Top 10 Things to Remember as a Parent (Part 1)
Recently I received an email from a former student. Seven weeks ago she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She was writing to ask me to share some parenting advice: “maybe a top ten list of things to remember,” she wrote.
It’s funny, almost immediately I thought of one, but I couldn’t come close to thinking of ten off the top of my head! So, I hit the reply button, shared my one nugget, and in the middle of writing to her, realized that this would be a lovely idea for a blog post. Thanking her for the helpful prompt, I asked her to stay tuned for this week’s post.
As it turns out, each thought takes a bit of explaining. So I will offer these in two installments—five this week and five next week.
Without further ado: Our — because I really can’t do anything, and haven’t learned anything about parenting, without dear Joshua — top ten list of things to remember as a parent.
1- The Days are Long, but the Years are Short
This was the one nugget that came flying to mind when I first received my student’s email. It is an insight that has nourished me over and over again these last several years. So much so, that two years ago (!) I wrote a post about it for this blog.
2- Parenting consists of thousands of tiny corrections
Although there are undoubtedly educational components to parenting, I would not say that parenting is precisely the same as educating. Educating involves formal moments of instruction. Parenting seems to me to be much more about consistency in the form of thousands of tiny corrections, in a hundred different settings, to communicate and cement the lesson at hand. It takes a ton of attention and a ton of energy. Beautifully, it is all completely worth it when your 6 year-old sits at a table in a restaurant, looks at a menu to select her meal, respectfully orders her own food, and places her napkin on her lap. This applies particularly to taking children to Mass as well.
Children of any age absolutely thrive on routine. This is very well-known and time-worn wisdom. That being said, as children get older, interests diversify, families get busy, and as old routines become hard to maintain, new routines are very challenging to establish. In the face of that reality, I think there are some specific areas to focus on for routine. I arrived at them by adapting a saying about retreats from a priest friend of mine. He says that no matter what else happens, a retreat will always be good if it has good prayer, good food, and good rest. I think the same is true of family life. If we focus on a good family prayer routine, good nourishing meals (fresh fruits and veggies) shared in common, and making sure we all have enough good rest, everything else will fall into place.
Children of just about any age always know exactly where boundaries are because they push them until they smack right up against them! Boundaries are the interpersonal equivalent of routine. Children thrive in relationships where boundaries are clearly established and defined. They derive personal comfort and confidence from knowing what is and is not acceptable behavior and the roles that individuals play in their lives. Now, just because they know the boundaries does not mean that they will not attempt to push the boundaries. See number 2.
5- Parenting is a Team Sport
I am not always at my best, and Joshua is not always at his best. Just like in team sports, you need to be able to substitute in and out of the game from time to time. Additionally, the “time-out” is just as effective a tool for parents as it is for children. It is possible that at this point in our parenting careers, Joshua and I have taken more time-outs for ourselves than we have given to our children. We are pretty attentive to recognizing when our energy is too low to handle a situation well, when we are getting too caught up in the moment, or simply when our buttons have been pushed. Sometimes those moments happen when the other person is there to just step in (we have given each other timeouts of the “why don’t I take over here while you sit this one out” variety). Sometimes they happen when there is no one around to help out. In those times we call each other to “talk us off the ledge” or just tell the children we need a time out and adjourn to a private space. God is usually there waiting.