If I could have a redo on parenting my children (yeah, we all want one…the tricky thing is that each child comes wired differently, and what you learn from parenting one child doesn’t necessarily work with the next child), here’s what I’d do:
1. Listen more. I so wish I had taken my son’s complaints about school bullies more seriously. I was thinking back to how we dealt with bullies in my day…you just hit them, or you figured out some way to disempower them. I remember a boy looking up my dress when I was in 2nd grade. I slapped the batter out of him! Fortunately, my teacher took time to ask for my side of the story when the boy ran to her crying. I told her what happened, and she looked at the boy and said, “You deserved that!”
Our sweet, sensitive, strong-willed, challenging son was tormented by bullies in elementary school. He wasn’t exactly a paragon of virtue himself. I got calls from school about his acting up on field trips…spitting on people, for instance. He bit one child at our church when he was old enough to know better. I reacted to these situations mostly out of embarrassment rather than thinking about what I could do to seize the moment for a teaching opportunity
2. I would slow myself down and try not to react physically. I remember the time one of our children smart-mouthed me, and I watched in fascination and horror as my hand reached out of its own volition and slapped that little sucker across the face. I think it had some shock value, and I rarely heard such smart-aleckness again.
3. I still would practice corporal punishment, though it didn’t work well with our son. I know, it seems contradictory to hit a child when you’re trying to teach them nonviolent responses. But sometimes kids just need to know their limits. Time-out is too gentle a punishment sometimes. So is taking away privileges. With Daniel, taking away privileges just infuriated him further. When you have nothing more to lose, what do you do then? You rage! He knew exactly how to push all my buttons, and I responded (reacted) accordingly.
4. I would say “You are precious to me. You are precious to God. You are so loved! I love you” so many more times than I did when Daniel and Julie were growing up. I tried to convey those messages to them, but I’m sure that my impatience and fatigue often spoke much louder than my words.
5. I would cuddle with my kids more. In retrospect, I guess we did spend a lot of time cuddling, mostly while we were reading books together and often on Saturday mornings, when we let the kids crawl in bed with us for a while.
6. I‘d insist on cooking more with the children and not worry so much about the messes they made. One of my very favorite memories of Julie was when she had a preschool friend spend the night and we made brownies together. I stripped them down to their underwear, and they stirred the batter (of course, licking samples along the way). They had more brownie batter on their faces than got in the pan, I think…and I had to take pictures. So much fun!
7. I would be even more insistent that my children clean up their rooms. I tried to show them how to organize…but alas, that only lasted for a short while. I remember spending a whole day organizing Daniel’s room and labeling shelves when he was in 5th grade and at school. I thought my organizational system made a lot of sense: “a place for everything and everything in its place.” I called his room the hellhole, because that’s exactly how it felt when I entered it. He constantly left clothes on the floor, and you had to tromp through all sorts of stuff when you went into his room. I decided that I would just be the monster who stomped on everything. Sometimes we resorted to throwing his clothes out in the yard. That still didn’t make much of an impression on him.
8. I would probably not do day-to-day things that differently because I did the best I could with the tools I had at the time. If I could go back in time, I would read more books about ADEQUATE parenting, books that inflicted less guilt on me as a working mom (every mom is a working mom, but I bore the burden of working at a Christian institution that DARED to send the message that its female employees who were moms should be at home with their kids. What kind of bullshit was that? I was very angry that they had the gall to preach their little sermons when a large part of the workforce was working moms. How did they know each mother’s situation? How could they prescribe one-size-fits-all (and it’d better be men as the spiritual heads of their home as well as the providers for their family) for every family?
We working moms (outside the home) had it tough enough…every mom’s worst enemy is guilt…without our employer constantly sending the message that we weren’t good enough parents because we worked outside the home. Boy, do I wish I had had the courage to walk out of chapel more often when I heard the B.S. begin. I probably would have been fired, but at least I would have had my dignity.
9. I would have shown John more respect. Often I argued with him in front of the children. He was such a good daddy and was involved in raising our children, taking them to the doctor, taking care of them when they were sick…just as much as I did. His family background and approach to child-rearing was different from mine. Different, not better or worse. We had to learn to work together, and I am fortunate to say that we did manage to get through our kids’ teen and young adult rebellions and stay intact.
10. I would have emphasized brains less and inner beauty more. Smart is great, but smart ass is ugly. Sometimes I’m afraid that John and I modeled the smart assness more than we did the intelligence. And we prized intelligence over, say, just being a well-balanced person and loving the people around us. I think over time we have come to see the value of all sorts of people, and perhaps our kids have gotten an inkling of that as well.
11. I would still send my children to public schools. We were fortunate to have good public schools, though we had to provide transportation from middle school through high school every single day… I am so glad Daniel and Julie attended public high school where they encountered all kinds of people, not just kids like themselves.
12. I would spend more time doing service projects with my children. I managed to do more of that with Julie, serving at a soup kitchen and doing other community service through Girl Scouts. Somewhere along the line I lost Daniel to that, but he got to do some community service in high school that I think made a lasting impression on him. He has a heart for homeless people and would give his last penny to someone in need.
Well, enough of my “lofty” thoughts for today. I am privileged to be the mother of two fine young adults and the wife of one patient husband. I am blessed.