Haha. Not really. I just called it that because it’s funny. I have no idea how to be a great parent. I’m still constantly surprised that someone let me bring two babies home from the hospital with no adult in charge.
At 19, my daughter is more the parent in the house. She was most likely the parent at 9. That’s just her nature. My observation is that we do the best we can to teach kids to be good and kind, keep them from setting expensive stuff on fire and keep them safe. They really come fully programmed from the factory to be who they are. It’s just our job to guide them.
I had someone tell me not too long ago that I was too much a friend, not enough parent. I am good at listening politely and then laughing when I hang up and so I did. This from a parent whose child would rather die than spend time at home. A self righteous parent who has no idea what their child is up to, doesn’t want to know, and is parenting by the “do not” method. If there is a surefire way to produce a rebellious kid, it’s by the “do not” method.
So I’m a friend, so what? My kids, at 17 and 19, choose to spend time with me, their friends hang out here and in that way, I can be a real parent, keeping them safe and knowing what’s what. They have both survived, so far, as good and lovely humans, even with a parent like me. They are lucky The Goose came with an adult gene to keep us all in line. So, to other happy hippie parents everywhere, these are my ten observations:
- Don’t keep Sharpies within reach until kids get a driver’s license and then only with limited access. No amount of Kilz will make this go away. Once applied in indelible ink, a hallway will still say “poop” 16 years later no matter how many coats of “Creme No. 5644” have been applied.
- Cultivate a “nothing” face, so when your kids tell you who among their friends is getting into trouble and being generally stupid you can make them think you are non-plussed by this while you cultivate a plan. I have heard volumes of information from both of my kids, who think I”m cool enough to handle it, and in this way, I have steered them from harm. I should be used by the FBI as a secret weapon.
- Don’t brag about your kids to other parents. They don’t care. If your child cures cancer, another parent will still find her child more fascinating because she got the the spirit stick at cheer. Everyone thinks their kid is the best. That’s the beauty of being a parent. No matter how fat, skinny, tall, short, smelly, freckled, wart covered, glittery or down right stupid a child might be, to Mom and Dad, they’re da bomb. Just keep their vibrant glory to yourself, no one else is interested, especially at parties. Nothing harshes my party mellow than pictures of someone else’s kid. Especially when I know mine are the best.
- Any time a child is expected to be quiet or respectful, like at church or at their grandparent’s anniversary party, they will inevitably belt out something rude or toot loudly and fall down laughing. Be prepared to explain that they have had a recent concussion and come armed with medical terms.
- A child will rat you out to grandparents every chance they get. They will tell them you didn’t actually go to church but, instead, stayed in your jammies all day watching tv, with your door closed, while expecting the kids to eat reheated Bagel Bites. They will pull up the hems of their skirts to show the clever way their mom uses duct tape. They will tell their teachers and Sunday school teachers every infraction you commit. They will supply the answer “wine” when their Kindergarten teacher asks what their mother’s favorite thing to make for dinner is. They will pull on your coat and say “nuh-uh, Mommy, you quit your job!” when you tell their teacher you can’t help with field day because you’re working. This is their revenge. Expect it. Stay ahead of the curve and occupy them with something, anything, when trying to speak to another adult.
- Be the “fun” house. Always let kids come over and have fun. Be a little bit nicer than other moms and in this way you can covertly eavesdrop and know all. Yes, it’s messy, yes, kids want to eat constantly, but, of all the things I did right, this was one of them. I know lots more than I really want to, but at least I’m not in denial. My kids’ friends have confided in me, my kids have told all and I think I’ve had a grasp on the real situation out there. High school is a super scary place. It’s good to be aware.
- Your 11 year old travel baseball player? Probably not going pro. Your daughter who spends 6 days a week at dance class? Yeah, most likely not going to be doing that at 25. All these things are fantastic if the kids love it. Many times, though, it’s the parents’ dream. For crying out loud, let the kid have a day off to catch salamanders and get dirty. Lock up the xbox and send that little precious outside to play. A kid that has to be stripped in the garage and carried to the tub because he’s encrusted in mud is a happy kid. It’s like a secret recipe. Kid + water + sunshine = kid that doesn’t wear black and listen to death music. Imagination is an awesome thing.
- Don’t try to make kids be who they’re not. I saw a video once, called The Animal School and it changed me. I highly recommend looking it up if you have kids in school. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wN7QfjIcVvA or, look up “Raising Small Souls” and find it there. It is the most beautifully done video for understanding individual children I’ve ever seen.) If your kid is really NOT a math kid, quit shoving it down his throat. Chances are, he’ll do something with his real talents that don’t involve solving for X. Let kids explore their talents and abilities. If they spend all their time trying to be good at something they’re not, they never get to be really good at what they naturally tend towards. Kids today are over scheduled, stressed and confused. Teach them real skills like how to balance a checkbook, how to use the front loading washer with 42 settings and how to say “yes ma’am” and “I’m sorry”. It’ll take them a long way.
- Be flexible. Kids are going to try stuff. Be ready to keep them safe through it all. My 16 year old called me from a party and said “I drank some beers, come get me”. I wasn’t happy about the drinking, less happy about driving 30 miles in my jammies, in hair curlers (not really, but my hair was almost as embarrassing) but I was so happy he’d called me. When I got there, he seemed perfectly fine. When I commented on this he said, “yeah, I had two beers four hours ago but I promised you I’d never drive after having a sip”. How can I be mad at that? Kids are going to experiment, better to be able to talk about it and hope they learn.
- Teach kindness. I raised vegetarian kids. I told them that God loves all his creation, two footed, four footed, swimming or crawling. The one thing I’ve stressed is goodness and kindness to animals and others. I see this deep within them, no matter what phase we’ve been in, and there have been plenty. Sometimes teenagers aren’t happy creatures with whom to share a home. Still, there is a carefulness for the feelings of others, a swerving for squirrels, a moving of turtles, a scooting outside of spiders that lives in them that thrills me. Show me a person who has compassion for animals and I’ll show you a person who is good to the core and won’t grow up to keep human heads in their refrigerator.
Enjoy it. I spent years worrying over the cleanliness of my floors and the dust on my tables instead of sitting down and coloring. Now, when it’s late in the game and I’ve seen the loss of several of my kids’ friends, I sit when they want to, I go when they ask me along and I enjoy every minute until they move out and I have to call them several times a day. It does go by fast, even though those preschool years seem to go by in long sleepless dog years. Young mothers, it gets better. It gets fun.
I’m no model parent. I am silly, can’t stick to the rules, cannot help with math. I have been described by my son as a pushover and, sadly, by my daughter as “shrinking” (surely not, I still say I am just slumping). I see all these parents with ten million rules, expectations and demands and think they might just be missing the point. I’m not saying my kids will invent a new source of power, but they might. They may not make billions, but they could. They may not change the world, but they have changed my world, and I have changed theirs. That’s pretty cool in itself.