A Decade in the Trenches: 10 Things I’ve Learned in 10 Years as a Parent

family-blowing-out-candles-1950sNot that long ago, we celebrated my son’s tenth birthday. A milestone for him and another notch on the parenting belt for me. You have to trust me when I say there were days when I didn’t think either one of us would make it here. There was the dramatic, traumatic delivery and subsequent two weeks spent in the NICU. There were the endless months when he rose before the sun. There were fights over food, struggles over sleep and very much ado about what turns out to be nothing. If I have learned anything at all in my full decade of parenting, it is this:

You never know as much as you think you know.

That said, in ten years I have learned. I’ve learned a lot, in fact.  I’ve gone from chasing my son around the playground with a half eaten hot dog to trusting that he will in fact, not starve. I’ve gone from micro-managing his every waking moment to realizing that the only way he’s going to grow up is to actually experience things, not just hear about them.

I have learned the things you assume are going to be the game changers—the weaning, the potty training, the arrival of a sibling–usually aren’t. It’s the unexpected dark horse that throws you for a loop: like socks. I can’t’ tell you the fights we have about in my house that revolve around socks. In fact I have a whole blog post devoted to socks post planned for the near future.

Are you sure we've got everything?
Are you sure we’ve got everything?

I’ve learned you don’t need to pack everything and the kitchen sink when you are going on vacation (or to the beach, or out to dinner). Chances are that unless you’re backpacking through Turkmenistan, you’ll be able to find diapers. I can’t tell you how many packets of oatmeal I packed in my suitcase, how many extra diapers I crammed into my carry on, convinced I would never be able to find the right brand or the exact duplicate and more importantly….that my child would care.

I’ve learned there are always going to be other people who judge the way you choose to parent, whether it is an issue over feeding or sleeping or television or junk food or simply the number of children you chose to have. I wish I could say I’ve never judged anyone else, but of course I have–let she who has not judged cast the first stone–but I have learned that the only thing that matters is that I do right by MY kids. What is right for someone else’s child may not be right for mine, and vice-versa.

I’ve learned that you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have….the facts of life with kids. As much as we like to look at childhood through rose-colored glasses, the fact is, growing up is HARD. There are times when it SUCKS for both you and them. Maybe every now and again you have a day where you feel like Charlie Bucket after he’s won the golden ticket, but in between are a lot–tons and more and another dozen–of days that are just…days.

mcdonaldsI’ve learned all those evils you think you are protecting your kids from–sugar, soda, McDonald’s, television, video games, non-organic bananas–those are the very things your kid makes a beeline for when they are out of your sight. Well, maybe not the bananas, but I’ve seen my own kid make a madcap dash for the Coca-Cola stash when he thinks I’m not looking. So instead we try to teach balance. Not an easy lesson, but hopefully a more fruitful one, even if it isn’t always organically fruitful.

I’ve learned that boys are different from girls. Since I don’t have girls myself, I can only confirm this by noting that my own kids are nothing like me. But even the parents I know who do have mixed sex families will tell you they’re different. And that’s ok. It’s ok for girls and boys to be different and to like different things. What is not okay is preferring one over the other, parenting by stereotype (oh, there I go judging again), or assuming all girls are one way and all boys another. Kids are people. They are multi-faceted. Just because they’re under five foot doesn’t mean we should pigeonhole them.

I’ve learned  family time is overrated. I say this about to go into a three-week holiday break at my least favorite time of year. After the last break–the one five minutes ago–when my husband looked at me expectantly that Saturday morning and said, “What shall we do today?” I looked back and said, “You should take the kids out. By yourself.”  Turns out you can put a quantity on quality…

I’ve learned with parenting, it’s all relative. When you have a toddler, you can’t parent a school age child, just the same way that I can’t parent a teenager. I can spout off all I want about what I’m going to do and what I’m not, but it actuality, I won’t know until I get there.

gwtw2

I’ve learned that Scarlet O’Hara is right, tomorrow is another day. No matter how shitty my day has been, and golly I’ve had some doozies, it never seems as bad the next morning. If I had a particularly bad day with one or the other, I used to make it a point to tuck them in and say “Let’s work together to make tomorrow a better day.” I haven’t had to say it in a while–not because we’ve had only great days, but because I think we’ve just come to accept it. When the sun goes down, it takes the day’s crap and crud with it.

I’ve learned that it is both the journey and the destination. Soon enough my kids are going to be functioning adults who are ready to take on the world. That’s the light at the end of the daily tunnel, the end-game, the long con, the final destination. And it’s important. But the paths we take in order to get there, the every days bricks that make up the yellow brick road, that’s all part of it too. You can’t have one without the other.

That’s it in a nutshell really. You can’t have one without the other.

Even after a decade in the trenches, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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8 thoughts on “A Decade in the Trenches: 10 Things I’ve Learned in 10 Years as a Parent

  1. Barbara Safani December 4, 2014 / 7:49 pm

    Beautiful post. It’s funny how years 10-20 are in some ways so different, yet so similar to years 1-10. On a bad day I used to tell my kids something similar; tomorrow will be better. As they grow and continue to find their place in the world, I still end up saying that a lot!

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    • dhonour December 5, 2014 / 10:13 am

      When are the ‘reap what you sow years’??? ;-). I believe people when they tell me that the bigger the child, the bigger the problem (or at least weightier in subject matter and with more consequences), but when, by golly is the sit back and revel in your masterpiece bit? 😉

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    • dhonour December 5, 2014 / 10:12 am

      I’m just as lucky to have them, Andra. Truly.

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  2. womanunadorned December 5, 2014 / 7:19 pm

    Actually there are some things you do have to pack. I found out the hard way that you do have to pack spare underwear. I did once try to be super laid back and found that the only knickers and socks we had were what we were wearing, and it turned out quite expensive to put that right. So I would say do try to pack spare underwear. Oh and a jumper if you are going somewhere cool – that turned out to be a mistake too.

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    • dhonour December 5, 2014 / 8:24 pm

      We found out the hard way to make sure we had extra clothes on the airplane, after a vomit incident at take off. But I would consider those necessities!

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  3. gallivance.net December 12, 2014 / 11:42 pm

    Such wisdom, Dina. I found myself smiling and nodding through your entire post. I particularly like #1: The things you assume are going to be the game changers–usually aren’t. How many times have parents been blindsided by that one? So glad you wrote this. 🙂 ~Terri

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    • dhonour December 14, 2014 / 4:27 pm

      Thanks, Terri! I wish I had read this myself before I ran around a NYC playground with half a tofu hot-dog begging my toddler to eat!

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