I’m so sorry it took so long to reply. I was traveling (coincidentally enough) to help my oldest daughter after her surgery. The surgery was unexpected but turned out to be nothing (yay!).
I didn’t feel like other moms because they were so in love with their babies and toddlers. My first born daughter was a nightmare from the moment I first tried to lay her down in her cradle, through toddler-hood, and was even worse in her elementary school years. I was drained, demoralized, and couldn’t wait for her to start preschool and kindergarten, whereas my friends cried through the separation from their babies.
The turning point, oddly enough, was when my oldest turned 10 and headed into her pre-teen and teen years. She was suddenly so sweet and easy to get along with and she’s been mostly that way ever since…I say mostly because I can still recall times when she wasn’t particularly nice to me.
You asked for some parenting advice, and my top 6 ways in which to get any kid through school/life these days are:
- After school sports are a *must.* I was a latchkey kid and I was a textbook case of what happens when kids are left unsupervised. Sports help with self-esteem and help prevent depression. The kid is too busy with sports and sports practice to get into trouble. My two younger ones tried to test me on this but I followed through. The youngest chose roller derby because she didn’t think I’d want to drive her to the only roller rink in the county at rush hour but she was wrong! The middle daughter chose golf. Nobody said sports had to be soccer, ballet, baseball, football, or gymnastics. Music and the arts should also be an option.
- Have a family dinner together as often as possible. We eventually had dinner together at least five times per week. My husband insisted on having a set dinnertime and I was annoyed as hell over his insistence, but looking back, it was so important for the family to reconnect after a day of being apart. I wrote a piece about moving our family dinners into the formal dining room. I think I heard some statistic about families who eat together more often have kids who don’t do drugs, drink alcohol, or become promiscuous. Although I am sure that’s not the case for everybody, in our case, it was true. I’m not going to say ‘no drugs’ or ‘no alcohol’ ever passed the lips of my girls but I am certain it was not often. And by not often, I mean that I know of two instances. Because I was every parent’s nightmare as a teen, I know what to look for.
- The time for the kids to make mistakes is when they are with you. This one is important. Your whole job is making sure that you’re getting a child ready to be on his/her own. That education starts early. Make them do chores, clean their rooms, clean the bathrooms, and do their own laundry/make their own lunches. Also, teach them how to select vegetables and fruits and teach them how to make food. I’m not talking about macaroni and cheese but healthy meals. Sure, mac ‘n cheese is sometimes a godsend but also teach how fantastic pesto is on everything, how to select a decent olive oil, and maybe even how to grow his or her own garden (container or otherwise).
- Watch TV together and use different TV shows to demonstrate points you’d like them to know. For example, my teen daughter loved watching “16 & Pregnant.” UGH! I hated it with all my being but sitting there with my daughter, I was able to show her that if she got pregnant at 16 or younger, it would be the guy who went to prom and she’d be home taking care of Jr! Lol.
- Driving with your pre-teen or teen trapped in the passenger seat is the ideal time to talk to him/her about sex and drug related stuff. I used to make my kids squirm as I’d announce, “You know you can get herpes from giving a guy a blow job, right? Do you know what a blow job is” Also, if your teen is in the car with her friends, just *listen* to what they’re talking about and stow it away. Teens let all kinds of things out when they forget you’re there. This goes for sleepovers, too.
- Whenever your darling child says they’re going over to their friend’s house, call the parent to make sure that the kids are doing what they say they’re doing and that the parent of the other child will be home all night. I was the only parent to call and make sure my kids were where they said they were going to be. I was the only parent doing this and it embarrassed the hell out of my oldest. But she admitted after she was in college that my calling the other parents thwarted many, many fun plans. Every once in a while, I’d also check in with my sweet girl and tell her to send a picture of xyz (I’d pick something that she couldn’t plan ahead for). Nowadays, I suppose you can also do FaceTime, SnapChat, or have a video call through other apps. My goal was to get proof that my daughter was where she said she was going to be.
Anyway, I know this answer is long and it’s full of advice for older kids. The biggest thing missing from this piece, though, is how to get them through elementary school where there’s serious bullying these days. I’m not sure I was successful dealing with the school, the bullies, and the bullies’ parents. We fortunately had a fantastic middle school that dealt with the bully that the elementary school didn’t want to deal with. They did so in an extremely effective manner.
Kids are getting bullied at an alarming rate. I was only able to soothe my daughter and promise her that one day karma was going to get that girl — and I can honestly say I was right.