communication between family members a priority. At our house, we have a nightly ritual of high’s and low’s. We go around each tell the best part of our day, the worst, and we throw in a silly for good measure. Sometimes this is at dinner, sometimes in the car on the way home from somewhere. For KP, it often involves him on FaceTime from some other city. But we do it. By now, our three year old has the hang of what is a high and what is a low. No one says communicating is easy. But if you listen to the small stories now you’ll be rewarded with the big ones later. And if your kids are older and communication is nil, start small. Better than not starting at all.
Have fun! This seems easy enough. But with to-do’s mounting around you, sometimes the last thing you can imagine is stopping everything to play. Or just to talk. Do it. Find a balance, mind you. But do it. Cheese and crackers (with a healthy side of fruits and vegetables) can make a great dinner. And then you have time to watch your child ride his bike or read just one more book together.
Don’t fear letting go. Oh boy. One day, sooner for some, our children go from up to (gulp) out. That’s right. This whole parenting thing has an ultimate goal: to send capable, responsible people into the world. But sometimes parents, especially moms, lose sight of the goal. The child is too dear, the thought of letting go too painful. So we make decisions for them based on what is best for us. And in the process we hurt them. This is a fine line, and a hard one to walk. But we all do it. Which leads me to my last one…
Community. We cannot do this job alone. Nor were we meant to. So create a community for you and your children. Find a place or group of people where everyone feels safe. Where your children can turn when they inevitably decide you are definitely no longer cool. And where you can find support as well as learn from others. It isn’t a cure all, but it will help everyone keep things in perspective.
This week, dropping off MP was hard. That one small act signified the end of an era. I took inventory of the last 5 plus years as a parent. Did I teach them enough? Did they learn enough? Did they have fun? Did I?
This school year, I’m going to keep the list above. I’m going to reference it. I’m going to see how we do. Because the ups just keep on coming.