I once said to a friend that I could not know whether our parenting choices were “right”; I just had to do the thing that felt okay at day’s end. Now, we’re looking at much larger transitions than beditme— two children head to college this fall and the third heads into high school. All around us the little ones we watched climb trees and wield wooden swords through mythic quests are driving cars and turning to face the world outside. Transitions, even seasonal ones, can make one reflective. Regret is probably not useful, but I thought I would share some things I wish anyone could have convinced me of when my children were smaller.

  1. Sleep really is that important. Parent sleep, baby, toddler, preschooler sleep. Sleep for school-aged kids, sleep for teenagers. Everyone is more resilient with enough sleep. Every argument with a sibling or friend is more manageable with sleep. And I know, sleep can be in short supply with small children and busy schedules, but it IS worth giving up social opportunities or enrichment activities. It is also worth a little compromise on what “dinner” means if everyone can get to bed a little earlier.
  2. You are a good parent. If you could be different in this moment, you definitely would be. It can be a little sad at times to think this as you lose your temper or feed your “organic” child brightly colored “people kibble”. But really, it’s a reminder that guilt and shame will just get in the way of making a different decision when you’re able to.
  3. Your child cannot be different. That’s all.
  4. Your child will be different. Let whatever behavior you’re seeing now belong to this moment and not become a definition of them for all time. Just because they love carrots today does not mean they have to even nibble one next week or next year. And loving pink at four should not mean everything in their room is pink for the rest of their childhood.
  5. Spending time just being still with your child is worth more than most enrichment activities. And they do not have to be still while you’re doing this. The calmness of just sitting in the same room and observing your child is like a shower of love. If you can be present and happy and non-interfering, you might be surprised by all you will learn about these glowing beings.
  6. Spending time with teenagers is just as important as preschoolers. However, just watching them might go very badly. Driving my kids to school or working at the kitchen table beside them, like parallel play, has been a great way to express my availability without pestering or smothering.
  7. Expert advice is not the same as a “how to” manual. Experts have seen many children through many stages of childhood we hope. Nonetheless, they have not spent all the hours you have with your child. Trust yourself first, then let the advice be a seasoning on the main dish of your own expertise.
  8. Don’t second guess other parents and ignore the looks and tsks that other parents are likely to offer you. Parenting is hard enough and feeling judged simply clouds our ability to make the best of a trying situation.
  9. It’s okay if your child doesn’t like you today. Part of their job is to figure out who they are and that can sometimes involve embracing all the ways that you are truly unlikeable. If you can just leave them the space to have their own thoughts, they will come back around to remembering that you also have a few good qualities.
  10. Let them wake up slowly to the world. All the wonder and beauty of nature will gird them for facing some of the real challenges that humanity has created for ourselves. Celebrate people and trees and sunrises and spiders with them when they’re little. They will know soon enough about the bad stuff