“8 rules for raising kids” or ” random stuff i’ve learned while being a parent”…yeah, i like that better

***i wrote this almost 6 years ago when my kids were 21, 19, 15, 12, and 10 1/2 (at the urging of a friend who thought i might have some insight to offer on the subject). some of the references to times and ages have (obviously) changed, but the theme remains the same. i’ve learned even more since then, but that’s for another day***

what are the rules for parenting? where is the “blueprint”? what is the “right” way? …honestly? i don’t know. i know we have done some “right” things, which only means they “worked” and we have done A LOT of “wrong” things, which means…well you get the point. worry over teething, eating and the color/consistency of poop quickly turns to worry over driving, drugs, and the opposite sex, seemingly overnight. since i have worried about all of these things at one point or another i hope i can share some of what we have learned and are still learning.

we had our 1st child when i was the age he is now (HA!). he likes to joke that we grew up together. there is probably more truth in that statement than humor. i knew i wanted to have kids. they are cute and sweet and cuddly. what could be so hard? well, for one thing, they grow up! when our oldest was a baby, i prided myself on what a GOOD baby he was! he slept through the night from the time we brought him home from the hospital. he ate good and gained weight and was healthy. he rarely cried. he was happy. i was a GREAT mother! fast forward 20 months: baby number 2 came. he never slept. when he ate, he threw up. he lost weight. he wasn’t healthy. he cried all the time (so much so that it became like background noise you couldn’t turn off). he was not happy. i was a TERRIBLE mother! lesson number 1: when you, as a parent, have done your part do not blame yourself when your child does NOT act the way you think they should. likewise, when you, as a parent have done your part do not credit yourself when your child DOES act the way you think they should.

i am one of those crazy moms who LOVES summer and hates when school starts back. i love having my kids home. i like hanging out with them. they like to laugh (especially the girls). they like playing games and watching movies and playing outside. sometimes they fight. sometimes they get mad at each other. sometimes *gasp* they even get mad at me!
i grew up believing that good kids don’t get mad at or talk back to their parents. it is wrong. it is disrespectful. it is not “allowed”. i was sure that our kids would never talk back to us. it is wrong. it is disrespectful. it would not be allowed. i remember talking back to my mom once. i didn’t like how it felt to be smacked in the mouth. i never talked back again. that didn’t mean i didn’t have things to say. everybody has feelings they need to express; everybody has hurts; everybody has ideas inside their soul waiting to be heard…as a parent, i now wonder what thoughts or ideas  i never shared because i was not allowed to talk back. reminds me of REM:

“When the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone,
When you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life, well hang on
Don’t let yourself go, ’cause everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes

Sometimes everything is wrong. Now it’s time to sing along
When your day is night alone, (hold on, hold on)
If you feel like letting go, (hold on)
When you think you’ve had too much of this life, well hang on

‘Cause everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends
Everybody hurts. Don’t throw your hand. Oh, no. Don’t throw your hand
If you feel like you’re alone, no, no, no, you are not alone

If you’re on your own in this life, the days and nights are long,
When you think you’ve had too much of this life to hang on

Well, everybody hurts sometimes,
Everybody cries. And everybody hurts sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes. So, hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
Everybody hurts. You are not alone.”

i want my kids to share with me when they disagree. this in turn leads to sharing their hurts, their ideas, their feelings. it’s called a relationship (NOT a dictatorship)… by the way, i tried the mouth smacking on my oldest when he was 12, it didn’t work so well. i also tried “making” him go to church when he was 13, it didn’t work so well. i am sure he can think of a lot of other examples of my parenting failures, but i think you get the point. one of our family’s favorite movies, “matilda”, has a scene in it where matilda’s dad says to her:

“I’m smart; you’re dumb. I’m big; you’re small. I’m right, you’re wrong. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

lesson number 2: we are people. our children are people. just because we are bigger does not mean we are superior. if you try to demand respect you will lose the relationship (and they won’t respect you either).

i have vivid memories of each of my children wearing, doing, or saying weird/embarrassing stuff. one went through a phase of only wearing cowboy boots, even in the summer when it was 98 degrees out. another one only wanted to wear a tu-tu. still another a princess costume complete with plastic sequined  shoes. i’m talking dr.’s office, grocery store, church…they all went through phases of not showering or brushing their teeth (one actually told me, “i don’t brush my teeth on weekends, holidays, or in the summer). i had to give up my dream of my kids all clean and manicured wearing their matching kelly’s kids outfits. so what things matter and what things don’t?
lesson number 3: choose your battles…carefully, and don’t give a flying f… er flip about what other people think about your kids! when i stood back and really assessed myself and my motives, intentions, and heart i had to ask, “why do i care? why does it matter? what is more important,  my child’s feelings and sense of imagination and play or some persons opinion of my child and my parenting skills?” dr. suess said,  “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” (smart guy) i have learned that most (yes MOST) things don’t matter or at least they aren’t worth the fight. let them wear the boots, the tu-tu, the princess costume, or the hideous non-matching outfit. let HIM pierce his ears, have his hair long, wear skinny jeans. let HER cut her hair short, skip a shower, never wear a dress… once a year have dessert for dinner (this is my husbands thing and of course they LOVE it). concentrate on making memories, not rules. once you have gone through some of the “bigger” stuff you will realize how meaningless the little stuff really is.

i have heard both sides of the argument about being a friend to your child or being a parent. i tend to believe/hope you can be both. obviously there are responsibilities that come with being a parent: caring for this child you created. but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with them too. i don’t have some secret formula for achieving this, but it can be done. like any relationship it takes time and effort and attention. kids want to be heard and if you listen, they will talk. but if you are constantly in “parent mode” pointing out everything wrong that they do, all you will hear is crickets. on the other hand don’t try to be “oh so cool” just so they will like you. they really do want to be parented. it’s safe and comforting and allows them to be children. lesson number 3: listen to your child, you might be surprised what you can learn.

when we got married 22 years ago in august, we were living” la vida loca”. we were full of love, hormones, and ideas about babies…22 years, 5 babies, and lots of memories later, our kids have  grown up with a”chinet” spoon in their mouths.(i say “chinet” because those are the nice plastic spoons. we have never been poor, but not well off either.)  i don’t say that bitterly, i say it gratefully. they don’t get disappointed, they rarely ask for, and they never expect. sometimes this makes me sad, but mostly it makes me glad. lesson number 4: don’t set up expectations in your kids. if you constantly buy them the newest gadget, get them the coolest clothes, shoes, etc., let them make a purchase every time you visit the mall, target, or even the grocery store they will begin to “expect” it and it will then become a burden on you and a joyless adventure for them. also, unless you plan to continue funding their lifestyle into adulthood, you are only setting them up for disappointment.

one thing our family tries to do every year is go to the beach for a week in the summer. a few years ago we realized it just wasn’t gonna happen, we couldn’t afford it. it was one of those times i felt like once again we had blown it and couldn’t give our kids this one simple thing. (kinda like all the years we kept promising the boys we would go to disney “someday”…ask them if they have ever met the big mouse) well, we tried to talk it up big time, this “staycation” we were gonna have! i don’t remember everything we did, i know we went out to dinner, went to a movie, the pool, played lots of games together, but i do remember laughing a lot and spending lots of time together… we just booked our week at the beach recently and my youngest said, “when are we gonna do that stay at home thing again? that was fun!” well, mama needs a week at the beach, but maybe someday…lesson number 5: kids don’t need stuff they need you. spend time with your kids, it’s FREE!

teenagers are just kids trying to grow up and it’s our job to help them. they need our love and support more than anything. rather than think that “my child” will never do “a, b, c…” go ahead and prepare yourself by losing the expectations, talk to your kids about everything, make sure they know you are there for them no matter what, and then fasten your seat belt. lesson number 6: you cannot control the weather you can only prepare for it and if you expect nothing but  sunny days you may get drenched. (when the storm comes refer back to lesson number 1)

a few weeks ago my girls had a 1/2 day at school and i had a 1/2 day of work, so i decided to take them to lunch. i was short on patience after having a stressful morning. i  had a coupon for the restaurant we went to, but ended up not being able to find it in my purse. after standing in line figuring out our order i got irritated when 1 of them would not agree to share a regular portioned meal (the other 2 had decided on a kid’s meal). i made a smart comment and said, “fine, get whatever you want”. i immediately felt bad. (we rarely go out, she never orders anything big. is acting like this  worth the extra $2? all these thoughts are running through my mind). so we get up to order and i tell her i really want her to get what she wants, she says no, she is getting a kid’s meal. i insist and she declines. now i feel even worse. we sit down and i start apologizing, telling them all i am sorry and i am wrong and it isn’t their fault. i had a stressful morning and should not have taken it out on them. i turn to the one and say, i am really sorry, i wish you had gotten what you wanted. she said, i did. i changed my mind because i wanted the cookie that comes with the kid’s meal. LOL!!! lesson number 7: don’t be too proud to admit to your kids when you are wrong (they aren’t stupid, they already know you are wrong) and you won’t regret it. it always makes things better.

there are several things that  will always make my kids laugh (or roll their eyes, or both). just mention “the stock market” to my boys or stand across the room from their dad, hold up a paper and ask if he can read it. i will admit, i can think of way more examples involving my husband than me just because he is a better sport, but i take my share of ribbing too. lesson number 8: learn to laugh at yourself it makes life way more fun, especially for your kids.

lest you begin to think it’s all fun and no order, full of chaos and craziness at the peterson home, i do have my “things”. just ask my kids…here are a few: good food very important! i cook almost every night and that is what we eat, has always been that way. you don’t have to like it, but you have to try it. you don’t have to eat it, but i won’t be making you something else. name calling is not cool! i would rather hear you say “shit” than call your brother/sister “stupid” …this does not mean i want to hear you say shit. other people are important, other people deserve our love and respect and help. we are not better than anyone else (richer or poorer), we are equal. you CAN survive without cable, we did it for 21 years…until the devil we call time warner decided to “give” it to us 6 months ago…must. turn. it. off…don’t hate me my “disney loving” children if you come home one day and it’s gone! everybody needs to help around the house and no you aren’t getting paid for it. if you want to drive you have to pay for insurance and gas.

these are just some of the things i have learned in my 21 years of parenting. they aren’t hard and fast rules, they may not work for everyone and tomorrow they may cease to work for us. we are in a continual classroom of sorts called life and we all have to be open to new things, ideas, and ways of doing things. the day we think we have it all figured out is the day we close our minds and cease to be teachable…that would be a sad day. there are always new things to learn.

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feminist, wife, mother, avid reader. lover of the beach, coffee, wine, and good gluten-free food!

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