Fasten Your Seatbelts

I have always parented by bouncing off ideas within my village of moms. When the boys were babies, my friend Addie was my go-to for breastfeeding questions. Carrie, mom of four, could be counted on for good conversations on faith and exposing kids to issues of social justice. Marie, a mom of six, and Keisha, mom of two, also had adopted children and provided a great sounding board for the challenges and joys that accompanied this type of parenting. My friend Julia has three kids who lined up just around the ages of my four kids, and she could offer insight on what made each of them tick. We are now all a couple decades into our parenting journeys, and one thing we all agree on is how humbling it has been. When the children were small, we saw our actions (or inaction) as parents as having a profound effect. At some level, we believed that if we could just do it right, all would be well. Now that our combined 19 kids are in high school, college and even beyond, we better recognize the limits of parenting. Among the 19 kids, we’ve seen some wonderful successes and achievements, but we’ve also seen poor choices, struggles with mental health and many questions. We will be the first to say that we do not have all the answers. But when I asked my friends what advice they’d give to parents of grade school children, knowing what they know now, they recognized a few nuggets they learned along the way.

Cell phones: “I would tell parents of kids under 12 to delay their kids having a cell phone for as long as possible,” Carrie said. “And I would not give it as a present, as if it’s theirs, even when they are in high school. Instead, when the kid has a phone, it’s ultimately your phone and you can make the rules around its use. The phone should never be in the room with the kid at night. Have the phone charge in the parents’ room, and give it to the kids in the morning only after they are ready for the day. Each year, we are learning more about how some kids are more susceptible to addiction to games or social media, and how screen time can exacerbate some tendencies toward depression or other mental illnesses. Limiting kids’ use of phones and social media is a great gift for them, even if they don’t recognize it at the time.”

Connection: “If I could do one thing differently, it might be to not take sports teams so seriously when the kids are under 14,” Keisha said. “We had some awesome vacations as a family and now that the kids are young adults, we talk about those great trips. But sometimes, we let the schedule of games and practices dictate what we would do as a family, and I wish we hadn’t. Time outside, in nature, is what we all seem to remember the best; (it was the best) at bringing us together.”

Faith “One thing I feel my husband and I did well is that we were very consistent with prayer before meals and bed, along with church every Sunday,” Julia said. “We stressed that kids should go to God with their deepest concerns. We would talk about the Mass after we went, and when our local church lost its sense of spirit and life, we drove the family across town so that they had a positive experience of Mass. I would explain to the kids that they could always find something to take away from our time at church — whether it was a reading that had meaning, a song, the Eucharist, the Our Father — something in that hour would bring them closer to God.”

One-on-one time: “It took me a while to understand that even though doing things with all the kids at once was efficient, it wasn’t always what the kids needed,” Marie said. “One-on-one time with a child allows you to relax with that child in a way that you can’t otherwise, because you have to spend so much energy trying to dissolve the sibling quarrels. When you are alone with just one child, it allows you to show more of your true self and better understand who that child is.”

Letting go: “The younger years are an intense time of parenting. You are making so many choices for your child, and rightly so, hoping to guide them,” Julia said. “But as they grow into older teens and young adults, a process begins of letting go and understanding that ultimately each of our children will have their own journey, and sometimes the road they are on is so difficult. I look with such admiration at the young parents and the incredible energy that takes — to live your life plus some parts of the lives of your kids. And now that my kids are older, I pray I can have the grace I need to stand by and cheer for my children as they make their own way.”