In honor of our eldest child’s seventh birthday this week, I thought I’d share seven things I’ve learned about parenting during my seven years as a mom.
(If this list could be longer, I’d be sure to include things like “Never let your child watch ‘Caillou’” and “Throw out their socks after a visit to the McDonald’s PlayPlace because they’ll never be truly clean again.”)
When I think back to my days as a first-time mom-to-be, I laugh at all of the stuff I was convinced I “needed.” Those first few years were filled with too much baby gear, too many onesies, too much of everything.
Even once we were rid of the highchair and huge plastic Exersaucer, we were still overrun by toys. I regularly joked our plastic toy-littered backyard was “Where Little Tikes Stuff Goes to Die.”
These days, I restrict our toy collections and regularly donate items they kids aren’t treasuring. I’ve learned the best toys are the simple ones that encourage them to use their imagination (Lego, Playmobil, Barbies).
Quiet time isn’t about sleeping — it’s about entertaining yourself without the help of electronics or other people. Kids need to know how to do that, and whomever is taking care of them needs to count on a bit of a mid-day break.
Our daughter will start Primary in the fall, but she still has quiet time every weekday afternoon between lunchtime and when we pick her brother up at the bus stop. She doesn’t have to stay in her bedroom, but she must play alone with her toys — no louder than softly talking to herself or acting out a scene with her dolls.
On the weekends, both kids have quiet time in their rooms — although they often play together, which I don’t mind as long as they’re not fighting. They also get another dose of quiet playtime right before bed, which winds them down for the evening. On a really busy day with lots of activities, that might be the only time they spend together — and I value it strongly.
If it were up to my children, they’d be perfectly happy watching Spongebob Squarepants episodes until their eyeballs leaked out of their faces. They rarely suggest joining an activity, visiting a new spot or trying out a new hobby — it’s all me, as their mom, encouraging them (or outright making them) to do things that will make them well-rounded human beings.
There were nights when I’ve been exhausted and didn’t feel like listening to our son slowly sound his way through an Easy Reader, but I gritted my teeth because I want to raise a reader — and now he loves to read. I hated every minute of our soccer and T-ball seasons, but he was learning about sticking to something for the full commitment. It was important to me that the kids grow up with creative hobbies, and now they’re devoted little knitters and crafters.
And sad. And frustrated. And outright furious. It’s natural to want to shield our kids from painful feelings, but it’s cruel to actually do it. They need to lose at board games. They need to see other people be the best at something. Life isn’t fair, so they need to experience cancelled plans and hurt feelings and the odd bad grade — or else they’re in for a rude awakening when they grow up.
Our kids know how to make their own food, clean up after themselves, make their beds, clean their rooms, operate the TV, care for our family dog, get themselves ready for school, fold and put away laundry, take out the compost, wash the car and even (more recently) cross the street without an adult.
They use knives and sharp scissors and have their own hot-glue gun. They have their own bank accounts with debit cards. I can send the oldest into a store alone to buy something, and the youngest delights in ordering for herself in a restaurant or asking a salesperson a question.
It’s not that I don’t want to do those things for them — although it certainly is nice when I wake up to find they’re already brushed, dressed and downstairs eating breakfast. But I do want them to be self-sufficient adults someday, and part of that is teaching them responsibility from the beginning.
Sometimes parents are quick to describe their children as the centre of their universe, and many of them actually follow through. I don’t subscribe to the notion of letting my kids run the show, however.
Sure, I do things I know they’d like and consider their feelings when making a decision, but it’s not always all about them. Sometimes it’s all about my husband. Sometimes we all do something just for the dog. Sometimes it’s all about me, and I drag them along to my Zumba class.
Compromise is what being in a family is all about. I’d be doing our children a disservice if I sacrificed my marriage — or my own happiness — to always put them first.
I’ve become one of those big-kid moms who smiles fondly at new babies and chubby-cheeked toddlers. I resist the obnoxious urge to tell the parents to “savour every moment” because they know — they hear it daily from grannies in the grocery store. But they also know it’s hard and they’re tired and they wish they could shower in peace.
As surreal it feels to be the mother of a seven-year-old this week, and as far as I feel from the “baby” stage, I know how quickly the years fly by. The baby boy who crawled backwards and got wedged under the couch now wears a watch, combs his own hair before school, spells long words out loud, and eats more than I do.