10 Most Important Things I’ve Learned in Parenting
After ten years of parenting I’ve realized I still don’t know what I’m doing and that’s okay.
Last month my oldest child turned ten. That’s a whole decade of parenting in the blink of an eye. Here are ten things I’ve learned over this past decade.
1. I Still Don’t Know What I’m Doing
When I was a brand new parent, every decision was imbued with an almost crushing feeling of gravitas. I was responsible for the development and progress of this human being, including their relationship to Judaism? Then I needed to make the best choices! And so began the flurry of Googling everything, reading endless articles and books, and discussing the importance of things like pacifier selection with my friends (who were just as clueless as I was, for the most part).
Now that I have slightly more experience, I’m no longer paralyzed by the range of potential choices. I have more confidence in my intuition, and I have accepted that I will not always make the right decision, but know that trying my best is enough.
2. No One Really Knows What They’re Doing
I once had a conversation with a more experienced mother (someone who had married off children already) who shared with me that even when you think you know how to do this parenting thing, along comes a child with totally different needs than your other children, and you find yourself back in uncharted territory.
The more conversations I have with other parents, the more I see that we are all struggling to just do our best, not only with our oldest children, who will forever be our test subjects in parenting, but with all our children.
I see this acutely in my efforts to instill a love for Judaism in my children. On the one hand, I want to establish the framework of Jewish ritual in their lives, and on the other hand, I don’t want it to fall into the same category as brushing their teeth and cleaning their rooms. It’s a delicate balance whose outcome will not be apparent until my children are grown.
3. Children Are Extremely Resilient
Children will grow up how they grow up, sometimes because of and sometimes in spite of the circumstances of their upbringing. On the one hand, this is encouraging. It means I can’t mess them up too much! On the other hand, it can be a bit deflating. I put all this effort into raising them and they’re just going to turn out however they would have turned out anyways?
Of course, providing them with a warm, loving, supportive environment with healthy boundaries is necessary, and not something to be taken for granted, but I do take comfort in the idea that whatever mistakes I inevitably make will hopefully not be too damaging.
4. Keep It Simple
Often, when we’ve been faced with explaining a complicated or delicate situation to our children (things like a divorce in the family, a move, loss of a job), we naturally worried about how they would react to news which we, as adults, found emotionally challenging.
Most of the time though, our children have taken these major life changes completely in stride, and the simplest possible explanation was enough for them. When subsequent questions arose, we would address them, but the initial presentation of the situation only needed the most basic explanation.
5. Be Present
This one is really hard for me. I always have a long to-do list, and there is always something around the house which needs to be done. And, honestly, sometimes when my children are simultaneously talking and vying for my attention, it gets overwhelming, which makes folding laundry much more appealing!
My youngest started doing something recently which reminded me that I need to re-prioritize where I give my attention. If he feels I’m not adequately observant, he will take his little hands, put them on my cheeks and direct my head so I’m looking right at him and then he will say, “Mommy, look at me.” It’s a cute yet pointed reminder that the laundry can wait.
6. They Chose You
There’s a concept which I’ve heard credited to Rabbeinu Bachya that when we are just souls up in heaven, we are shown the family we will be born into (along with the other circumstances of our lives), and only after we accept those circumstances, then we come down to this world.
I think of this whenever I’m feeling particularly down on myself for my (very human) failings. I remind myself that my kids knew what they were getting into, and they chose to be raised by me despite my imperfections.
7. They Are Who They Are
Maybe you’ve noticed, but children have their own disposition set from birth. Some are more anxious, others are consistently unflappable, some are beyond energetic, others are more sedate. Helping them recognize and adjust to their own traits while not boxing them into what we think they are is a great gift to give them.
This affects the way they relate to their Jewish heritage. Some children will easily take to practices like prayer, or sitting quietly at the Shabbat table for kiddush. Other children naturally chafe against perceived restrictions. Like it says in Proverbs (22:6), a child needs to be educated according to their own way. It’s crucial not to try to force something which could create negative feelings or experiences.
8. Parenting Is the Best School
Raising children can be like constantly looking into a very unflattering mirror. All my less appealing character traits are found in some way in my children.
While it can be very upsetting to see the less desirable things I’ve passed on to them, it also helps pinpoint just exactly what I need to work on in my own character development. And one wonderful outcome of this intense course in self-improvement is that when I am able to conquer a negative character trait, it helps my children learn how to deal with that trait as well, and it teaches them that we are all human, and that it’s possible to improve.
9. You Can’t Control Them
When children are small, we as parents have seemingly complete control. We dictate when they wake up, how they spend their time during the day, what they eat, when they go to sleep, and more. But as children grow up and start to assert their independence, they will inevitably make decisions that cause us to worry.
I will continue to impart my values and guidance while they are still young and more impressionable, and hope to have wisdom and patience as they grow and start to individuate. And hopefully they will still ask me for advice sometimes when they are grown!
10. Enjoy Them
Much of parenting seems to involve not-so-enjoyable tasks like making sure teeth are brushed, homework is done, showers are taken, chores are completed, and so on. With the seemingly endless responsibilities that come with trying to raise children to be successful adults, it can be easy to overlook the good parts.
The moments of wonder, joy, and laughter that come with raising children are the best parts of parenting, and when I am able to focus on those parts, the more tedious aspects of parenting become more tolerable. And to quote a cliché, they’re only little once. I don’t want to miss my chance to enjoy them.