One of the most precious texts I ever received came from my friend Kate. We had been chatting on Skype and my daughter made a cameo appearance. The text came a day later:
Watching you with L and seeing all the bright shining light in her eyes told me two things: one, Tanya Geisler is winning at this life thing; two, I pray that I have that kind of closeness with my daughter.
No matter how wrong I think I’m getting this parenting thing, this text reminds me of at least one moment in time that I was getting it right. And to pre-empt myself from sounding falsely humble, I’ll claim this: that one moment was a culmination of a lot of moments.
Which is awesome, because this parenting gig really, really matters to me. Like, rouses-my-Impostor-Complex, matters.
And while I have miles and miles to go before I sleep, I’ve been paying plenty of attention to what makes for some good parenting in the miles that I HAVE traveled and I want to share some of what I know for sure with you.
But first, a story from my youth.
Like most Saturday mornings, I went to the corner store at the bottom of our street with a note tucked into my poncho.
I was seven. It was 1979. Back when the sight of a seven-year old girl walking by herself to the store was as common as ponchos.
The note said:
I give permission for my daughter Tanya to buy two packages of Export ‘A’ Regulars and one package of Medallions Ultra Lights.
(It was signed by my dad, Richard. A distinct R then a double-looping trailing line with a dot. Ridiculously easy to forge, as I’d discover in my teen years.)
I loved this errand.
It meant I got out of most of the housecleaning and I generally got to keep the change for my troubles.
I loved the jangle of the door as it opened and handing the note over with great assurance of a kid on a mission and the accompanying ten-dollar bill.
I loved to help the cashier find the right packages amidst a dizzying array of available smokes.
I loved inhaling the heady scent of sugary bliss while I waited, and calculating in my head what treat I might get with my “tip”.
But this particular Saturday, my father had asked me to bring the change back to him. No treat this week as we were going to Mr. Greenjeans for dinner, and I’d be sure to get a “Here Comes the Fudge” sundae for dessert.
So instead of helping the cashier find the right cigarettes, I took the opportunity to grab a pack of gum and shove it under my poncho.
Swift and sure.
Where did THAT come from, I wondered as he turned back towards me, smiling and handing me the cigarettes, my change and the note, wishing me a wonderful day.
Never having stolen a thing in my life I didn’t know what to do next, so I shoved the entire pack of gum into my mouth the second I was out of his sight.
Oh, the irony. In my hasty desire for sugar, I’d managed to nick the only sugar-free gum available back in the day: Carefree. The gum of choice for denture-wearers everywhere.
No matter. In went the whole pack. I looked over my shoulder furtively as I scurried home, certain that I was being sought after by the police.
So preoccupied with getting busted was I, that I forgot to spit out the gum…until it was too late. I had distractedly found my way home…only to land face to face with my parents, digging in the rose garden in the front.
An entire pack of gum is too much for anyone to swallow, so I just stood there, staring at them, cheeks bulging out.
What’s in your mouth? asked my Dad.
Mmmmthng, I replied.
I see, he said.
What’s in your hands?
I may have been a badass stealing denture gum, but I was still too much of a good girl to litter. So I showed him the crumpled wrappers.
To your room, he ordered.
I’m fairly sure the second they thought I was out of earshot they burst into laughter. But they got it together by the time they came to my room an hour later and sternly ordered me back to the store to apologize. And to sweep the store for the shopkeeper. And we didn’t go to Mr. Greenjeans that night. (Boy, was my sister pissed at me.)
I never shoplifted again. (Well, except that one time. I chalk that up to peer pressure. Ahem)
And so, I give you: The 15 things I know about parenting.
#1 Consequences are good. Stealing is wrong. Making amends is right.
Not everyone agrees with me on these points and that’s super duper okay with me.
Because I know this:
#2 We’re all trying to do the best we can. (Click to tweet)
Over the last 42 years of being parented and in the past 11 years of BEING a parent, I’ve learned a fair bit and all I can do is offer you what I know. Take what serves you and leave the rest.
Because in addition to #2, I also agree with James Altucher:
#4 Keep your promises and your commitments to yourself. Model this for your kids. If you don’t let yourself down, she won’t let herself down. This is huge. ‘Cause there’s a whole big world out there waiting to swoop in when she lets herself down.
#5 Meet them where they are. It may not be where you want them to be. But it’s where they are.
#6 Acknowledge them truthfully and acknowledge them often. Truthfully. But often. (Don’t forget truthfully.) Let them see what you see. Being seen is a gift that you still crave to this day.
#7 Allow the tough conversations to unfold. Don’t force them…or worse, get in the way of their unfoooooooooolding.
#8 Come at said tough conversations from the place of your strength. Your strength is curiosity? Get curious. Humour? Bring it. Courage? Oh, you’ll need that, Honey. Be courageous. (But don’t forget #5 + 6.)
#9 Let them see you feel. Let them see you be messy. Let them see you be human.
#11 Don’t send your seven-year-old daughter to the store to buy your smokes. Just don't. 1979 is long gone, man.
#12 Experiences over things. Every time. (Click to tweet.)
#13 No matter how busy, how stressed, or how harangued you are, there is always time for a breath, a pause or a hug as needed.
#14 Grades matter precious little in the long run.
#15 It doesn’t last very long. The sweet moments and the bitter ones. They are equally fleeting. Devote yourself fully to the ones that matter (and they alllll matter.)
I’m learning, messily and sloppily and joyfully and painfully. Over on FB, won’t you share with us one precious piece of wisdom you have as a child of a parent or as a parent of a child? What do YOU know for sure? Let’s learn this thing together.
PS – You can see that this all applies to life…not just parenting, right? Yeah. I thought you would.