“If I knew then what I know now…”
One of my Facebook friends posted that the other day. Before I commented, I took the time to read what other people had to say.
Someone said that they’d make all the same decisions again, because you can’t learn from your mistakes if you don’t make them.
I stopped to think about that. If you’re a parent, chances are you preach to your kids that it’s okay to make mistakes. I frequently point out my mistakes so my 9 year old realizes that this is just part of life. My teenagers practically relish in pointing out my mistakes.
It’s a simple sentiment, but there’s so much to it. Yes, we learn from our mistakes, but the fact is that we would not be the person we are today if not for our mistakes, our decisions, our indecisions, and our indiscretions. But of course, as a writer, I’m still reflecting on this, and yes there are a few things I’d tell my past self…
If I knew then what I know now, I’d tell my inexperienced teacher-self to lighten up. I spent a lot of time advising parents on how to help their preschoolers break “bad habits.” And this was before I became a parent. I look back and wonder how could I possibly have had an inkling about this? Thankfully, most of the parents were all very kind and gracious. Probably behind my back they were wondering, “Where does she get off?” but to my face, bless them, they were all “smile and nod.”
If I knew then what I know now, I’d tell my inexperienced mom-self to slow down. That getting those dishes done or that laundry folded isn’t as important as you think, that simply falling asleep with that baby on your chest accomplishes much more. I’d tell myself to write down everything I could to describe that baby smell, when you put your face to your baby’s head and breathe in deeply- that warmth and softness and love and fuzz all wrapped up in a scent. It’s intoxicating and it disappears too soon.
If I knew then what I know now, I would not try to force-potty-train a stubborn 2.5 year old. It’s simply not worth it. Because often times, in a battle of wills with a toddler, even if you win, you still lose.
If I knew then what I know now, I’d tell my new mom-self that self-care really is a thing, and that yes, it really is that important. That taking even just 15 minutes a day for myself would make me a better parent. (And locking myself in the bathroom while one kid is watching TV and the other is confined to a playpen doesn’t count.) That it would give me more patience and less stress. I didn’t make time for it back then, I didn’t ask for help. I thought it didn’t matter, because I just needed to get things done. I was wrong. It does matter.
If I knew then what I know now, I’d have written more things down. Those funny things that your 3 or 4 year old comes out with, those insightful and simple bits of wisdom from your 9 or 10 year old…. Before you know it, your conversations will turn to what homework/project is due for what class, what time does rehearsal go until, or No you cannot take the car tonight. When they stop saying those funny and insightful things, you don’t even realize it.
If I knew then what I know now, I’d tell myself to video tape more of (but not every one) those Disney songs and rhymes my kids sang to me when they were little. No matter how present you are in that moment, how much you tell yourself you’ll remember exactly the inflection of their little voices and how they can’t pronounce their “L’s”, it fades over time. You can easily recall the feeling of how cute they were, but the memories are somewhat blunted.
If I knew then what I know now, I’d tell myself to simply take more time. Take more time at the dinner table, sit and enjoy the company of the whole family being together and talking together. Instead of rushing through so the kitchen can get cleaned and move on to the next thing, move on to get things done. All those dinner-time things that were frustrating to me when my kids were little, like spilled drinks and food on the floor, sticky chairs, arguments and pleading to “just try one bite”– I’d take back those days in a hot minute. Because now we eat in shifts, and sometimes in the car. The older my kids get, the busier they get. If we all sit down together for dinner twice in one week, that’s a win.
I’d reassure myself that taking the time to listen to my kids, really listen to each one of them, is probably the most important thing I could do for them. I probably know more about Minecraft and DragonVale than I’ll ever need to know in a lifetime. And sometimes my eyes glaze over… but if I don’t listen to the little things, then my 9 year old might not come to me for the big things. And sometimes my teenagers just need to vent, they just need me to listen rather than come up with a solution or offer advice. I’m learning this as I go along, as I’m sure most parents are. Our kids aren’t born teenagers, thank God, and listening to them requires a different set of skills. But I’m trying every day, and I’m learning.
This might sound like a whole lot of sadness, of pining for the past. These reflections aren’t a list of regrets so much as they are a reflection of what I’ve learned as a parent. And it helps make me grateful for every single day. Okay, so it’s not all rainbows and unicorns, and on some evenings I want nothing more than silence and a glass of wine. And on other evenings, my neighbors would probably attest to hearing anything other than silence.
If I knew then what I know now, I’d tell my pre-parent-self, don’t be scared. You’re going to bring three amazing little people into this world. Your parenting journey is going to be filled with more love than you could have ever thought possible.
It’s going to be okay.