Parenting is a journey that takes many twists and turns. And the funny thing is, there’s no official rule book and most of it is on-the-job training. Many of us seem to rush headlong toward goals that occasionally give us a little satisfaction but often leave us feeling like we’ve missed out on a lot of the good stuff. Still, others may relax a bit too much and miss the chance of imparting certain truths and good habits into our children. Most of us are a little of both.
As parents, we need all the help we can get. This help comes from our spouse or partner, family and friends, counselors, mentors, and even perfect strangers who may have given us a glimpse into a few answers by way of a great book, memorable presentation, or life-affirming blog.
Each one of us is on a unique parenting path, and no two individuals will develop at the same rate or in the same direction. Still, there are certain lessons that all of us need to hear. And too many parents go too long without learning some of them. We want you to make the most of these incredible years with your young ones. Let’s take a look now at 10 parenting lessons I wish I had known sooner.
1. They are Only Little Once; Make the Most of It
Okay, okay, this sounds like a cliche. We’ve all heard it before; “Life is short. Kids grow up fast. Live in the moment,” and all that stuff. But the thing is, it remains true. The worst thing is that the more we overuse these sayings, the less serious we take them. The truth remains, these treasured few years with our kiddos while they’re still young only come once.
During this incredible time, we have the opportunity, every day, to make the most of each moment. Right now, they’re full of energy, curiosity, an open mind, an adventurous spirit, and a lot of love. It’s the perfect time to stay present and engaged with them every single day.
This isn’t just about life lessons, it’s about taking a deep breath and fully engaging with our kids. Adult life fills up quickly. Our sense of responsibility is a wonderful thing, but it can keep us from enjoying time with our kids when we’re always worried about simply taking care of their needs. Play a lot more with them. Build and create together. Work with them on homework and projects. Take walks and nature hikes. Wrestle around, cuddle and read, laugh a lot more with them, get silly, and take every chance you get to talk about everything that crosses their mind.
Don’t waste this short season. Build the kind of connection and love with your little one that will last a lifetime.
2. Accept the Help
Raising kids might bring a lot of laughter to your life, but it’s no joke. It takes more than we imagine beforehand. We all have limits. We burn out, get frustrated, need answers, and get overwhelmed by parenting responsibilities and life in general. When siblings, friends and parents ask if they can help, say yes. When others ask what they can do to bring you some relief or make life a little easier for you, let them know.
We aren’t meant to do it all alone. Throughout history, most cultures valued their shared partnerships and wider support from others in their family and community when it came to raising kids. In our day, we often assume that we’re supposed to do it alone, that we’re supposed to be perfect and never need a hand. It’s a lie. There is no perfection. And we all have limits and need those who care about us to lift us up and help us bring even more love, protection, guidance, education, and inspiration to our kids. Plus, it’ll help you take a break sometimes and refuel the internal batteries.
3. You Really Don’t Need All the Expensive Stuff
This tendency usually kicks in the hardest when we have our first child, but can carry over to each of them. No matter what you read in magazines or hear from others, you don’t need a designer $900 crib, a $500 chair, a $400 changing table, and a $200 diaper bag. They all pretty much do the same thing.
Just look for strong, safe products with good ratings that get the job done. Despite what slick marketing and advertising might tell you, your love for your child isn’t defined by how much money you spend on them and how “elite” their products are. Buy things that make your life easier and your baby’s experience safer and more comfortable and leave the rest behind.
4. Don’t Make One Parent the Comforter and the Other the Disciplinarian
Parents often fall into certain roles or jobs because of ingrained personality traits or varying comfort levels with individual responsibilities. While this is natural to an extent, make a conscious choice early on to not make one parent the full-time disciplinarian and the other parent the full-time comforter, even if that role seems to sync with that parent’s sense of identity.
This polarizes how your child sees each of you and can have lasting, negative effects on your relationship with them. As they grow older, they may learn to respect the disciplinarian a lot more and show disrespect for the parent they perceive is all about fun or consolation. This creates undue conflict and problems that aren’t easily fixed. They may also see one as the kind parent and the other as stern.
Of course, you will each have your own personalities and styles, but it is vital that you split disciplinary and consoling responsibilities as evenly as possible. This gives your child an accurate picture of their parents and helps them build a balance of respect and comfort with each of you.
5. Start Your Personal Work Beforehand
These incredible years with your child are often difficult enough without adding in an abundance of unresolved and unconscious emotional and psychological issues within us. Don’t wait until years down the road after you’ve already built up a list of bad habits, unhealthy attitudes, and needless conflict with your child. Choose now, before you have kids or while they are still very young, to pursue understanding and healing in your own life.
Find a caring, experienced counselor and make the most of this phenomenal resource. Read a few excellent books and work on developing greater awareness of your interior world, since this world directly affects everything you say and do in the world of others.
Work with professionals to deal with trauma and loss, to strengthen your own sense of identity, and to strengthen areas that could weaken your relationship with your children. Doing so now will help you be far more at ease and more prepared for parenting. It will also give you the foundation you need to help your kids avoid certain mistakes and work through their own struggles.
This is good advice for every person in just about any season of life. But we especially need to hear it when it comes to raising our kids. There’s something about parenthood that gets us worked up a bit too much, winds us up just a little too tightly. We obsess over the best baby equipment, the best formula, the best schools, the best neighborhoods. We stress over their habits and choices, their friends, their future.
We apply some of the same intensity and rigidity we use at work to our relationship with our kids. Caring deeply for our children is a good thing. Driving ourselves crazy isn’t. Perfection isn’t possible or wise. You’ve got help if you ask for it. Sweating the small stuff doesn’t make life any better; it only increases tension. And worrying so much leads to a stifling micromanagement of your kid’s existence.
Instead, slow down. Make the most of your time with them. Enjoy their company. Play and laugh together. Make informed decisions through research, conversation, and wisdom, but don’t over-analyze everything. You’ll not only be a more effective and more clear-headed parent when you take things a bit easier, you’ll have a better relationship with your kids as well.
7. Mistakes Are Normal; Roll With It
Parenting isn’t about getting it just right every time out. It isn’t about living up to other people’s standards or ideas. It’s about your relationship with your child and helping them grow in wisdom, confidence, and love as the years roll by.
When you mess up, don’t beat yourself up about it. Learn from it and move forward. Take it easy on yourself and know that kids are a lot more flexible and a lot stronger than we often give them credit for. They’re also pretty quick to forgive. Learn to forgive yourself and jump right back into the journey.
8. Don’t Overbook Your Own Life
This goes not only for you and your schedule, but for every member of the family. In the modern world, we seem to think that more is always better, and this goes for our activities as well. This attitude can hold many potential risks. We often run all over the place, barely finding a moment’s peace, with our kids signed up for every activity under the sun. Multiple sports programs, music lessons, day camps, tutoring, various other programs, community events, friends’ get-togethers. The list goes on.
Sometimes, a bit more is a good thing. Most of the time, though, more is just more. Worse yet, overbooking only wears everyone out, it robs us of opportunities for greater understanding and deeper connection, creates anxiety about life, and keeps us from building lasting memories.
Instead of booking every waking moment, spend Saturdays, Sundays, and certain weeknight evenings together, doing things as a family. Whether it be a road trip, hiking, visiting a museum, doing something creative, or just hanging out, these times together are some of the best you and your kids will have together. Also, carve out regular spots for one-on-one time with each kid weekly or even daily.
Certain activities are great for their experience and development. But too many can damage everyone’s health and relationships. Take back your time together and see how satisfying it can be.
9. Don’t Dismiss Your Kids; Take Them Seriously
It’s easy to be dismissive when we’re upset or busy. It’s easy to get distracted by everything else going on in our lives. It’s also commonplace to view our child’s experiences as somehow less potent or less important than our own, simply because of their age. This is tragic. This tendency shows our child that we don’t care and that we don’t view their life as being as valid as it really is. They begin to feel like a lesser member of the family and start to lose confidence in themselves, and it affects how they measure their own worth.
Try to remember how difficult and confusing childhood often was for you. Childhood may have a great many joys, but it’s also a long season of constant change and emotional upheaval, with frequent dashes of embarrassment, crushing disappointment, relational conflict, stress, and social anxiety.
Take them seriously. When you talk with them, focus on them the way you would with an adult. Make eye contact. Ask engaging questions. Try your best not to judge or jump to conclusions. Be objective and compassionate at the same time and look for solutions together.
The more you treat them with the same respect as everyone else, the stronger their self-confidence will become, and the closer the two of you will be.
10. It’s Their Life, Not Yours
While it’s a good thing to guide and lead your child with confidence, strength, and clarity, it’s not a good thing to push them in directions they aren’t built for or aren’t even interested in. Don’t use parenthood as a way of making up for all the things you missed out on or trying to turn them into another version of yourself.
They have their own life to live and their own path to explore. You have the amazing responsibility and joy of holding their hand for a while, providing wisdom and inspiration, and a measure of self-discipline to get them rolling. As they grow, encourage their creativity, their perspective, their unique gifts and talents, and help them become the best version of who they want to be, not who you want them to be.
Parenthood can be the greatest joy or a constant trial. It’s really down to how we choose to navigate this important time. Don’t waste time and energy on seeking perfection or pleasing others. Be your own parent. Choose connection and relationship over constant activity and trying to fit it all in. Be spontaneous. Play more. Laugh more often. Know that mistakes will happen. Forgive yourself and others quickly. Treat your kids with the same interest and respect that you desire. Encourage creativity. Look for opportunities to maximize on experiences together and accept all the help you can get.
Enjoy these amazing years while you have them and you’ll be rewarded with a continuing connection with your kids throughout all of life.
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For more information about parenting, check out our frequently asked questions below.
Is there a perfect way of parenting?
Definitely not. And it’s not worth spending time on. Don’t worry about being the perfect parent, creating the perfect life, or designing the perfect childhood for your kid. Worrying about doing everything just right or abiding by the standards of others just wears us and our kids down and creates more conflict. Focus on time and experiences together, meaningful conversation, more fun, and mutual respect.
How do I set my child up for success later in life?
First of all, relax. Don’t stress about it since that never helps you think clearly. Focus on developing a calm, confident sensibility in your kids. Encourage wisdom, curiosity, good investment in both time and resources, an abundance of creativity, and compassion, while modeling self-discipline, and a dedication to taking responsibility for your own actions and making good on commitments.
A successful life is a mix of hard and smart work, adaptability and a creative outlook, along with a generous approach toward life and others.
Is it okay to ask for help with parenting?
The answer is definitely, yes! We get so caught up in trying to do our own thing and taking care of every detail ourselves, that we alienate others and leave ourselves open to burn out.
Throughout history, community and family have always been key factors in parenting. We aren’t meant or able to handle everything. Friends, family members, and others who care, can provide help with activities, errands, and resources, along with providing great advice, mentorship, and opportunities for relaxation and rejuvenation.