There are no guarantees in life.
And there are certainly no guarantees in parenting.
But now that we are three and a half years into child Number 7, I think I’ve gotten some of the kinks worked out. And since most of us aren’t going to have seven chances to get it right, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned along the way.
Sure, you can do your best and still end up with a problem child.
But if you want to give yourself decent odds of producing a human being who is capable and responsible and prepared to leave the nest and also make it through the first eighteen years of his or her life with your sanity (mostly) intact, here are my top ten recommendations:
1. Teach your kid to sleep. And stick to a nap schedule.
I’m not going to get into a debate over what the best method of teaching your kid to get to sleep is. Whether crying it out or cosleeping or whatever the most recent technique to get your kid to sleep through the night is best (although my kids all cried it out, and they are GREAT sleepers, and they aren’t pooping in their pants as teenagers or emotionally traumatized as a result).
What I am going to say is that tired kids are cranky kids. Tired kids don’t do well in school. And tired kids at home suck. Especially around 5 pm. If you still have another two or three or four hours until bedtime, tired kids really suck.
Tired kids also don’t sleep as well as rested kids. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true. Ask any parent who has let their kid stay up super late thinking he will make up for it the next morning and sleep in.
Um, he won’t.
In fact, there’s a good chance he’ll get up even earlier than usual. And that really, really sucks.
So pick whatever method you want.
But teach your kids how to sleep, and stick to a nap schedule. Religiously.
It may not seem like a big deal.
But it is.
Your kids need a lot of sleep. And you need the break.
2. Stop comparing. What you see on Facebook and actual reality are two completely different things.
We are not all perfect families, although we play one on Facebook.
We are all good at different things.
Some of us are good at organizing really cute birthday parties. Some of us make incredible Halloween costumes or take amazing pictures or are great cooks or can decorate a mean cake. Some of our kids are record-setting swimmers or awesome football players or talented musicians or leads in the play or on the honor roll every semester or whatever the top level is in Boy Scouts.
But all of us are also imperfect. We fight and we fail and we lie and we cheat and we hide and we do all sorts of sh*t that nobody sees.
Even those perfect Facebook families.
Especially those perfect Facebook families.
So don’t compare. You are doing the best you can.
And if you want to improve some aspect of yourself, do it for the personal satisfaction you will receive.
Not so you can post a picture of it on Facebook or Instgram.
3. Accept that there is no easy button.
There are no quick fixes. Whatever short cut you take may make things easier in the immediate future. But it will come back to bite you in the butt. Guaranteed.
4. Be consistent. And follow through.
This one is hard. But sticking to this is huge.
And when you want to say f*ck it in this department, refer to #3.
5. Give your kids responsibility.
Your children are capable of doing much more than you think.
Your two-year-old can clean up toys and fold clothes. Your five-year-old can vacuum and use a dustpan. Your seven-year-old can pack her own lunch for school. Your nine-year-old can load and unload the dishwasher. Your thirteen-year-old can shovel snow and take the garbage out to the curb and basically do any physical task an adult can do.
Will they do these things to the level that you would? Probably not.
But you’ve got to start somewhere.
And if this bothers you, refer to #10.
6. Stop making excuses for your kids.
When the teacher calls or emails because your your kid is causing problems in class, when your kids screw up, when they get in trouble, when they get busted for doing something stupid, hold them accountable. It’s not someone else’s fault. Those cigarettes in their pocket are not their friend’s and they are not just holding them.
Allow them to deal with the natural consequences of their actions.
And when you want to cave and rescue them, refer to #3.
7. Be flexible.
Some days will not go as planned. Most days will not go as planned. You can let it totally infuriate and derail you. Or you can go with the flow and teach your children how to do the same.
Improvise, adapt, and overcome.
That is one of the most valuable lessons you will ever teach your children.
8. Don’t be afraid to say no to your kids.
Limit technology. Don’t let them go to all 77 birthday parties they are invited to in elementary school. Don’t sign them up for every sport and activity, buy them every article of clothing, and feel like they need what everyone else has. Give them a bed time. And a curfew.
It may be difficult in the short run.
And when it is and you want to say f*ck it, refer to #3.
9. Let them fail.
Don’t bring the homework or the instrument they forgot at home to school. Don’t look for the book they lost because they didn’t put it back where it belonged. Don’t buy them a trophy when they come in fourth. Or last.
Teach them responsibility. And that sometimes hard work is the only way.
And when they protest, refer to #3.
This is a hard one. I know. Especially if you are on kid number 1.
It took me to the sixth or seventh kid to get to this.
Back when Number 1 and 2 were young, I would spend the day cleaning the house and then freak out when they messed it up.
When Number 3 and 4 were babies, I remember spending way too much time agonizing over what to dress them in to take them to their monthly check-ups at the doctor’s office when they were infants.
I would literally stress over the perfect outfit, thinking every single person in the office would notice.
You know who notices?
Nobody! You could wrap your kid up in a roll of paper towels and no one would notice.
How do I know? Because I would dress Number 4 up from head to toe in pink, cover her in a pink blanket, put a pink hat on her, put a pink stuffed animal in her car seat, take her into the building, and then have someone say to me, “Oh what a beautiful baby. Is it a boy or a girl?”
And that would happen many, many times.
Forget the clueless, non-detail noticing strangers… Do you remember the outfit your kid wore to her 2 month check up?
I know. It’s fun to dress your babies up.
And I’m not saying don’t do it. If it makes you happy, go for it.
But if it stresses you out,
In the big picture, it’s not important.
Neither is whether or not they look perfect for their class picture.
No matter how many minutes or hours you spend trying to make your kid look just right, chances are, they will look back in 20 years, just like the rest of us have, and say “What the hell was my mom thinking?”
Don’t sweat any of the small stuff. It’s never easy, cause there’s no playbook, and there’s no manual.
And while there are plenty of other things that could go on this list, numbers one through ten are a pretty good place to start.