My oldest turns fifteen this week. It’s absolutely surreal, and I can’t help but look back at what a journey we’ve been on. These babies grow like weeds, and motherhood keeps changing as they do. I’ve had as many misses as I’ve had hits as a mom; you learn as you go, and I am most definitely still learning. I try to stay open to the new; open to having to readjust the route or the mindset, but there are a few things I know now to be absolute truth.
In honor of fifteen, here are fifteen lessons I’ve learned along the way:
1. Just keep carrying wipes in your bag.
There’s no age to stop that, in terms of practicality. Kids keep being messy beyond toddlerhood. You’ll need them from now on into forever. You don’t have to carry a whole bucket of Pampers wipes once they’re potty-trained, of course, but grab a small pack, make your own, whatever. Just have them ready.
2. When you’re wrong, apologize.
Of course it’s hard to admit you’re wrong, especially to a little person with whom you may be in some sort of power struggle, but this is how you build trust, it shows them that even adults mess up sometimes, and it’s just about the only way to really teach them the power of an apology. Say you’re sorry, and say why you’re sorry.
3. This is how you remove a splinter without having your eardrum pierced by screams.
You’re welcome. Medical tape gently wrapped around a foot and then pulled off with steady speed will also get all the cactus spines out, but here’s hoping you never need that one.
4. Parent the child you have, not the child you thought you’d have.
Don’t break their spirits under the pressure of your expectations. Leave room for them to surprise and delight you by guiding them through their own natural bends, and you’ll never be disappointed.
5. The more okay you are with your parenting choices, the less you will need others to be.
The minute you get comfortable in your skin is the minute it gets thicker, and man, what a liberating thing it is. On the other side of the same coin, the more okay you are with your choices, the less you’ll feel the need to worry about the parenting choices of others. Freedom.
6. Make them wear sunscreen.
I don’t care if you think they don’t need it. I don’t care if you don’t like the way it feels or how insane their hair looks once you apply it. Make them wear sunscreen when the weather calls for it. You wear it, too.
7. Things that are caught, not taught:
empathy, integrity, service to others, pushing through fear, setting healthy boundaries, and drinking your eight glasses of water. Kids are smart, and they are watching. The only preaching they’re interested in is the kind you actually practice.
8. Your kid is hilarious.
I get a lot of comments about how funny my three are, but yours are, too! Listen for the under the breath stuff, watch the facial expressions, and get them talking in the car. Small humans are pure comedic gold; you just have to know to mine ’em.
It’s ridiculously easy, and since you almost certainly have everything you need for it in your pantry already, you won’t have to figure out how to make it to the store with a vomiting child.
10. Don’t take it all so seriously.
Mothering without a sense of humor and flexibility is going to make for a miserable ride. Don’t do it to yourself or your kiddos, because motherhood is nothing if not absurd. Embrace the absurd, or at the very least, go ahead and surrender to it.
11. Go on the playdate.
Listen, I get the temptation to back out for one thing or another, but don’t do it. You won’t find your people sitting at home alone, and trust me, you’re going to need your people. The only way to establish the bonds that will keep you upright through the hard days is to show up.
12. Make friends with snack dinner, especially in summer.
13. Kids are snowflakes.
No, not in the way that word gets thrown around on social media now, and not even in the way that it’s used when a mother is overly precious about her child. Snowflakes — fingerprints — however you want to say it, they are wholly unique, individual little things, and therefore they cannot be parented as if they are all the same. What worked for #1 may not work for #2…and it definitely won’t cut it for #3.
14. Get on their level.
There’s nothing terribly remarkable about experiencing everyday things that we’ve encountered hundreds of times in our lives…that is, until you are sharing said things with someone experiencing it for the very first time. Try to live those moments through your child’s eyes, whether it’s the first time putting their toes in the sand or the first time behind the wheel. Be there with them and find the joy all over again.
15. It really does go so fast.
I know, everyone gets sick of hearing this one, but there is a reason all the moms of older kids say it. You blink, and suddenly you have three summers left. That little hand you used to hold is bigger than yours — MUCH bigger. I know savoring every moment is impossible, and it sets us up to feel like failures, but if you sense an opportunity, take it. Soak them in, study them. Bend time for just that moment. You’ll be so glad you did.