Updated: Jul 2
We are on double digits now! My eldest son turned 10 recently, and as sat on my bed - reflecting on being a mum for a decade - insights of my life as a mother flashed before me.
The next day, I wrote this in my journal...
10 things I have learned, and done - as a parent - that has paid off a thousandfold:
1. PREPARING AND PREVENTING
From not having family around to help out, to ‘single parenting’ (my husband usually travels 50-70% of the time), to understanding how my child’s brain works before his first big emotional outburst (so I didn't take it personally, nor get triggered, and knew exactly how to support him), to having to do CPR when my baby was 6 months...
It has been my preparation, and commitment to prevention, that has seen me through some of the most challenging times of family life.
It has also allowed me to see these challenging situations as highs, rather than lows.
It was also because of my preparation and commitment to prevention, that my newborn baby, and toddler, still thrived during the few months of my undiagnosed postnatal-depression, after the birth of my second son.
Unfortunately, preparation and prevention are two things completely underrated in parenting. And the old-school saying of ‘you can never be prepared for parenthood’, keeps plaguing our society.
2. ENCOURAGING INDEPENDENT PLAY
Investing time, effort and energy in independent play during the first year of my babies' lives, is hands-down one the most important things I have done as a parent.
My sons could literally be hanging out on their blanket - happily exploring, and playing, loving their own company, for long periods at time (always in a safe place and supervised of course!), since they were only a few months old!
Did I mention my eldest just turned ten? :)
Let me make it super clear:
Short attention spans in children are not the norm, nor normal.
To this day, both my sons are incredibly creative: they are explorers, inventors, scientists in the purest form, artists...and can play for hours on their own, and together.
- I wrote my first 4 books while they played contentedly.
- We go on 7 to 10-hour road trips, without the need of a device, except for music and audio books.
- Age-appropriate cartoons and movies are truly a joyful experience for my sons rather than a need, or an 'addiction'. These days they only watch 2 hours a weekend. Before it was less.
3. BUILDING A RESPECTFUL RELATIONSHIP WITH MY SONS FROM DAY 1
When I was growing up, I wished I had a Gilmore-girls type relationship with my mum. And while I was very close to my dad, I still wouldn’t really tell them much about my life outside of home, or inside of me.
One of my main visions as a parent, was to have not only a loving, caring, close relationship with my children, but a respectful one.
And respect is a two-way street.
I made a pact with myself to respect my sons' every cell. For me that means to accept them fully - for who they are, and who they want to become.
That meant I had to step it up as a human being! That brought a whole new level of consciousness, commitment and responsibility to the picture.
4. IT STARTS WITH ME - ALWAYS
If I don’t love myself, can I really, truly, fully love my kids unconditionally?
If I don't respect myself, how can I respect them, or expect my sons to respect themselves?
If I don't do my inner work, then I'll just become a victim, and blame my kids for everything that triggers me, or for everything that goes wrong with me, or my parenting.
And how can I possibly build a healthy relationship with my child, if I don’t have a healthy relationship with myself, first and foremost?
5. LEARNING AND TEACHING EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
This topic is very, very close to my heart because, while my father was very progressive in many ways, it was very hard for my mum to allow the expression of our feelings.
I became so afraid of her reactions that, as a very young girl, I made a decision to be ‘the good girl’ - to do everything in my power to not ‘ruffle her feathers’, to
do everything that she wanted me to do. To be compliant.
In other words, to be a ghost.
Even if we, as parents, don’t yell, or worse, hit our child, if the message we are giving them is that we can’t, as the adult, handle their feelings - any, and all of their feelings - the very essence of being human, might be translated into ‘feelings are bad or wrong’ and that can last a lifetime.
I’m proud to report that my children are growing up in a completely different environment than I did.
6. I AM A BETTER MUM WHEN I AM NOT PHYSICALLY PRESENT 24/7
After a health scare, I learned the painful way that, managing stress in a healthy way, and looking after myself was not only paramount, but crucial! Not only for myself, for the wellbeing of my family.
As an introvert, my quiet time is my sanity.
Interestingly, it was my children knowing how to be with, and entertain themselves for hours (see point #2), that during self-isolation in the pandemic, I could still take care of my needs.
7. UNDERSTANDING THAT BEING MY CHILD'S ADVOCATE IS MY #1 ROLE AS A PARENT
Speaking on behalf of my children, or standing up for them, doesn’t mean they don’t learn the life-skills necessary to stand up - and speak up - for themselves.
But for the first years of their lives, we - their parents - are it.
When a stranger 'pats' my son’s head, or tickles him, without asking for his permission, when a relative grabs my child to give him a hug, even when my son really didn't want one, when a teacher physical hurts my child…
How can our children learn boundaries when they have never seen it modelled?
My experience is that, society doesn’t have my child’s best interests at heart.
Schools don’t have my child’s best interests at heart. They may say so with a nice slogan, but us - their parents - are their #1 advocates.
If not us, then who?
8. INTRODUCING CHORES FROM EARLY ON
If I could have a gold coin for every parent I talk to, about how chores is one major area of conflict in their family…
While I didn't love doing my chores growing up, I am grateful the task was a non-negotiable for my parents.
At home we have found better, and more fun, ways to go about it with our kids, but it is something we wouldn’t leave to chance - just as with independent play, and emotional intelligence.
Research over many years, have found that "the best predictor of success in young adulthood - on measures related to education completion, career path, and personal relationships - was whether they had begun doing chores at an early age, as young as 3 or 4."
9. CREATING RITUALS
Creating rituals / rhythms / flow has been one of my all-time-favourite things to do as a mum.
They don't have to be complicated, but as my sons get older, I am realising even more, how important they have been for me - and for them.
Some of these rituals are:
- Reading them a books (in English and Spanish) just before bedtime.
- Debriefing about the day -either at dinner, or just before bed - even if it’s just one thing.
- Talking about what we are grateful for.
- Dabbing a few drops of essential oil in their clothes, before going to school, and a different one, before bed. - Looking them in the eyes, and telling them I love them, before they go out anywhere - whether it is for bike ride with friends, or on a trip to another country with their dad.
- Playing short mediations when I drive them to school, then they can play their favourite songs, etc.
- Changing the felt-seasonal-tree I made in a workshop, every season.
- Foot massages during winter, while they sip hot tea, and we listen to instrumental music.
- Organising their closet - getting their winter/summer clothes out from the storeroom - and see how much they've grown! etc.
- Reading them my/their birth-story every birthday.
- Asking them the same 10+ questions every year (e.g. favourite colour, what is love?, if you could be invisible, what will you do?' ...)
- Creating an advent calendar every Christmas, etc
10. REMEMBERING THAT TIME DOES GO FAST, AND YET, THERE IS NO TIME WHEN WE ARE CONNECTED FROM THE HEART
I have never been wild about parents of older children 'preaching' to me that 'they grow so fast, and to enjoy every moment' - specially when I am going through a challenging situation.
For the record, I haven't enjoyed every single moment of my parenting life, specially when I have neglected my needs.
But as my sons grow, I am indeed acutely more aware that the foundation of family life - the first 7 years at least - is when we can have, and make, our greatest impact, and contribution.
I am SO happy, and proud, that I have made it count.
Here's to making it count!