Below is a chapter from Rule #2: Don’t Be an Asshat: An Official Handbook for Raising Parents and Children. Over time we will be posting most of the book, though, should this inspire you to buy a copy, we would not be offended 🙂 Posted chapters can be found in the Table of Contents.
Dear Thirty-Year-Old Robin, from Wiser Robin
Congratulations, Robin in 1996!
Before I forget, you know those awesome black overalls you wore through the first five months of your first pregnancy? Keep them; they will be back in style in 2016.
OK, now to the task at hand. I know at this stage you are excited and terrified. You actually never saw yourself as having kids until very recently, and here you are. And guess what—you are going to have three! You are going to love it and love your kids, and you will find them to be your most compelling life’s work—at least for the next twenty-five years—and the richest reward.
Here are a few specifics to help you along…
Children are not a competition.
You will often find yourself with people who want to compare children. While competitiveness is a natural human trait to which we all fall victim at times, don’t let yourself be intimidated by the accomplishments of other people’s children. None of your children will walk early, and that is OK. Each will eventually crawl and walk and run and play soccer, or play guitar, or do Afro-Haitian dance. Your eldest child won’t be able to read well in first grade. Don’t worry, and don’t force her too much. Everything will click in the middle of second grade, and she will become one of the biggest bookworms ever. Maybe even bigger than you. Doing something early doesn’t mean a kid is smarter or better. Brains sometimes need time before they are ready for a particular task, and it doesn’t help anyone to try to force things to happen earlier. Some kids aren’t ready to read until they are seven years old, and forcing it on them earlier can actually damage their love of reading in the long term. Be attentive to times when your child is responsive and trying and something still isn’t happening. Maybe you should let it go for a while and try again later on.
Don’t expect logic from a toddler or a teen
You pride yourself on your logic. It was part of your family culture growing up and part of your scientific training in college. Guess what? When parenting toddlers, and sometimes teens, logic doesn’t count for nothin’. Long, reasonable explanations are a waste of time for your two-year-old (see the bit about children and competition, above). I know you think it should work—and so you will try to explain things even more carefully—but trust me, it just isn’t going to come out the way you think. Stick with short, honest, direct answers, and give up on the idea that you will be able to explain away their anger, frustration, or disagreement with what you have to say. Then pick up your kicking, screaming child and graciously exit the store (toddler version) or quietly command your teen to get in the car and let them stew without interruption all the way home.
Love your kids’ community.
I’m sure no one is more surprised than thirty-year-old you that in eighteen years you will actually be working on a book about parenting. Right now, you are a little worried about your ability to parent and love your own child because you never saw yourself as a parent. Guess what? Not only will you love your children with your every breath, you will love other people’s children too. You will choose to be involved in activities with lots of children, and you will call yourself blessed because of it.
Because your children will have their own interests and passions, you will end up hanging out with people who may not be familiar to you. I know you are an introvert, but open up and get to know them. Embrace newness as each child makes her way. (Spoiler alert: you are going to learn all about soccer, and you are going to love watching soccer. I know, right? A sport! I told you parenthood is miraculous.) It takes more than one or two parents to raise a child. I know it may be trite by now, but the need for a village is real. Expand your children’s world and yours by truly participating in the communities they are connected to: school, sports, dance, music, church, robotics—whatever they may be. You will be enriched by the love and care you have for the community of children and parents, and your children will be too.
Be genuinely you
You will be one of the most important people in your children’s lives. Don’t you think they deserve to actually know you? Yes, be a parent. Yes, be strict when needed; you will have to set and enforce many, many boundaries during your time as a parent, but be sure to be genuine with your children. Don’t say something you don’t really believe because you think it is what parents are supposed to say to children. Please, please don’t take on one of those “parent personas,” where the parent only says the perfect thing, and never shows any emotion other than support and encouragement. Now, obviously, you can’t communicate with five-year-olds the way you talk to coworkers, but you can communicate in a way that is still an honest expression of you.
For example, by the time the girls are ready to leave home, be sure to talk to them about your opinions on global warming, abortion, marijuana use, sex and birth control, gun control, voting, investing, budgeting, the cost of housing, tattoos and piercings, et cetera, et cetera. Of course, I mean you should have these discussions in parts as they are age appropriate. (Again, see competitive childhood.) If they ask about something you don’t think they are old enough to handle, be honest by telling them something like, “That is a very serious question and an important topic. I will talk to you about that, but I think you are a little young right now. Let’s come back to it in a few years.” Or tell them the part they can understand, like, “Yes, I do think the weather is changing. Grown-ups are trying to figure out what to do about it. We should try to drive less, because more cars is one of the things causing the problem.” Being genuine and honest with your children is how you model those attributes for them. It builds trust between you, and it lets them know that they can be genuinely themselves with you.
OK, there you go. Have a wonderful journey.
Remember that you will trip and fall, and you will be OK. And so will your kids.