The best parenting advice I receive comes from other parents. I may not always want their advice; it just usually happens. It’s funny where wisdom comes from - the guy down the hall may have nothing in common with you except for the fact you’re both fathers and then wham💥 he comes up with the best parenting advice you’ve ever heard! It’s been the same for me.
As an adult and then a mom, I figured I knew everything there was to know about raising kids. (News Flash: exactly… I know exactly what you’re thinking about me and you’re right!) Clearly, I knew nothing! How often do you feel the same way? (Come on admit it! It’s just you and me here.) The difference between parents going through a divorce feeling prepared and those who don’t is simply perspective. Divorce is a rite of passage much like parenting is. It forces us to understand and expect change. As well, I’ve learned that parenting skills can be acquired and the advice we’re given is a lesson book on showing up.
Now let’s chunk this down for easy handling:
- Imagine being calm and centered? Playing with your kid, making dinners together, watching movies, having an evening prayer or chat together before bed each night? Imagine the great bonding during the car ride home after the game able to discuss the umpire’s call and how the team played? Imagine feeling up to parenting day-in-and-day-out?
Hysterical right, that’s a tall order for any human being never mind a parent! I have never been the best at keeping calm. I’m usually in a hurry to get a meal on the table, and car rides home dissolve into traffic jams way too often where I live. Life is never centered.
Here’s one of my favorite pieces of advice:
The days are long but the years are short.
When I first heard that, I was eight years away from even becoming a mom. The woman I was speaking with was a parent on set at One Life To Live. Her son was an actor and we spent lots of time between shooting scenes discussing parenting. I peppered her with questions. And then I became a mom and the days were super long, exhausting really. You know what I’m talking about, right?
Then the years began adding up and now my parenting on a daily basis is nearly over. As my kids got older and older, the years have had them leaving me regularly. I’ve written about that in my article: The Most Important Parenting Advice For Divorced Parents With Teens http://bit.ly/2s7fWUx. It’s strange to think that what was once so daunting and exhausting is nearly over!
- One February, I was visiting friends in Maine who adopted three siblings through the state foster care system. (Lucky children!) I was probably arguing with mine about wearing mittens or snow pants or something and when they were finally sent out the door I turned to her in exasperation. She said this:
Let your kids decide what clothing to wear outside.
Stick with me here because I feel your pain! I couldn’t wrap my head around her advice either what with the conflicting thoughts… What if they didn’t remember to put on their gloves? What if they got sick or got frost bite? What if I’m accused of not being a good mother? What if they’re home sick for days on end and I have to stay home from work?
Then I remembered: it only takes making one freezing cold snowball or one soaking wet shirt to teach someone to wear more clothing to play in the snow or to walk in the rain! I simply made sure they had a hat and mittens or gloves in their backpacks (ahem, to this day!). I buy fold up umbrellas so they can always carry one. I throw in old sunglasses and hand warmers when they’re not looking. Super Mom! I’m prepared and so are they.
- For awhile I was coaching moms on how to feed their kids well. I had a company I called Feed Your Mouths and worked with a few families nearby. I was pretty obsessed with giving my kids the best nutrition possible - there was no sugar or refined flours allowed (my poor kids!) and I kept getting referrals to help other families serve up tasty and nutritious meals. What I remember learning from one MD I followed, was this choice piece of advice when I asked about coaching families whose kids wouldn’t eat healthfully:
Parents are the ones who do the grocery shopping, not children.
That put the responsibility 100% on the ones carrying the credit card and driving the car. Which also meant, that they (the parents) had to have the confidence and the resilience to deal with a few days of temper tantrums. Because part two of this advice goes like this:
Kids will eat when they’re hungry and they’ll usually eat whatever you put in front of them.
You know this is true! You also know that if you leave cut vegetables with some yummy dip on the counter when a child is hungry, they will eat them without an argument. They’ll even like them. Especially when they’re younger! Now, I admit, as they age and get to shop around by themselves, choices get a bit dicey but here again, I lean into the wisdom of the 80%-20% rule reminding myself that kids need nutritious, good meals 80% of the time (they really need it 100% of the time, but I’m leaving a little wiggle room for Grace here.)
- And the reason I’m leaving some wiggle room for Grace here is because of The Very Best Parenting Advice I Ever Received that I got when I separated. Like most newly separated parents, those first few months (years) are really tough. What kids wear and what they eat becomes fuel for many, many emails and phone calls between client and attorney or texting feuds between divorcing parents trying to find their way toward respectful co-parenting. Every opportunity to fight becomes fuel to feed the negativity and vitriol.
I don’t advise succumbing to this type of arguing: using what a child eats or wears as a reason to fight. The days are long enough, your children are growing up in front of your eyes and they’re watching you, modeling exactly what you do - good or bad! Your attorney may win, but in truth, they don’t. They may earn more money listening to your temper tantrum (sorry, but true) however, you lose respect and they worry you’re not a credible, believable client as well.
This is what I was told:
Your children will be fed and watered. They’ll be safe and taken care of. They may eat pizza and stay up until midnight but they will be watched by the #1 babysitter you could ever ask for.
Remember that. No one else loves your children as much as their other parent!
Every fiber of your being is going to rail against them eating pizza and fries every weekend they’re with their other parent. You will scream when they come to you tired and cranky. You will want to scold and teach, and argue, and belittle or compete against everything the other parent is doing. You will worry that your little ones have to become more responsible than their other parent. You will use your parenting skills as evidence that you can handle being with your kids. Think about what you might be doing: are you trying to measure up, fight with and bully your way via food and mittens? Don’t. Stop yourself. It’s simply not worth it.
Eventually, your children will learn and know what’s best for them. Eventually, they’ll know to put on their mittens and hats, to pack their own things and to feed themselves. Eventually, they’re going to grow up. All children must learn these lessons. You’re not a bad parent for letting them figure it out on their own.
The Scarlet D™ Letters are a weekly series I wrote to give those in the divorce process a head’s up on the expectations and pitfalls of the experience. If you haven’t read them, sign up here: http://www.laurabonarrigo.com/scarlett-d-letters/. The difference between parents able to handle the emotional ups and downs of separation and those who can’t is understanding this modern day rite of passage.