In Comedian Jim Gaffigan’s hilarious description of parenthood, he jokes, “Imagine you are drowning and then someone hands you a baby.”
Motherhood is not for sissies. It comes with joy, pain, hope, despair, pride, disappointment, unconditional love and guilt. Perfection is not an option, and there is no shortage of diverse do’s and don’ts. Being a mother for nearly 40 years, I have heard them all.
I reached into my obsessively organized parental baggage, and pulled out my five best dont’s:
1. Don’t be your child’s best friend, aka “The cool mom”
Don’t be a cool mom who hangs out with your child and their friends. Believe me, you don’t belong, and they don’t want you there. If you are your child’s friend, unfriend them. Even if you are your child’s best friend, unfriend them.
Friends will break the rules, stretch boundaries and push limits. They will say what you want to hear. A friend listens to your secrets, and confesses their own. A friend will lie for you.
A mother makes rules, sets boundaries and enforces limits. She will tell her child what they need to hear. A mother will call out a lie. She will listen to secrets, but never make her child a confidant by confessing her own. Mother’s lead the way. Children need mothers. Be your child’s mother. Be friends with your children when they become adults.
2. Don’t treat all your children the same
Like snowflakes, no two people are alike. Children are people. Some children are as fragile and intricate as a snowflake while others are like ice cubes, hard and clear. If you put heat to a snowflake, it will melt immediately. When you heat an ice cube, it will melt more slowly.
A mother knows their child’s physical, emotional and mental capacities. Don’t treat a snowflake like an ice cube. Treating them according to their needs will make your child better equipped to handle how the world may treat them.
3. Don’t make a molehill out of mountain
A child’s view of the world is very different from an adult view. To see the word from your child’s view, get down to their level — literally. Squat, kneel, lie on your back or do whatever it takes to see how a child sees. The difference is eye-opening. What looks like a molehill to a mother can seem mountainous to a child.
When your child says they see a monster, believe them. You can only help deconstruct the monster once you know where they are coming from, and how the mountainous monster came about in the first place.
4. Don’t tell and not show.
Two moms sit and chat as their children play. The first child gently rocks her doll and kisses it on the cheek. The second child holds her own doll, shaking her finger saying, “stop that crying.” As the mothers turn to look at each other, the second mother barks “Where did she learn to act like that?”
Teach by example. Telling a child to do as you say and not as you do makes you both bad actors.
5. Don’t underestimate health and nutrition.
Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”
If your child thinks an apple is a computer, it’s time to take a trip to the local farmer’s market. Children aren’t convenient, so don’t feed them that way. It takes extra time to prepare healthy food, but it’s so worth it for their future health.
When technology has taken your child hostage, set them free and make them go outside. When they resist, give them a loving kick out the door. Better yet, go with them. Walking, biking or throwing a ball together are very simple and effective exercises. They may fight you today, but they will thank you tomorrow.
Do tell your children you love them no matter how old they are. The most important thing you can tell your child is that you love them no matter what.