This summer, as my two-year-old clings to me and my almost eight-year-old looks for more independence from me, I’ve come to realize one of the under-appreciated gifts of parenthood is bearing witness to our own humanity. On any given day, I can observe what makes kids happy — popsicles and puddles! — and what can make a kid melt like a popsicle into a puddle of tears.
The more I thought on this, the more I realized the obvious, but hard-to-admit fact: I’m just a grown-up kid, still susceptible to what I call popsicle puddles, unnecessary tears and fears. And maybe, just maybe at age 40, I still had a little growing up to do.
To help me grow up, I decided to spend these summer months observing my children for takeaways — or simple reminders — to help me be a better parent. Because it turns out, even adults, especially in moments of stress, can learn a lot from our kids.
KID OBSERVATION #1: Kids need love, good food and drink — and a decent nap.
As a mother to four children, there’s a higher chance of popsicle puddles if basic needs aren’t met. When kids act out, chances are one of these basic needs got shortchanged.
MOM REMINDER #1: I have basic needs, too!
I need to remind myself to start and end the day with love. It’s as simple as saying, “Good morning!” or “I love you!” Eat three good meals, and don’t forget to drink (water, that is). Finally, go to bed at a decent hour because parents need their sleep as much as their kids do!
KID OBSERVATION #2: Kids eventually want more control.
Whether it’s a six-year-old choosing his favorite popsicle flavor or a toddler wanting to hold the water hose, kids crave control. And kids are happier when they feel like they had a part in the decision.
MOM REMINDER #2: Moms like to feel in control, too.
Nobody likes to be stepped on, mom included. Lately, I crave more control over my time. Mom is tired of driving her kids here and there for this or that activity. So guess what, kids? We’re staying home most of this summer! Turns out, nobody is complaining about less time in the car.
KID OBSERVATION #3: Kids have buyer’s remorse.
After purchasing a $50 bonsai tree, my son went from a state of excitement to a state of despair within two hours of coming home. I’ll never forget seeing him staring at the receipt, his eyes welling up with tears after realizing he spent most of his savings. He then asked I take him back to return the tree. Though I cringed at the thought of driving back to the store, I silently celebrated his appreciation of a hard-earned dollar.
MOM REMINDER #3: I have regrets and need to learn from them, too.
Some regrets are small, like having that second serving of lasagna. And some are large, like saying something I later regret to a sister or a friend. Sometimes we don’t know the best choice until we experience the regret of having made the wrong choice. The important thing is we accept that we made a poor decision and learn from it.
KID OBSERVATION #4: Kids seek peer acceptance.
This year I learned second grade is a VERY social year. Suddenly, my son considered how his classmates would react if he dressed in Mom’s suggested Halloween costume: a praying mantis. Mom’s creative ideas are not always appreciated anymore. This is when Mom melts into a popsicle puddle!
MOM REMINDER #4: In some ways, I still seek acceptance from my peer group.
Posting on social media, sharing this or that accomplishment or happening, is just another way of seeking peer gratification. It’s not a bad thing necessarily, but we can let it affect our emotional state. More often than I’d like to admit, I need to remind myself, it’s okay if so-and-so doesn’t “like” my posts. Really, I’m not in second grade anymore!
KID OBSERVATION #5: Kids seek positive feedback.
After a rollercoaster year of soccer, my son decided to take a break and try a different sport. As I reflect back on the experience, I realize he wasn’t getting positive feedback from his coach like past seasons. Okay, take a breath, it’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t love soccer anymore, really. No popsicle puddles, please!
MOM REMINDER #5: I yearn for positive feedback, too.
When I feel like a failure as a parent, I look for an escape, a release, a venture where my efforts might reward my ego. This is largely why I write. My hope is that someone might read this to the end and know we all sometimes have popsicle puddles, those unnecessary tears and fears that too often cloud our day. So today, clean up those popsicle puddles. Parenting can be messy, and that’s okay.