The 3 Most Important Secrets of Parenting

What 4 kids and 14 years of parenting have revealed.

Toys will never be this neatly arranged. | Photo by Vanessa Bucceri on Unsplash

But here’s the thing: childhood is short. You don’t have time to get good at parenting. You just have to do it.

We have four summers left with our oldest in childhood mode. Maybe she’ll live with us longer. Maybe she will do college from home or take a gap year and work locally. Nice fantasies, but it’s more likely that she’ll be ready to taste life on her own terms sooner rather than later. Four summers left, then, and this is one of them. And that leads me to the first parenting lesson:

You never feel qualified as a parent.

I’ve been doing this parenting thing for 14 years now, long enough in almost any profession to gain some mastery. A decade and a half is adequate time to gain skills, accomplish stuff, and work your way up in reputation and opportunity.

Your child changes and you — the parent — must change how you parent, too. If you don’t, you end up parenting your 12-year-old like a 2-year-old, and it won’t work well.

Changing how you parent means, though, that you’re learning all the time. You never master it. Or, you might semi-master one phase only to get launched without warning into the next.

Consistency is your most powerful tool.

Parenting trends come and go. Between the time I gave birth to our first child and our last child, about a dozen trends peaked, all in a frenzy. Then each one subsided and disappeared.

The thing about trends is that they are loud and seem important. The feeling that comes from parenting trends is nothing but FOMO.

But it’s not missing out on some cool fashion or entertainment item: it’s missing out on something that is key and necessary for your kids to be okay and grow into decent human beings.

Consistency is difficult, but here’s what I can promise you: it gets easier, and it’s worth the effort.

Here are the three most powerful ways to be consistent as a parent:

  1. Be consistent with your words.
  2. Be consistent with acceptance.

Be consistent with routines.

Create them. Stick with them. Change them deliberately (when that next phase begins) and incrementally.

Be consistent with your words.

This has two aspects: first, don’t say what you don’t mean.

Your children will learn that they can trust your word, and this will make every phase of parenting easier.

Not easy, mind you, but easier.

Be consistent with your acceptance.

Parenting is a long-term game.

Your child is definitely going to act like an asshole sometimes.

There will be sadness and screaming, boogers and tantrums, bad moods and eye-rolling, messiness and vomiting and so much poop. Your child will give you all sorts of behaviors, from asshole to zany.

Don’t expect your child to “get it” (whatever it is) and live in some perpetual state of goodness and joy. Nobody is like that. Why do we ask our kids to be like that?

To me, acceptance as a parent looks like this:

  1. Acceptance of the emotions. My child is angry, upset, tired, lashing out, frustrated, confused, hurting, whatever. I can accept that my child has those emotions or try to stifle them. (Pro tip: stifling emotions never, ever works out well.) In the grocery-store meltdown scenario, I can accept that 1) my child is human and 2) humans have emotions and 3) emotions can be difficult and overpowering and 4) right now my child is in the middle of some of those difficult and overpowering emotions. And, oh yeah, I can accept my own emotions, too. I am also human. I might feel angry, embarrassed, upset, frustrated, confused, and overwhelmed, too. This is not bad, this is not wrong, this is not a failure of parent or child. This is real life.
  2. Acceptance of the options. My child and I are in this situation. My child has feelings. I have feelings. What are the options? It’s generally not a case of right and wrong, or good and bad; it’s simply a different set of limits and consequences with each option. There is no perfect option. So the acceptance needed is that these are the options you have, right now, in this situation. These pros and cons, these trade-offs, this timeline. Once you accept the array of options, you can let go of trying to make it all work out perfectly and choose the best option for you and your child.

Love covers so many mistakes.

Maybe all of them.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

I thought it meant that God’s love covered all my sins. And I thought it meant that my love for others — like my kids — could give me grace and patience for their mistakes and issues.

It’s not about the love of a deity for me. It’s not about my love for my children. It’s about their love for me.

Their total acceptance of who I am as a person and a parent. Their willingness to move past the times I yell, or forget something important to them, or don’t pay attention. Their kindness when I’m the one being a total asshole. Their love covers my mistakes and makes me better than I am.

Life is an experiment | All this and more: |☠️ Sweary☠️

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