“My second nephew was just born,” my boss texted me the other day. “If you have any parenting advice, I’ll pass it along.”
I sat down to write him a couple of sentences regarding his brother’s first baby. Instead, I wrote this column.
I became a mother unexpectedly as a junior in college. I was pregnant at 18 and didn’t always have consistent support (my parents and sisters very much not included in that sentence). I had no choice but to buck up and become whom I needed to be.
We all walk different roads in life and deserve the same amount of empathy, but sometimes I see someone complaining about being independent and stressed out in their 20s and I want to say, “I was raising a child by then. You can do more than you think.”
I can’t imagine whom I’d be without my girls (Kage, 15, and Follin, almost 12), and I can’t imagine whom I’d have become if my parents hadn’t left me alone and let me figure out what I stood for. As a parent, you have to stand for something to be successful. That’s what makes it beautiful.
You have to figure out what matters to you, and then be criticized every step of the way thereafter. My mom used to polish pairs of high-top baby shoes after having her firstborn. (Parents were told infants should wear them at the time.) By the time I came along for her at 43, going barefoot was completely acceptable. The tides and trends will change, but figuring out where you stand is the first step. (Changing and adapting as you go is the second.)
I’ve been told I’m doing the wrong thing more times than I can count, but the only people I answer to are my daughters. I’m so glad I grew a backbone the day my oldest was born, because without our instincts, we have nothing. The same could be said of health, of course, which we have to consider since this is a cystic fibrosis column and I have to connect the two. (This is me connecting the two.)
“Apologize well and often,” I want to say to my boss, who’s aptly awaiting small sound bites of advice, not 800-words-or-less.
“Teaching our children that the only way to learn is to make mistakes teaches more than teaching alone.”
“Talking at someone communicates nothing. Talking with someone does.”
It’s tempting to enjoy the part of parenting that reflects yourself back at yourself. Praising the parts and pieces that look and feel like you. Don’t fall for it. It’s really about guiding someone who may or may not have anything to do with you — your preferences, beliefs, and feelings — and loving them for what separates, not what connects.
Parenting is not solving every problem that comes your way. Sometimes your child needs to hear the problem from their own mouth landing on your shoulder more than they need to hear you reminding them of what they’re doing wrong. (I need to work on this one.)
You’ll be told that it’s “how much money you donate to the PTA,” or “how often you carpool,” or
“how quickly you overreact to the boo-boo on the playground.” You’ll be told that that means you matter more, care the most — but I assure you, it doesn’t.
Kids learn from what we do, not just what we say. Don’t overreact. Let them fall. Let them fail. Be there when they need you, show up even when they think they don’t, and know that boo-boos are a part of life. Let them live one.
I went to more fancy dance rehearsals and taught more classes and wrote more novels than I can ever describe with a baby on my hip, because I didn’t have the luxury of doing otherwise. But even if my sometimes-poor, sometimes-single-mom habits didn’t reflect everyone else who was raising kids, there’s always a takeaway: Show by showing.
Want a well-rounded human who has passions, pursuits, and purpose? Find yours. You don’t have to give everything up just because you’re being called something new (preferably “Momma,” but “Poop Face” might happen, too). Let your kids be a part of your life, who you are, and what you love. It doesn’t detract from your love for them.
Last summer, I felt like I was failing my oldest daughter. Her meltdowns were getting bigger and happening faster, and all of my strict, totalitarian tactics were falling short. So, I took a gamble. I decided to do something outlandish in the face of mean, reckless teenage behavior.
I decided to love her.
To reassure more than I punished. To listen more than I told. To hug even when she didn’t “deserve it.” And you know what happened? It got better.
Yes, this is a column about cystic fibrosis and not about parenting, but both are simpler than we think: Show up even while you’re screwing up.
“You can do more than you think” is really true because, at the end of the day, a bad day is just a day. And it’s only 24 hours until you get to try again.
Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.