As Thanksgiving approaches, I fondly recall some of memories of Thanksgiving dinners and rituals shared with my children . Just as we were about to have our dinner we would take turns telling each other what we were thankful for. As a single mother, with no family ( other than my children of course), our Thanksgiving dinners consisted of the three of us. Lonely? Sometimes. But always special. One year, to avoid the empty table, I decided that we would go out for dinner. My children chose, a very expensive gourmet Chinese restaurant in Manhattan. My son, stood up, to take his turn and said...." I'm thankful for a mother who can afford such a great restaurant, and one who's cool enough to let us eat Chinese food on Thanksgiving. "
Last year "my baby" left for college, and is away from home.I have found myself reflecting on the job I did as a parent. I have single handedly raised two phenomenal children. Sometimes I wish I could turn back the clock and raise my kids all over again. I think l'd be a much better parent. Here are some of the changes I would make in the hope that new parents will benefit from these insights.
Catch yourself before you become too critical. I had to learn the hard way that constant nagging and criticizing only makes kids "mother deaf", and barking orders makes them resentful and defiant rather than obedient. In order to encourage children to cooperate parents must minimize criticism and remember to point out what children do right more often than what they do wrong. I realize now that it doesn't matter if the juice spills. Kids call learn from their mistakes, especially if we don't attack those mistakes.
Remind yourself to laugh more. Unfortunately, with the time restraints with being a fulltime working single mother, at times , parenting seemed like more of a job than as a pleasureand it was a job for which I felt poorly qualified. I was always on guard, fearful of making a mistake that would scar my kids for life. I gave too much weight to mundane decisionsfrom what they ate.. ...to how they dressed ... to how many minutes they spent brushing their teeth ... to what time they went to bed. I failed to realize how much of their childish behavior and silliness was perfectly normal. When my kids refused to settle down at bedtime I fretted about their inability to obey simple rules. And if a teacher
expressed even the smallest concern about either of my children's study habits, homework or behavior, I immediately projected a grim future of failure or unemployment for them.
Today I realize how much easier life would have been for my kids, if I had learned to lighten up. That didn't mean giving up appropriate limits or necessary rules, but not everything had to be so serious, or too critical. If only parents could be less earnest, childrearing would be much more fun and rewarding.
Don't feel threatened by honest emotions. The first time one of my kids shouted, "You're the worst mother in the world", I was devastated. Where did such ugly feelings come from? How could they speak that way to me? Was I really such a monster? Then I became angry too, shouting. "How dare you talk to me like that after all I've done for you"?
I have learned that expression of strong, feelings is natural and healthy. Negative emotions aren't inherently bad. I learned to understand the power and importance of acknowledging children's feelings and giving them room to express them, even when it makes me uncomfortable. What a difference it would have made had I responded with empathy instead of fury to my children's anger. When one of my children accused me of being a rotten mother because I wouldn't establish a later curfew, I might have said, "I can see you're really disappointed. I bet you wish you could trade me in for a new model."
Accept your kids the way they are. I didn't expect my children to be so different from one another. I had assumed they would resemble each other and react in similar ways when I disciplined them. Rather than accepting and appreciating each of their personalities, I was constantly trying to fit square pegs into round holes. Not only did I expect them to be more alike, I also thought they would resemble me. Many parents struggle, as I did, with the fact that kids are so unpredictable. They may be entirely different, from us. I have had to work really hard to remember where I end and they begin, so I don't always project my needs and longings onto them. I understand today, more fully than I did when my children were young, that our goal as parents is to love our children the way they are, rather than the way we wish they would be.
Which parent has not had a problem with a child, and which child has not had a problem with a parent? As much as we try to avoid pain and problems, they show their heads at every turn. This being the case, we should embrace them and let them be our teachers. Without problems, we would not be the person we are.
This Thanksgiving, won't you try "our" holiday ritual? Try to focus on what you do have, rather than what you don't have.
As for me ......I'm thankful for my children Marissa and Bennett.