20 Things I’ve Learned in 20 Years of Parenting

This is my son when he was about nine months old. I try not to share too many pics of my kids on the internet but I figure no one can recognize him from this one so his privacy remains protected.

Today is my son’s 20th birthday, which means I’ve been a mom for two decades. That feels like a very long time and it also doesn’t feel like any time at all. Here’s what I’ve learned from being a mom for twenty whole years.

  1. Nothing can prepare you for being a parent so when you are waiting and you worry that you’re not ready? There’s no such thing as being ready. It’s OK. You’ll do fine.
  2. Being a parent is kinda like finding a room in your house that you didn’t know you had and it’s full of stuff you didn’t know you were keeping. You will discover lots of things about yourself, much of it surprising and some of it less than flattering.
  3. You will make mistakes and the first time you do it will feel devastating. Fortunately babies and children are pretty darn resilient because mistakes are inevitable. Practice self-forgiveness; it will come in handy.
  4. Our children are who they are and we can certainly influence who they are but we can’t change it. It’s far easier to work with a child’s temperament than to fight it.
  5. Children are people not projects. It’s nice when they do things we get to brag about but pleasing us or justifying our decisions is not their purpose on the planet.
  6. Parenting is humbling work. Every parent is eventually that mom or dad in public that we all swore we’d never be. Every parent says things they regret to their kids. Like my boss used to tell me when I was complaining about a challenge at work, “What an opportunity for growth!” You will do a lot of growing.
  7. Curiosity is an underrated tool in parenting. Be curious about who your child is and about who you are. Be curious about what might work and when something doesn’t work — that sleep training plan or that homework routine — be curious about why it didn’t work and what you can learn from it. Being curious will help you feel like a scientist trying to figure things out instead of like a bewildered parent flailing away at a problem.
  8. Parenting is not something you can do alone. I’m not talking about a partner (although a partner is a nice thing to have), I’m talking about your village. You will need help because we all need help. We will need someone who can take the kid off of our hands when we’ve had it and we will also need people who can listen to us rant or rail or cry when we’ve had it. Your village should be full of people who will build you up, not tear you down. Parenting is hard work and uninvited criticism makes it a lot harder.
  9. Parenting will bring up stuff you didn’t know you had and you will have to watch for it. Sometimes you won’t have to watch for it because it will bonk you over your head. Expect your kids to push all of your buttons and hit all of your weak spots. It happens to every one of us and that’s when it’s a good time to lean on your village (see #8).
  10. But being a parent is also the ultimate do-over. You will get to right a lot of your wrongs if you are willing to face those wrongs. Being a parent may be triggering but it can also be very healing.
  11. There are a whole lot of books about parenting and they all say different things. Read the ones you like and don’t worry about the rest. There is one exception: I do think everyone needs a copy of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk.
  12. Our children are supposed to grow up and leave us, which means that we will always love them more than they love us. At the beginning they need us more than we need them so it can be confusing when their loyalty shifts but that gradual turning out and away from us is a good thing. Celebrate it with them and then you can always go to your village for some hugs when you’re missing them.
  13. That said, don’t mistake that turning away as an indicator that your work is done. Your teen needs you just as much as your toddler did — sometimes even more. Their demands for your attention just tend to be less consistent.
  14. Legally your child may belong to you but in reality they belong to themselves. They will like things you hate, hate things you love, and have their own strong opinions. Be interested instead of offended and you’ll all be much happier.
  15. Expect to have a lot of very deep, very heavy conversations while driving. Facing the back of your head is a lot easier than facing your face so you can expect your child to ask you the very hardest questions when you’re trying to merge onto the freeway during rush hour. Plan accordingly.
  16. There is a whole genre of books and movies about parents who run away from their families. This is because we all want to run away sometimes. This doesn’t make you a bad parent; it makes you overwhelmed or exhausted or both. See what I mean about self-forgiveness coming in handy?
  17. You won’t always like your kids because they will not always be likable. They will not always like you either. This is called being human and sharing your life with other humans.
  18. It’s very powerful to let a child know that even if you don’t like them and even if they don’t like you that you will always love them. Let them know that your love and commitment is big enough to cover both of you.
  19. You know that guilt-inducing poem that says, “[Q]uiet down, cobwebs. Dust, go to sleep./I’m rocking my baby. Babies don’t keep“? It’s true but it’s also true that someone has to clean the house. Make sure you have days where you get to just gaze into each other’s eyes, sure, but don’t feel bad when you put them down to vacuum.
  20. To be a parent is to agree to give part of yourself over to nostalgia the instant you take that child into your arms. You will miss them forever but the more you accept that and accept that this is yours and not theirs to carry, the more you will enjoy the ever-growing person in front of you.

Much love to my son (and to his sister) for teaching me so much every single day and for being such good company while I’m learning!

Leave a Reply