What would your future self think about your present-day parenting? Child development expert (and mom to two teens) Rebecca Parlakian weighs in with 5 tips.
A Little Bit of Magic, aka My Mother’s Day Blog
by Rebecca Parlakian
I was wandering through files on my computer when I came across an old video of my kids when they were 5 and 2. My daughter was building a tower of Duplos while the shaky hand on the camera gave away my toddler son as the videographer. They talked briefly—about how tall it was and if it would it fall.
Then I walked into the shot. And with years in the rear-view mirror (my kids are now 17 and 14), I saw the tired, younger version of myself stare at the pile of Duplos. I felt so much compassion for her. I knew what she was thinking: 10,000 blocks to put back in a basket. Dinner to make. Baths to give. Stories to read. Blankets to tuck. Foreheads to kiss. The evening was spooling ahead of her with endless to-dos. I watched her from the distance of all the years in between and hoped she wouldn’t be annoyed at the mess or get frustrated. I just hoped so hard that she would see this moment for what it was—a little bit of magic.
Luckily, she did. The Old Me (or would it be the Young Me?) sat down, looked at the tower, talked to both kids, and mentioned dinner would be ready soon. She did ask them to clean up (hey, those blocks don’t jump into the basket by themselves), but she did it kindly. I don’t mean to sound surprised—but I was. I remember those early years as tough. Working full-time, it felt like there were never enough hours in the day to get everything done and never, ever enough sleep.
When I sat down to write this blog for Mother’s Day, the first thing I thought of was that video. What a strange feeling it was to see myself in that everyday moment with my two small children, but to really see it and know that those moments—that felt like forever—are gone for good. What would I tell her, that younger me? Here’s what I came up with, my top-five on making the most of the early parenting years:
- At ZERO TO THREE, we have a saying that goes, “how you are is as important as what you do.” Even though I still fail at times, I’ve tried to remember that kindness—especially to my children—is almost never the wrong choice. I like to think that the reason my kids can still tell you about the handful of times I’ve “freaked out” is because there have been so few. (But don’t quote me on that.)
- It’s the moments that matter. We’re all on auto-pilot to some extent, trying to get everything done, but one thing I’ve learned and tried to do is focus on a few special moments of connection with my kids each day. The way their round, fat, baby cheeks felt on my shoulder. The heaviness of my toddler son in my arms as we ran outside to watch the garbage truck. The curls and tangles of my daughter’s hair as I asked how many ponytails she wanted that morning—1, 2, or 3. These are the moments that can disappear if we aren’t present to recognize, and remember, how very special they are.
- Find the family traditions that matter to you, and let the rest goooooo. Celebrating holidays, birthdays, and life transitions (like starting kindergarten) have started to feel like a second job for parents (too many crafts, parties, and themed snacks!!). It’s overwhelming and, most importantly, you miss out on the fun if you’re freaking out about Insta-worthy cupcakes (see #1). I learned to streamline celebrations, so they work for me and my family. I like to bake, so birthdays mean a special homemade cake—each kid can pick their flavor and frosting color. We hang a banner (now almost 20 years old). They get to pick their birthday dinner—which, even now, is usually mac-and-cheese. It’s okay to find your way to celebrate. The most important part is that you are actually enjoying it with your kids, instead of feeling cranky, unappreciated, and stressed off to the side. Not fun!
- Let your kids be different and know that your parenting will need to be different too. For me, the hardest thing about parenting was discovering just how different two kids could be and how little parenting expertise you could transfer from one to the other. My good friend and ZERO TO THREE colleague, Linda Gillespie, once told me, “Being fair isn’t parenting your children exactly the same, it’s parenting them each the way they need.” That advice has kept me afloat during rough child-rearing moments over the last 14 years, as my husband and I work to raise two very different—and equally amazing—kids.
- Grow (and nurture) your network. When I had my daughter, I knew very few people in my neighborhood and hardly any other moms. It was a lonely time and I desperately missed having a group of friends to turn to. Over the next few years, as I slowly connected with other families, a few of us decided to start a parents’ night out, where we’d get together once a month for drinks and snacks. We called it Pink Flamingo Night (I forget why) and it lasted, in one form or another, for more than a decade. The lesson I learned from Pink Flamingo was—if you build it, they will come. Adults need friendships too, but building them takes time, consistency, and commitment (and occasionally some adult beverages).
Finally, know that your edges are getting washed away. A long-time friend of mine once told me that parenting was like being a rock tumbling through a river—that it “washes away your rough edges.” It’s true that you’re not the same person you were when you started. It’s true your edges get washed away. But what’s left is what’s most important. After all the crying, rocking, diapers, birthdays, block towers, board games, baths, and bedtime stories, what’s left is: Wisdom.