Max turned 14 yesterday, so I decided to do a blog to honor this special day. His birthday always hits me like a ton of bricks. He is the child who goes first for everything. He unfortunately has to be my guinea pig. He also turns every age first before his sisters and I have to spend time wrapping my mind around his new milestone. Whether it’s preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, sports, driving…you name it, he goes first.
My 5 foot 7-inch-tall son towers over me. I have a feeling there are more inches coming his way. He looks like a man and his voice has changed so much. He has grown a ton over this last year. It takes me a while to adjust. I look at him and I can’t believe he is the baby that I brought home from the hospital in the snow. That day is embedded in my brain forever. I will never forget it. It truly feels like yesterday. They say the days are long and the years are short. I can vouch for that. 14 years has certainly flown by. I have learned so very much in my 14 years of parenting Max. I wanted to share some of those lessons with you.
- One of the most important lessons I have learned is that I have to parent my children differently. They all need different things. I can’t expect my three children to have the same needs. Max is an introvert who loves spending time at home. He loves talking to his friends over the computer. He loves remote school. My daughters wouldn’t agree with any of this. I have also learned that I don’t have to stay on top of Max’s schoolwork. He has proven time after time that he will get it all done and get wonderful grades. I have a very hands-off approach to Max and school. That approach doesn’t fly with my youngest child. My advice is to really pay attention to your child’s differences and what they need from you.
- Lesson number two that Max has taught me is that he really needs clear expectations. He wants to know exactly what to expect. If he has soccer at 6:15 tonight, he wants to know exactly what time he is leaving the house. If he has a Bar Mitzvah to complete, he wants to know exactly what that will entail. He has even communicated this need to me. He said I told him at a young age that he would complete his Bar Mitzvah at age 13 so he said he always knew that it was coming and expected of him. He knows I expect him to complete all his schoolwork. He knows that I expect him to try his best. He knows that I expect him to come outside and help me bring in the groceries. If our kids know what to expect it gives them a sense of security.
- Lesson number three is that my children have to do something active. This is one of my requirements. If I left it up to Max, he would sit on his computer ALL the time. I told Max that school and one sport are his requirements. I don’t care what the sport is. He has to be active. Some kids will choose to do things on their own. Max is showing an interest (on his own) to join the school football team. I don’t care what he does but he has to do at least one sport a season. I need to keep him active. It is good for him. It is also the same requirement for my daughters, but this has never been an issue for them. Lillie would do everything if I let her. See, every child is completely different. Ella loves theater and dances her buns off while she is there.
- Lesson number four is that I have to model good habits to my children. They will eat what I eat. They will see that exercise is an important part of their day if they see me exercising. They will see me meditating and want to do that with me. They see that I get tired and tend to go to bed by 11. They know that I value my sleep. They know that I take vitamins and expect them to take their vitamins. They know that I value them drinking water and they see me drinking water. They see me staying connected to friends and see the value I place in that. They see me celebrating Jewish holidays and know that I value our religion. They know that I love to pray every night and see the importance in that. They see how much I love to write. They see how hard I work so that teaches them good work ethics. They see me sit down and enjoy a good book so that teaches them the value of reading and taking down time for themselves. Little eyes watch everything that we are doing. I realize that good or bad that they are learning from me!
- Lesson number five is that I need to apologize. I am going to mess up. It happens. I need to apologize to my kids when I do and teach them how to apologize. It sounds so easy, but people seem to really struggle saying two simple words of, “I’m sorry.” One example is if I screw up the time of something and have to rush Max. He doesn’t enjoy it when he isn’t prepared with the right information. I simply apologize to him for messing up. I’m managing a household, three kids, a husband, three pets, various schedules, volunteer work for Girl Scouts and PTA and my job that requires time and organization. I’m doing my best and I do mess up.
- Lesson number six is that they will talk to me how I talk to them. They will talk to me how I talk to their father. There needs to be mutual respect. I need to teach them how to talk to me and how to talk to others. I just read a book that stated that how I talk to their dad influences all their future relationships with people whether it’s a romantic relationship or a friendship. I told Lillie to, “Just shut up,” the other day. She couldn’t believe I said that to her. If I say it, they will think it’s okay to tell people to shut up.
- Lesson number seven is that they aren’t me. What makes me happy doesn’t necessarily make them happy. I can live my life in a way that makes me happy. I chose to be a diver in high school. I chose to be a cheerleader. I chose to become a social worker. I chose who to marry. These are decisions that I made for myself to make me happy. They need to make decisions that make them happy. They are not here to make me happy. This is their life, and they need to figure out how they want to live it. I don’t want Lillie to be a cheerleader because I was. I want her to be a cheerleader if that makes her happy and is fun for her.
- Lesson number eight is to teach them gratitude, perspective and joy. My kids see how thankful I am for them, for their father, and the life we have. They hear me say things like, “I want a pool.” I don’t want to teach them to always want for things. I want them to appreciate what they have. I think it’s good to have goals like a new pool as long as they see how much I appreciate our life. I appreciate how hard their father works with all his businesses. I’m teaching them how to look at things. I’m showing them that I am happy and that I find joy in my days. You have heard me say this before and I will say it again. I named my cats purposeful names that I would say all the time as good reminders. My first cat was Hope. I never want to lose my Hope. The two cats that we adopted over two years ago are Faith and Joy. I want to remind myself to keep my faith and to find my joy in my days. My kids know why our cats have these names and they get to say these positive words all day too. I am teaching them how to look at things and how to enjoy life.
- Lesson number nine is to feel the fear and do it anyway. It’s okay to be scared. I used to get very nervous for public speaking and they saw me do it anyway. I was nervous to start my podcast, but I did it anyway. I was nervous to take them all skiing but we did it anyway. It’s important to me that they learn to face their fears, or they get bigger. If they see me tackle my fears than they will do it too. I also push them to try new things. I want them to learn that fear is a normal emotion. It’s also an emotion that I want them to take charge of and not let it take charge of them.
- Lesson number ten is to parent your children how you wanted to be parented. This is one that can keep me from losing my cool. Did I want my parents to yell at me? No way. Do my kids want me to yell at them? No way. They want a calm rational parent and I truly understand.
- Lesson number eleven is that we truly need to be strength focused with our children. Telling them what they need to improve on and nagging them is not going to get the result we want from our children. We need to inspire them and use their strengths. “Max, you are so strong, will you please come bring the new vacuum in for me.” I compliment Max all the time about how strong he is and how much I appreciate that he uses it to my benefit carrying things for me.
- Lesson number twelve is to insist on family dinners and family time. Max is now 14 and his idea of fun is gaming with his friends. Sometimes he groans when I ask him to come have dinner with his family. We don’t have a family dinner every night. We have a little island in the kitchen and a small table for four. I set the dining room table nicely and we have family dinners as many nights of the week as possible. Some nights they are in and out with activities. I think family dinner time is important. Family dinners and time in the car are two optimal times for them to share something with their parents. So even if he would rather game with his friends, he can take twenty minutes to sit down with his family.
- Lesson number thirteen is that we need to encourage friendships. Their friends are going to be the strongest indicator of their behavior. We want prosocial peers for our children instead of negative peers and a negative influence. If you know the child and like them and their family then encourage the friendship. It’s very challenging right now because a lot of people aren’t having friends over. If you aren’t comfortable inviting their friend over, be creative and think of other options. They can face time their friend. They can play a game over the internet. They can go do something together outside if it isn’t freezing out. It’s a little cold in Buffalo, NY right now where I live. Make a bonfire outside and let the kids hang out socially distanced. Take them somewhere where they can be safe and masked like the bowling alley. I keep encouraging Ella to do Girl Scouts to stay connected with her friends on Zoom. Max and Lillie are both big on gaming with their friends online. I don’t like that they are always on technology, but I like that they are staying connected with good friends.
- Last but not least, lesson number fourteen is to teach them about setting goals. They know that their father and I are always making new goals for ourselves. We made a family vision board together in 2019. It’s time for another vision board. They see that we always want to improve ourselves. We can teach them how to set a specific goal and measure it and achieve it. We made a family goal to meditate together every Wednesday night. I’m going to make a goal right here to make another family vision board. Go set a goal, tell your kids, and then help them make goals.
Those are just 14 lessons in motherhood that I have learned along the way. I didn’t mention two very important words to you. Remember to be patient and flexible with yourself and with your children. Just when you think you have figured something out your child will decide they need something else from you. Just when you think that you have it all figured out and that life is smooth sailing, your child will send you a curve ball. Be patient and understanding and try your best to enjoy the challenging and wonderful parenting adventure that you are on.
I hope that you will take something away from this blog that can be helpful to you in your parenting journey. I continue to learn about parenting every day. We can read the books and take the classes, but it isn’t going to make parenting flawless. Just be kind and patient to yourself and your children. Parenting is the hardest and most wonderful job I’ve ever had. Happy Parenting!
Laughing, Learning, Loving,
Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R