10 Lessons in 10 Years of Parenting
I became a mom 10 years ago this week. This event is in my top 3 life-defining moments (immigrating and getting married to Adam being the other two). So I get a lot of meaning in thinking about what I learned in a decade of parenting and summarizing here what I know today that I did not know 10 years ago.
I tried to stay true to my lived experiences in this post - acknowledging that everyone’s parenting journey is different based on circumstances and needs. My lessons are through the context of a two-working parent household with access to resources and support, but a severe deficit of time and no nearby family. My mood in writing this is in equal part nostalgic, whimsical, and sentimental.
🏡 Lesson 1 - Invest in building a community near you of like-minded parents
I would give a lot for a next-door neighbor who is lifelong friends with Adam and me, with kids the same age as our kids, who are also into the same activities and like to hang out together. However, this has not been my reality - so Adam and I have been intentional about building a community around us of parents whom we like to hang out and with whom our kids have common interests with.
What does this actually mean?
Offer help and ask for help - with watching the kids, picking things up in the store
Create opportunities to spend time together as families - I love hosting get-togethers and baking so inviting people over for a Friday night “wind-down” has been an energizing go-to for me
Reach out - make conversation with playgrounds, classes, rehearsals, pick up and drop off, and see what comes of it
Maintain connection with parents with slightly older kids so that you can have a guide and a coach for what’s ahead
💪🏻 Lesson 2 - Consistency is more important than getting it exactly right
To sleep train or not to sleep train was the question I remember asking my pediatrician. And his answer was - whatever you do, stick with it and don’t change your mind daily.
My kids thrive on guardrails and clear expectations of what is to come - for example, we don’t do screens at dinner table but we do unlimited screen time on long road trips. I have learned that having this level of clarity both simplifies the day-to-day (fewer decisions to make) and improves behavior.
One key thing to note that with the goal of consistency, Adam and I have had to spend extra time ensuring that are on the same page so that we don’t inadvertently send mixed messages.
🥰 Lesson 3 - Outsource the things that don’t give you joy and replace them with things that do
I feel no shame that I do not do our household laundry (and a lot of gratefulness that I can outsource it) or make my kids Halloween costumes from scratch. I also think about what I am doing with this time I am getting back and try to be intentional about it. The commitment that I make to myself is that I will make one large time investment with my kids a year. This is important to me because as a working mom, I want to show them there is a way to work and be involved in their lives.
For example, last year, I was a room parent for the 4th grade class. This year, I’m leading the Daisy Girl Scout troop (if you want Girl Scout Cookies, I know a Daisy who would be thrilled to support your cravings)!
📚 Lesson 4 - Establish a love of reading by encouraging books without judgment of content
Both girls love reading and I see them gravitating toward a book more often than not. In addition to reading to them nightly as Adam and I do, we have also supported them in reading whatever they find interesting rather than what we think they should be reading. This was a big shift for me personally as that’s not how I was raised (the approach my parents took was to work through the classics as fast as possible).
Also, listening to your kids in this way means that sometimes they make hard decisions for us to live with - for example, our 6-year-old does not want to read Harry Potter. Alas.
💞 Lesson 5 - Taking a night (or a week) off parenting is good for the soul
For the first 10 years of parenting, it has definitely been true for me that taking time away from being a parent is important for my identity as a wife, friend, sister, and daughter. Over the years, Adam and I have successfully been able to get time to turn toward each other during date nights, weekends away, and even a week in Europe (for a wedding). Additionally, having time to myself has been important for my identity.
Here is tactically what this means:
Have a roster of babysitters that you trust and can call in to support
Adam and I have an agreement that each week we both get a night off to use however we want. We discuss timing ahead of time on Sunday for the week to come
Ask for what you need - no one can read my mind, so I use clear words like “I would like to go for a run today, can you support me in that?” and we discuss what that looks like
👼🏻 Lesson 6 - Nanny over daycare
The ability to have a nanny has been 100% right decision. It gave us a glide into parenting with less sickness and more flexibility in the early days. It is a gift we were able to give ourselves (financially) which set us up for success for the first 4 1/2 years of our parenting journey. But what about socialization? This is the question I most often get - I have a lot of conviction that these needs can be met with augmented classes and experiences.
I have written extensively about this and am happy to talk to anyone about this choice. And clearly, I don’t recommend the nanny path if it is a financial burden.
💡 Lesson 7 - Establish big and small family traditions to foster connection
I have loved having structure and experiences to look forward to as a family. This helps create core memories around rituals that we share as a family.
Here are some of my favorite ones:
💗 Red Dinner on Valentine’s Day - we don’t do gifts but we have a family dinner where all the foods are red
🍨 Ice cream the night before the first day of school
🎁 Birthday presents are piled up by the bed the morning of the big day
💬 Lesson 8 - Keep kids talking to you
My job as a parent is to keep my kids safe and raise good humans. To that end, understanding what they are thinking and what is happening especially when I am not there feels more and more important every day. Times and places where I’ve had the most success getting an opening into the minds and days are usually at bedtime and in the car during transition times.
🌳 Lesson 9 - Fresh air cures most bad moods
It’s amazing to me that this lesson has persevered through 10 years of parenting. Fresh air for newborns meant longer naps. Fresh air today means a change of scenery, the ability to take a deep breath, and an improved mood for all. When all else fails, go outside - to the playground, for a walk, or if all else fails in a car to a drive through Starbucks.
🧘♂️ Lesson 10 - Everything in parenting (and life) is a phase
There was a time when our garage was full of strollers and trikes. There was a time when I could not get my oldest child to do any team sport. There was a time when baking with kids seemed like a pipe dream.
And yet, now the garage has large bicycles in it (and still one Bob stroller that I can’t seem to convince myself to give away), my oldest swims competitively on two swim teams, and my 6-year-old loves to bake with me. I have spent too much time trying to orchestrate my kids to do the things I think they should be doing on a timeline that “best practices” dictate. But as it turns out, my kids are their own selves and have had a strong point of view on who they are and what works for them.
To that end, my takeaway is to try to meet them where they are. If today's carrots are disgusting, tomorrow they might taste like the best thing in the world. But forcing my plan on kids is a waste of effort and energy. The years we have under the same roof are too short and I’d rather make time for the important stuff.
Thank you for reading and please drop any of your parenting lessons in the comments.
Here are more of our parenting posts:
👶 Advice on Hiring a Nanny: Practical tips for working parents
💪🏻 Brave Parenting: How to show up intentionally with our kids
🐎 Seven pieces of advice for parents returning to the "office" after parental leave: How to adjust back to work life