Wednesday, October 5, 2022

30 Things You Learn in 18 Years of Parenting

I've done it. I've sent my first child to college.

That means I've successfully kept alive, fed, and clothed a whole other human for 18 years. This is huge for me, as I can't even handle houseplants.

And just like I've done a few posts musing on the things I've learned after 10 years and 15 years of parenting, this seems like a good milestone year to write another chapter.

If Phillip and I look tired in this picture, it's because we are.

1. Never judge anyone's parenting whose kids are older than yours. You have no idea.

2. People will say you'll have more free time once your kids reach [insert stage of life here]. They're lying.

3. Big kids are every bit as messy as little ones. Actually, they're worse, because you can't even begin nagging them to clean up until after their 3,000 extra-curricular activities.

4. Kids will forget almost all the things you did with them when they were younger, but they'll remember your family traditions with a Norman Rockwell-like nostalgia.

5. Wait as long as you possibly can before giving your kids smartphones.

6. If you don't specifically ask them to take care of the the toilet paper tube on the bathroom counter, they'll just adapt and it becomes a permanent fixture of the house.

This is our overflowing cardboard recycling bin. And it's overflowing because a child flattened a cardboard box, laid it on top of the empty bin, and piled everything else on top of it for a week.

7. It's really humbling when your kids get old enough to realize you're not perfect.

8. Occasionally asking your children to make sacrifices or go without something they want is nothing to feel guilty about. In fact, it's critical to their well-being.

9. Sharing your favorite shows and movies with your kids when they're old enough is magical. 

10. Even the best teenagers are super-frustrating sometimes.

11. The car is a great place to initiate serious talks with your older kids: you don't have to make eye contact, and they can't escape.

12. Eventually, kids will choose their own interests and preferences. They're usually not what you would've chosen for them, and this is surprisingly hard.

One of our children decided her passion was horseback riding; we later discovered she was allergic to horses.

13. When teenagers inconvenience you by throwing things together at the last minute, it isn't because they're inconsiderate. They genuinely don't realize that everyone else in the whole world (except other teenagers) plans ahead.

14. Frankly, it doesn't matter very much what your style of parenting is, as long as it communicates to your kids that you love them.

15. Making a perfectly reasonable request in your calmest and most pleasant demeanor can still be interpreted by your child as "yelling at them."

16a. The saying "little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems" is absolutely true. 

16b. When you're the parent dealing with your big kid's big problems, you desperately need support that you're unable to get because it would breech your teen's privacy. Sorry. 

17. Appreciate the years when your kid goes to bed early and you're off-duty at 8 PM every night.

18. Be home for your big kids as much as possible. Even when they don't depend on you for their minute-to-minute physical survival anymore, they thrive on the stability of your presence. 

19. Kids love few things more than they love leaving every light in the house on.

20. When giving your older child guidance, never end a sentence with a period. Just ask questions until they arrive at the conclusion you hoped they'd reach, and hopefully they'll take their own advice.

21. Teach your kids life skills. For one thing, they actually start being helpful when they're older, and for another, they'll be ready to leave home one day without being overwhelmed by adulting.

Eight years later, this is finally paying off.

22. You will, because of your older kids' large statures and self-assured attitudes, forget that they're still just kids. But don't worry, they'll do something to remind you soon enough.

23. People aren't exaggerating when they say teenage boys smell and will eat everything in sight. If anything, they're understating it.

24. Moodiness is normal, but if you honestly think your teen dislikes you or is chronically disrespectful to your face, your relationship needs help. (Here's a fantastic book about that.)

25. It's really irritating to be the driver for someone who has earbuds shoved in their ears.

26. Older kids refuse to sleep with a flat sheet. No one knows why.

Younger ones will choose to sleep on the floor in between the wall and the perfectly serviceable bed you bought them.

27. Potty training a toddler is a carefree frolic through the meadow compared to teaching a teenager to drive.

28. Everyone starts out thinking they'll be a chill parent, but sooner or later, they'll be threatening to burn down the house if they find one more empty box in the pantry like the rest of us.

29. It doesn't matter what's in the fridge, your kids will look in it and declare that there's "no food." And then they'll leave the door open.

30. Parenting is easier if you don't take yourself too seriously.

The thing that becomes clearest as you raise a child to young adulthood is that actually, you know nothing. Just do the best you can and never stop trying. With any luck, one day you'll have grandchildren to enjoy while your kids go gray trying to figure this stuff out for themselves.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you again for providing perspective. I love that your family is a few years ahead of mine age wise and I look up to you!

Anonymous said...

Number 11 is my absolute “go to.” Rides are frequently longer than the need to be, and he has no idea because he doesn’t have his license yet so never knows where we are. On that topic, you are spot on with the driving. My gosh, I never knew I could suppress absolute terror as well as I do. As I see it, I should be getting my Academy Award any day now.

Unknown said...

Priceless wisdom. Your children have taught you so much! Mom

Handsfullmom said...

Well said!