My Dear Fellow Parents and Kindred Spirits,
As I’ve mentioned several times before, I did not grow up in a happy household with nurturing, compassionate parents. When I became a young mother at 20 years old, I didn’t know much about being a good parent. All I could go on–and I still do, 22 years later– is to raise my kids the way I wish my parents had raised me. I may have over-corrected a few things but ultimately, my kids will never be able to say that I didn’t love them or was apathetic towards them. As I stumble through parenthood, I am grateful for the pearls of wisdom that you threw my way over the years and I want to share some of those with you to let you know I’ve been paying attention.
1) Don’t teach your kids to override their fear of strangers.
We all grow up–girls especially– to be polite and kind whether we know the person in front of us or not. Otherwise, horror of horrors, someone might consider us to be rude. I did not want people thinking I had rude children. So I would force them to shake the hands of adults, even when they were clearly afraid. Another parent and I were talking about kids over a play-date one day and she said, “I don’t force my kids to be polite to people they don’t know…I think it teaches them to override their gut instincts that maybe someone can’t be trusted.” I was mind-blown. I had never thought of it that way. From that point on, I would not force my kids to interact with people they were shying away from. And this is what happened: everything was fine! The adults carried on in conversation as if the kids weren’t there, and I didn’t have a frightened, anxious kid in my arms. Over time, my kids would naturally warm up to some of the adults they saw often.
2) Be affectionate.
I will never forget the time my eldest was 2 years old. We were in a rest stop in a small restaurant and I was loving on her like crazy. I loved looking at her face, skin, hair, pretty eyes, adorable teeth and drool and even then, she was hilarious. We must have carried on in our little Love Bubble for about 20 minutes when a parent–an older woman and her grown daughter– walked up to me and said, “It was such a pleasure to watch you and your baby…we just don’t see much of that any more.” And that was all I needed to continue on with loving my kids in public.
3) Kids have feelings, too.
I don’t remember specifically which of you parents taught me this…it seems so obvious: kids have feelings, too. However I feel that as adults, we often disregard the very real and deep feelings children experience. I know I have watched many of you interact with your children and I gleaned over time that if I wanted a child who felt loved, appreciated, and heard, I needed to respect them as human beings and not see them as anything less than teachers of compassion, creativity, and love.
I have more to write you, dear parent, so don’t go anywhere!