Even after 12 years of sending my kid off to school, I freely admit I’m no expert on the subject. But my daughter and I have learned through trial and error. I’ve taught her and she has taught me. In the end I think she has taught me how to be a better person and I’ve taught her some great guidelines for life. So, for what it’s worth, here are 12 things I learned in 12 years.
#1 “Thinking of You” reminders go a long way. For little kids (and even some bigger ones) consider buying or making little inspiration cards and personal little notes of humour or love, and tucking them into lunches once in while. They should be small enough so you don’t embarrass your kid (trust me on this!). Even the toughest kids still need to know they are loved and someone is on their side when things get tough.
#2 Be on your child’s team but don’t try to solve all their problems for them. My lesson came one day when my child was having trouble with a teacher. I kept making recommendations to her and she finally burst out with, “Mom, I’m not asking you to FIX it for me.”
#3 Sticks and stones break bones, and words break hearts. At one point my daughter was being verbally bullied by a group of rather nasty little girls. She put up with it for several years and finally on the edge of grade 8 she said, “I just can’t do it anymore.” Lots of people told us that if we let her change schools it was allowing her to run away from the problem, but I never regret the decision to let her take control of her own destiny and say, “Enough is enough.” There are much more productive ways for kids to learn about courage and resilience than by allowing their spirits to be broken by constant bullying.
#4 Don’t make food a fight. Just because you keep putting broccoli in their lunches doesn’t mean they will ever eat it. In fact, some kids, like mine, find the taste far too strong to stomach. Lesson: If your kid really hates a food, there are other ways to get the same vitamins and nutrients into their rebellious little bodies. I’m not saying kids shouldn’t try new foods but some kids (like mine) really can’t stand the taste of anything more than the blandest foods until their taste buds mature a bit.
#5 Only Dr. Phil is Dr. Phil. One day as I was (slyly, I thought) trying to teach my daughter about communication using our conversation as an example, she turned to me and said, “Mom, you don’t have to use every conversation as a life lesson.” She was so right.
#6 Your fashion taste might be great but you’re not 4 or 8 or 16 years old (or whatever). My daughter doesn’t mind going shopping with me, but only because I’ve learned to quit imposing my taste on her. She’s sporty; I’m poetic. She hates stripes; I hate florals. Etc. Etc. Etc. She is her own person and as long as she is dressing in the realm of appropriate and doesn’t break the bank, what she wears is mostly her choice. Yes, even the frilly dress paired with the football helmet. That’s my girl.
#7 Don’t always side with the teachers but don’t ‘dis’ them in front of your kid either. Yup, most teachers are amazing but let’s face it — some people should not be taking their ignorance or issues into the classroom. So listen to your child’s point of view — explore it with them. This is a good lesson in how to learn about authority and what to do when you have a valid beef (Warning: see #5). On the other hand, a parent who says things like “Mr. So-and-so is the world’s biggest A-hole and we’re going to SUE the school” is not very helpful. I can see why some teachers also have beefs with parents.
#8 Their music gives you lots of clues to who they are. I have to restrain myself from saying, “No band was worth listening to after The Police broke up!” and I really have to TRY to listen to my kid’s music because it tells me a whole lot about her reality. So I hold back from criticizing and I tune in when she’s in the car with me (most times). We talk about the songs and I gain a small glimpse into her world (and I even learn to like a few, like Lady Gaga).
#9 Give your kid a hug a least once a day and say “I love you.” When my daughter was born, a wonderful man told my husband and I, “Just hug ‘em and love ‘em.” If a kid goes to school knowing someone at home feels that way, it makes their days a lot easier (even if they stiffen up and say “Yuck”.)
#10 They have their own purpose to fulfill, like it or not. I’m a writer and my daughter can write very well. But she doesn’t want to be a writer. Sure, I admit I was a bit taken aback that she found writing to be “boring” but she wasn’t put on earth to be me.
#11 It really is all relative. It doesn’t matter if you walked ten miles to school every day in blizzards. Your kids probably don’t care. This is their time to be young. It is our time to be parents. They have their own blizzard of issues to deal with and their hurdles will be just as big and character-building to them as ours were to us. I often hear people saying, “Today’s kids have it so easy.” Oh yeah? As I told an acquaintance, “I bet you didn’t have people trying to sell you crack on the way to the barn to milk the cows after you walked home through the blizzard.”
#12 Be willing to let go. They need you to loosen the grip gradually and if you can’t do it, they will find a way to do it for you. It’s easier if you both work towards the goal of preparing them to be independent people. They need us to believe they can do it.
And in honour of those parents whose kids go to school until grade 13, here’s one more:
#13 Give yourself credit. Being a parent is a hard job. I know I’ve made tons of mistakes. Being a working mom and a terrible baker, I used to get super jealous when my daughter raved about friends’ moms who were there after school with fresh baked cookies on the table and who organized bake sales. But I did what I could and I have my own special ways of showing my daughter I care (like how to hit a speed bump at just the right angle for maximum fun). See, definitely not perfect.