No one talks shop more than mothers. And by “shop” I don’t mean talking about the paid position a mother might have in addition to her job as mom. We talk about that too – projects at work; our bosses or those who report to us – but not nearly with the intensity or the passion that we talk about our unpaid and more important job of motherhood.
I have absorbed so much wisdom from my friends who are moms. Some of it has come to me directly, when I’ve explained a problem or a question and they’ve given me advice. Some of it has come from observing my friends as they’ve skillfully parented a tantruming toddler or a sullen teen. I’ve received advice over cups of coffee and glasses of wine; via email and text; on walks, bike rides and runs, and even on a chairlift, riding to the top of a ski hill.
My friend Andrea, a much better skier than I, had to wait for me at the bottom of the hill to continue her advice because I couldn’t keep up with her slaloming.
So with 21 years of advice coming to me from all directions, it is only right that I share some of it.
Baby your baby: My friend Patty, mother of five and champion breastfeeder (she breastfed her twins without using bottles), taught me the profound importance of babyhood.
“When you hold, nurse, rock or cuddle your baby, your touch creates a bond,” Patty explained. “That bond brings about a sense of security. When you meet a child’s most basic need to be loved, fed and cared for, you are creating a foundation from which your child will feel secure enough to become independent.”
The cuddling, skin-to-skin contact, and sheer time together those first two years serves as the basis for attachment later in life. Because of my years as a foster parent, receiving children who missed all or some of this foundation, I understand there are other opportunities for a parent beyond the first two years to make sure a child feels secure and well-loved. But if you are privileged enough to give birth or receive a baby through adoption, give that baby as much of yourself and your time as you are able, even if it means rearranging other aspects of your life to make that happen.
Don’t be afraid to be in charge: My friend Carol and I taught grade school together before we both became parents. As teachers in our early 20s, Carol and I had to learn that what is in a child’s best interest and what makes that child happy are often two different things, and it is the adult’s job to choose the best interest of the child.
“Kids need parents to draw boundaries for them when they are young,” Carol said. “This helps them develop their own limits when they are older. Parents who allow their children to call the shots stress out their kids – and the stress shows up in bad behavior.”
Eat dinner together: I grew up with family dinners and benefited from many nights of Shake ‘n Bake chicken, potatoes and good conversation. When my boys went off to college and I asked them what the highlights of their childhood were, they both mentioned dinner each night, as a family.
Research underlines what I saw in my own family and among my friends who valued the evening meal. According to a study cited in a recent Washington Post article, children who have about five meals a week with their families have substantially higher academic achievement than their peers who eat in shifts or as a family, but in front of the TV.
Teens who eat regular family meals are less likely to engage in smoking, drinking, drugs and early sexual behavior. Regular meals together are linked to keeping teen depression and anxiety at bay as well as to healthier eating and fewer eating disorders.
Children who eat regular meals with their parents are more likely to have a positive outlook on their lives and their futures. A regular prayer before dinner weaves faith into everyday life.
Delay the devices: My friend Amy, a mom who chose to not allow smartphones for her three teens until late into high school, shared with me stories of social media-obsessed and anxiety-ridden kids she knew, and helped me approach this arena with healthy caution.
“Why do you want your 14-year-old to have a camera with them at all times? What good comes of that?” Amy asks.
Other friends have talked me through their experience using parental control software and apps such as Net Nanny, Norton or Qustodio to limit and monitor their kids’ online behavior. And a few friends’ honest accounts of their own fails in protecting kids adequately from porn, bullying or late-night texting propelled me to understand what was at stake.
Our freshman daughter was thrilled to finally receive her first phone a couple weeks ago. Even though it only has calling and texting abilities, not a camera or Internet, she is sufficiently plugged into her fun and active social life. We’ve tied the use of her phone to her grade point average – an idea I got from another friend.
Possibly the most important piece of parenting advice, however, is this: Each mother should have another mom or two that she can go to with anything because sometimes a friend may offer no advice at all – just a good hug on a bad day. Maybe the only advice is that tomorrow is another day to try it again. And that advice is enough.
(Annemarie’s writing on faith and family life has won local and national awards. To see past columns, go to www.discoveringmotherhood.com.)