What I’ve Learned

It’s late Friday morning and I just sat down on my sofa with the full intention of editing the Book That Never Ends all day, but I have thoughts. Lots of thoughts. And none of them have to do with the Book That Never Ends. So I thought I’d write them down. Because that’s what I do. And then maybe I can move on. To the Book That Never Ends. Before it ends me.

So here are my thoughts.

My older daughter is at high school right now, and it’s her last day ever, and this fall she’ll be in college, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Except I am sure. It sucks. It sucks when your kids grow up. This is my second time around, and it hasn’t gotten any easier. Maybe even harder, actually. Because a long time ago—which, funny thing, seems like only yesterday—I used to think about the day when my kids would graduate and leave home one by one. And now I’m here. Round two. In three more years, I’ll be living through it again. Five years after that, I’ll be faced with it my final time. And people say, “at least you have more kids.” And that’s true. At least I have more. I thank God every day that I have more. But I also remember how fast eight years go by. I also know that when it comes to raising kids, it eventually ends for all of us no matter how many we have.

That’s my main thought today. Life goes fast. It just does. You can’t stop it. You can’t wish it wouldn’t happen. You can’t beg for redos or second chances. I mean you can, but that’s not the way life works. We get one shot to make it good or bad—of course with room to make adjustments—but when it’s over we’re left with what we have. Especially in the world of raising children.

Which brings me to a few other thoughts. You may not agree with all of them, but that’s okay. They’re my thoughts. Take from them what you will.

  • When you’re raising kids—no matter if you have one or ten—get to know them. Look them in the eye and find out what makes them tick, what they’re passionate about, what they dream of and hope for, what they fear and what keeps them awake at night. Look them in the eye and ask them what they love about life now, what they hate about life now, and then make adjustments. Look them in the eye and ask hard questions, assure them that they can’t ever mess up so much that they’ll lose your love, let them know that they never ever have to prove themselves to you. Look them in the eye and tell them you love them, but also tell them that you like them. Because while kids have a deep need to be loved, they also have a deep need to be accepted for exactly who they are. Those are not always one and the same.
  • Don’t make any part of raising kids—not one single bit of it—about you. If your toddler-age kid throws a temper tantrum in public, take care of your kid. Don’t look around to see who’s watching (trust me, the whole store is watching. How do I know this? Because I used to look around to see who was watching. And I would get so embarrassed. And then I would beg my kid to stop throwing a fit because he was embarrassing me. And if I could go back in time and tell myself to stop my own silly behavior…Moving on.) If your middle-school-age kid doesn’t want to be in band or can’t stand the idea of performing onstage, don’t make her do it. If your junior-high-aged kid doesn’t care about being popular or blending in with the crowd, then decide not to care about it either. If your high-school-aged kid doesn’t want to belong to a certain club, don’t make him join it. We’ve been given the gift of children to mold them into the very best versions of themselves—not to mold them into the very best versions of what we used to be in school.
  • Spend more time face to face with your kids and less time in front of a screen. This coming from a girl (Me!) who spends a ridiculous amount of time in front of a screen—computers, social media, phones, social media, computers. Those things usually make up my entire day, maybe yours too. But when your children get home from school, try to put it away, at least for a while. And talk to them. Laugh with them. Take them for ice cream. Listen to stories of their day. Teach them to draw. Teach them to write letters. Teach them to have actual conversations that don’t involve texting or “liking” things. Because in the long run, those things matter more. Face-to-face and the written word always matter more, because both equal time spent. And letting your kids know—letting anyone know, really—that they are worth your time makes a bigger difference than any quick hit of approval ever will. (And by the way, this is a lesson I’m still learning myself. Insecurity comes in the strangest forms and often when I least expect it. I think that’s just the world we live in, though I do believe we can work our individual ways through it.)
  • Embrace the change. Inevitably, things do. One minute you’re raising four kids and the next minute you see one of those kids only a few times a year. And then it happens again. And again. And again. Or will one day, sooner than you can imagine. So embrace the change. Become friends with your adult kids—the kids you’ve gotten to know and appreciate for themselves by the time all the hard work is behind you. Embrace the change. Look toward the future. Cry about the past if you need to. It sure did go fast, after all. But then keep moving forward. Embrace the change.

The best days might actually be ahead of us.

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