My oldest daughter has been 18 for about 5 minutes and I’ve been in my feels reflecting on all of the things to get her/us to this adult(ish) point in life.
Parenting is no easy road. It’s more like a petrifying roller coaster where you are laying the tracks while the car is going over it and just hoping that everything lands without going too far off the rails. Sometimes you scream, you cry, you laugh, you want to throw up, you are terrified, you are just hanging on, you are just letting go, you wonder how you made it this far and what you wouldn’t give to relive the best parts of it.
Essentially, I have zero credibility in writing a parenting article giving advice but I guess my car with my first born is pulling through these last bends in this childhood chapter so here are the things that I have learned, sometimes painfully in laying those tracks, through all those mistakes and sharp pivots and just glorious moments over the last 18 years.
1. No one has this thing figured out. No one. There are no real parenting experts. We are all learning all of the things as we go along and just trying to do the best we can. Jesus take the wheel.
2. There will always be jerks. I believe it starts in the sandbox and ends I’m pretty sure never. There will be bullies whether your kid goes to public or private school, college or career forever and ever. The idea is not bubble wrapping your kid to avoid the hard, the idea is more equipping them to live their best lives in a world that often wants to break them down.
3. They don’t have to play on travel teams. They don’t have to do competitive dance or cheer or anything involving weekend or weeklong tournaments or year round commitments that sometimes take the thing that they love and contributes to them getting burned out on it. Stars will be stars either way if they do this or not. By all means, if it makes your child happy and makes you happy and works with the logistics of your family than please please go for it. But to feel like this is the only way that they will make a high school team is honestly creating a false narrative that can often cost families a tremendous amount of money, time and energy.
4. Comparison is the thief of joy. Let the Jones’s do their thing. You do yours. There will always be people with more. Please let’s teach our kids to be content with what they already have.
5. No one is going to wish that they could do middle school all over again. This is a buckle up space in parenting where kids are really trying to figure themselves out. It is imperative. But also, not the most fun where a lot of drama can enter the picture as well as daily reminders for them to put on deodorant. Hold them as much as they are willing to let you and don’t hold it over them if it is brief. Be their safe landing where they just can be them.
6. Talk about college a little less. I’m borderline drowning in a to do list that is the fall of my child’s senior year. If I had a do over, I would probably talk about college a little less in the blip of the season that is high school. Yes, it is important. No, it is not everything. It will fall exactly how it is supposed to. This time is fleeting and these kids have enough pressure on them from all angles of life. Let your home be the sacred space to relieve some of that pressure instead of adding to it.
7. Chores are important. Fostering a good work ethic is priceless. The world does not need more entitled humans.
8. Being a good human is the most important. You want to raise the kid that gets invited back. The kid that is the great friend, the kind human, the one that of course will sometimes test the limits but at the end of the day, their soul is good.
9. Friends are vital. In every stage of life, friends are our lifelines. Try to embrace the play dates that turn to sleepovers that turn to morning recaps over coffee about life and all the things. Levels of friendship evolve over time, help them navigate (but without hovering) that there are some friendships that are brief and some that, thank you every holy thing above, are for life.
10. They are watching. They see how you handle joy and celebration, how you handle stress, pain and grief and how you rise (or fall) again. They will carry a piece of it. Make sure it is something that you want them to carry and if not, let them know that you have learned from it and would have handled it differently if you got another chance. And then when you get that chance, do them proud. Do you proud.
11. Let them get their nose pierced. I can almost hear my mom from miles away gasping at this one. But yes. If your kid really wants this and is old enough (by whatever age you as the parent deem old enough) and you approve the size, design and location of a piercing or gasp, a tattoo and you are with them then I give a green light. I can assure at 18 years old that there are much worse things that they could be doing than getting a tattoo with their parent.
12. Listen to your gut. Your intuition is your greatest compass in parenting. You know your child. You know yourself. Follow it accordingly. And teach your child to do the same.
13. Groceries are expensive. It is ALL expensive. Kids cost I think 8 gazillion dollars to raise them and get them through college. Please do not get used to the feeling of money being in your account. Say goodbye and you’ll miss it (verdict: it’s worth it).
14. They are smarter and more resilient than we give them credit for. The whole thing is that they will experience pain and loss in their lives and that is inevitable no matter how much we would like to shield them from it. Be there. Let them be still with it. Let them talk to you about it. Teach them to speak truths even where their voice shakes. Burying pain is often the root of lifelong internal battles. Language can be our saving grace. Know that they are smart. Know that they are resilient. And we are all equipped with the strength to get through it.
15. Teach them to be advocates for themselves. This is so so incredibly important. Once they reach these teen years (and honestly even before that) they can ask the coach how to get more playing time or the teacher on how they can improve their grade or to stand up to the guy on the bus that is acting like a jerk or to fight for the cause they care about. Teach them the life skills that they can carry into adulthood. At a certain point you as the parent move over to the passenger side. You all (and the world) will be all the better for your child knowing how to take the wheel.
16. Know when to say no. And yes. When to push and pull back. This all is some of the most challenging parts of parenthood. Thankfully we are all human and allowed to make mistakes. If you feel like you failed at something there is always a chance to make it right. Just make sure you have a backbone as well as a great capacity to keep showing up to love them through the hard.
17. The early days can last for 41 years. The high school days can last for 41 minutes. It is both a lifetime and a blink. Roots. Wings. Repeat. Take pictures. Be present. Be there. There will be jellyfish tantrums. There will be high school anxiety. There will be bliss. You are not alone in any hard or great that you are experiencing. The one guarantee is that you will look back and see how fleeting it all was.
18. Hug them every single day.
The journey is simple. And it is complicated. And oh, how lucky are we to experience every emotion in between. Parenting is the hardest and greatest ride. Here’s to the unparalleled journey and when in doubt, just keep hanging on.
We’ve got this.