Lessons From My Parents
The best parenting advice didn’t come from text books, graduate school courses, or workshops. It came from being parented by two great people. Here are some valuable lessons in parenting that my mother and father taught me, often without them even knowing that they were having a profound impact on me.
- Unconditional love. My parents loved me unconditionally. I knew it. I felt it. I knew that I could come to them with any horrible mistake, and their love for me would not diminish. In fact, this is when I felt their love the most.
- It is acceptable to have a messy house. I don’t remember seeing my parents clean. This is not to say that our house was filthy, but everything else took priority. Homework took a priority. Having meals together took priority. Going for a bike ride or swimming in the pool took priority. My parents never placed having a clean house over having a good time, or taking care of what was really important. Also, instead of expensive decorative items, our kitchen was decorated with our artwork.
3. Money doesn’t grow on trees. I think this was my father’s favorite saying in my teens. I learned valuable lessons by working for everything I wanted. Working hard. My parents made it clear that if I wanted something, I had to pay for it. I worked and paid for every large purchase, from my 10 speed Fuji bicycle, to my car when I was 18. I got my working papers as soon as I turned 14, and I worked every single day after school for three hours during my four years of high school. I was so proud to buy that used Subaru in December, 1986.
4. Life isn’t fair. This was another one of my father’s favorites. This is so true, and I believe that the sooner we accept this, the happier we will be. I did not understand this while I was growing up, and it slapped me in the face when I was 26 and my fiancé died from cancer during our engagement. And then a double whammy of life isn’t fair when my father suddenly died just six weeks later. All of his years of telling me that life isn’t fair prepared me to cope with these profound losses. The reality is, we all have our struggles, and I now know that I can handle whatever life throws at me.
5. Get outside. For as long as I can remember, being outside was important to my parents. They took us fishing, camping, hiking, and biking, and skiing. This was a wonderful way to create family memories, and also to spend time together as we got older, when just “hanging out” with parents might have been awkward. As a teen and young adult, I was very close with my father, and some of my best days on this planet were spent skiing, running, biking, and hiking with him. I enjoyed running with my parents, and as a young adult, would often run three miles with one or both of them before going to work or school. I treasure the memories of hiking in Utah with my parents and siblings when I was a young adult. These were also activities I could engage in with my parents while introducing them to my dating partners, and my siblings did the same. One of my favorite memories of my life was in 1993 when I went for a 17 mile bike ride with my parents, my three siblings, and our partners for Mother’s Day. I will never forget my mother’s smile on this day. In today’s world with personal devices, I believe that we need to get outside and enjoy family time “unplugged” more than ever.
6. No judgment or criticism. Kids, and I believe especially teenage girls, are under so much pressure regarding their appearance. They are judged and criticized by peers and adults, and the last person they need to hear criticism from is a parent. This is not to say to ignore a health concern. But if your child has a weight or other problem, he or she very likely knows it, and likely has it pointed out by others. Remember that the way you talk to your children becomes the way they see themselves. So if your child’s finger nails are short and you think it may be related to anxiety, practice yoga or meditation together without commenting on your child’s short nails. If you are concerned about your child’s weight, exercise together and model healthy eating without commenting on your child’s appearance.
7. Trying your best and having fun are what matters. Growing up, I never excelled at anything. In swim meets, I was always in the “unofficial” lane. I’ve been running since I was ten years old, and I’ve always been slow. I competed in moguls and aerials, and I typically landed on my head. There are so many factors that come in to play for success, and some are beyond our control. I was never at the top, but I was successful, because I always tried my best, and I always had FUN! Not just in sports, but at friendships, speaking with my teachers, and academics. My parents never placed my worth on my performance, but rather my effort. So trying my best was all that mattered.
8. Share, and only take your share. Growing up with three siblings, we always had to share. My mother bought items from the grocery store in multiples of four, probably to minimize the sibling arguing over who got what! So I knew that once I ate my two yodels or ringdings, that was it. And if I had a friend over, I gave her my share. My mother never ran out and got more if I had more than my share before the next weekly shopping.
9. Mental health is important. My parents knew when to take breaks, and to find time doing what they loved. My father worked hard to provide for us, and took scheduled time off to care for his soul. My mother was fortunate to have a job outside of the home in my teenage years teaching dance that helped to take care of her soul. We took annual mental health days, playing hookey from school to ski. These are the days that I will always remember.
10. Openness. For as long as I remember, I could come to my mother with anything. She naturally created at atmosphere without judgment and openness, so that I could come to her with any question, concern or worry, and my friends did too. This was particularly important during my teenage years.
11. Check in at night. I never went to bed without saying good-night to my parents. If I was up late studying, they would say good-night to me. If I went out with friends and came home late, I gave my sleeping mother a kiss on the cheek. This kept me out of trouble!
12. Do not communicate disappointment. My parents never expressed disappointment in me. This is not to say that I never behaved in a way that was worthy of disappointment. Instead, when I messed up, they communicated love and understanding, which made me not want to disappoint them even more. They were not only loving and caring. They were smart!
13. Don’t yell. I don’t remember either of my parents ever yelling. With four kids in a five year age span, I find that pretty incredible. We listened more because they did not yell.
14. Give respect. My parents didn’t demand respect. But we gave it to them because that is what they showed and modeled for us. I always felt respected. My thoughts, feelings, opinions, desires.
15. Family is more important than work. I never felt that my parents’ jobs were more important than my needs. I am sure that they struggled to balance work and family, but they never showed it. Including as an adult when I needed them. My mother left her job at the studio for two weeks to come take care of me in Vermont after my knee surgery my senior year in college. Both of my parents altered their work schedules to be at the hospital with me and my fiancé during all of his inpatient cancer treatments.
16. Humor and goofiness. My father was the master of goofiness and instilling humor in to just about everything. He skied with a multi-colored clown wig, and he brought the same goofiness and joy into about everything he did. Instilling humor and goofiness makes problems feel less daunting, conflicts less threatening, and simply makes life more enjoyable.
17. Intuition. Sometimes my parents made tough decisions and set boundaries that didn’t make sense to me at the time, and that often did not have an explanation. They were following their parental intuition, and they were strong enough to take whatever backlash, complaints, and whining followed.
18. Be available. If they were not at home, I always knew where my parents were and how to reach them. During free time, if my parents sensed that I was feeling lonely or left out, or social plans fell through, they made a point to spend time with me, without commenting or pointing out that I was not with peers. I remember one occasion when a boy did not call when he said he would, and a date fell through. Without making a big deal about it, my father invited me to join him on his bike ride through Loantaka Park. I remember it was 95 degrees and unbearably hot for a bike ride, and I was so grateful to be spending that time with my father rather than sulking at home.
19. Take responsibility for behavior and apologize. My parents always apologized when appropriate, and they did not let us off the hook, or our friends! I remember once my brother and his friend misbehaved at the Burger King in Chester when we were about ten years old, and my father made both of them write apology letters to the manager. In case you’re wondering about the infraction, they put ketchup packets on the floor and waited to watch someone step on it and squirt ketchup.
20. Let me fail. I don’t remember my parents ever rescuing me from failure or trying to prevent it from happening. I am sure they watched painfully during the times I made mistakes and did not do well. They provided me with the valuable opportunities to pick myself up and move on, all while providing their unflagging emotional support.
21. Made me fight my own battles. If I had an issue at school, I dealt with it myself. They helped me problem solve and provided the support at home, but I addressed the problems myself. I remember at age 14, having to confront my employer that I felt that I was being treated unfairly and given the least desirable responsibilities, simply due to my age and being the youngest employee. I also had to set up an appointment with the high school math department head to discuss problems I was having with one of my teachers. Although my parents were not there during these stressful situations, I felt them there. And their absence taught me that I could manage problems on my own.
22. Didn’t help me with my homework. I don’t remember my parents ever sitting down with me to help me with my homework. They may have quizzed me or helped me study for a test or practice a presentation, but if I did not understand something, I went to my teacher and arranged to get the help I needed. I learned to advocate for myself.
23. Showed me how to treat people. My parents always treated people with respect and dignity. Strangers, good friends, the teenage grocery bagger, the surgeon – they were all treated with the same kindness. And it was not effort or a purposeful intention – it just was. And the same behind closed doors. In our house, I never heard my parents speak ill of people or gossip. Class acts all the way around.
24. Have your children’s friends over. I loved that my friends were always welcome at my house, and that my parents and friends knew each other. My mom was what you may have called a “Kool Aid Mom” back in the day. One of my favorite memories from childhood was when my father piled his four children and five of their friends into our station wagon for a weekend of fun at our trailer in the Poconos. He planned our own Olympics, complete with prizes. Having grown up in a tiny apartment in Union City with a closet for a bedroom, I think one of his greatest joys was sharing the vast Pocono outdoors with his family and his children’s friends.
25. Keep it simple. My parents’ idea of a birthday party was to throw a blanket on the grass and have the kids eat cake. And maybe play a game of Spud and Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Simpler days, simpler times. Looking back, these days without fancy events were perfect. I want to go back in time.
26. Don’t hover. I remember the freedom of being a ten year old back in the 70s. We biked to the town pool, and walked to the skating rink. Our parents were not there hovering over us, and we did not have cell phones. In the event of a problem, we took care of each other and got help if we needed it. These experiences taught us to be independent and problem solve on our own. I love that one of these special moments was captured by my little town newspaper. My lifelong friend Jeriann lacing up one of my skates, while I did the other. Parents not hovering fosters independence, friendships, teamwork, and childhood camaraderie.
27. I’m responsible for my own happiness. If there is any one lesson that is the most important and valuable, this would be it. While they always supported me, I was also always given the important message that ultimately, my happiness was up to me. No situation or person could make me happy. It had to come from within, no one else was responsible for it, and it was entirely up to me.
Thank you Mom and Dad.