The memory of that day is still strong. My son, barely 3 weeks old, was loud and inconsolable while we were inside the neighborhood grocery store. I had nursed him just before the short shopping trip, so this was unexpected and it made me feel inadequate. It seemed that everyone’s eyes were fixated on us.
I stepped outside, sat at one of the two patio tables, and nursed him. I felt somewhat awkward and uncomfortable since it was our first nursing outside the safety and comfort of our home.
An elderly lady, 80 or so, smiled as she came nearer: “They grow up so fast. Enjoy all of it.” I smiled back with a sigh of relief. Of course I will, I told myself, blissfully unaware of the moments to come, with all the ups and downs of parenting.
Fast forward 13 years, with another son in the mix. It’s only honest to admit that older kids come with their own set of challenges. As many say: “Wee children have wee problems, and older, bigger kids have bigger ones.” True, but it’s worth every step of the journey.
What would I do more of and less of if I had the chance to do it again?
- Lie down with my newborn baby for the first couple of weeks. I would try not to worry about whether I’d know how to be a good parent. I’d take time to be in the moment and think of what a miracle every human being is.
- Put away the watch during the time we spend together. Time can become the enemy when you look at the to-do list. But time is all we have to create precious memories.
- Cook together more. There will be kitchen messes (and usually not a gourmet outcome), but the rewards are priceless.
- Make sock puppets or “talk” with stuffies. A sock puppet can be an amazing way to defuse otherwise troubling messages like “time for bed” or “time to go.”
- Catch glimpses of their growing bodies with handprints and footprints. It will be messy. But you’ll never think of that when you look at the prints of chubby toes and fingers and relive the sweetness of it all.
- Slow down the time when going for walks. I’ll always remember walks in the rain with my sons. We’d stop to observe every earthworm and snail and look at how perfectly balanced a droplet of water was resting on a leaf.
- Give that extra hug and kiss at bedtime. There’s no such things as too many hugs. Enough said.
- I’d tell them “you’re enough,” often. I want them to remember it when they most need it. Life throws curve balls at times. Learning to accept ourselves sets an example that our children will follow.
- Be silly, turn the music on, and dance. And never, ever say: “No more giggling, time for bed.” I remember the magic moment of my oldest son’s first baby laughter. As Peter Pan’s creator J.M. Barrie once wrote, “You see, Wendy, when the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.” It’s true.
- Listen to people’s opinions. I wish I’d been better at ignoring people’s suggestions on better ways to parent. The only thing you need to do is get to know, love, and accept your little ones just as they are.
- Compare. You vow to never do it, and yet you find yourself doing it. I did. Every baby is different, and every one is amazing in her own way.
- Say yes to baby paraphernalia. Everyone has an object or two they used with their baby that they think is “just the thing.”
- Hurry to do chores while the babies napped instead of napping myself. Or taking a break with a book and a cup of tea. Dishes can wait, and dust bunnies too.
- Be overprotective and hover over them.Mommies need replenishing time, and that will take none of baby’s love or trust away. I’d take a few more walks to the local bookstore and meet more often with friends for coffee and a chat.
- Feel rotten when making mistakes. I would instead teach my children that perfection is not only overrated, but destructive. It prevents us from learning from our mistakes and accepting that others make them, too.
- Limit reading time. It’s simply too precious — even more so when done with voices.
- Hide sadness and tears. It brings out the best in your little ones to see emotions and learn about them. They’ll feel free to express their own and ask for hugs, as well as offer them. An essential life skill.
- Assume that naughtiness rather than curiosity and impulsivity lead to mistakes.
Parenting is by far the toughest job you’ll ever do. It comes with challenges, yet the rewards surpass them by a mile. There’s no perfect way of doing it and if you could do it again, you’d likely make mistakes again. Perhaps that’s what makes it precious. Most of us parents say, “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”