July 25, 2012

Some parenting lessons don't get old

What you didn't learn in kindergarten, somewhere along the way, your children will teach you.

Rants, raves, reviews and resources for Dallas-Fort Worth parents

During a recent cellphone conversation, a new-father friend tried to stay on the line while tending to one of his month-old twins, whose neediness was evident in the background. I said he'd know he could handle anything when he could talk on the phone while holding a baby in each arm.

That was easier to do, of course, in the old days of receivers you could easily anchor between ear and shoulder.

Being much younger, my friend probably will Skype or set the cell on speaker and prove my parenting experience obsolete.

But as my two aged out of their teens Wednesday, I knew that some things they've taught me on our journey the past 20 years won't grow outdated.

Author Robert Fulghum very sagely wrote in 1988 that all he really needed to know he learned in kindergarten.

I didn't go to kindergarten, which might be why I've had to learn so much from my kids.

You'll never forget the first day you saw their faces.

If there's a joy that compares to finally meeting the little miracles who've been kicking you from the inside, getting to count their tiny toes and marveling at their teensily perfect fingernails, I haven't come across it.

A clean house is overrated, and the laundry will wait.

Remember that time your kids hugged you for scrubbing the toilets and vacuuming pet hair off the rug? Me neither. But I do remember cuddling on the couch to watch a movie, reading books before bed, seeing Little League home runs hit, sitting through soccer practices, driving to New Orleans and St. Louis, splashing on the Galveston beach, going on a field trip to NASA, playing with Legos, and making graham cracker-and-icing cathedrals for Easter.

Children pick up things you never taught them.

I'm not talking about curse words or distorted notions about acceptable behavior as seen on TV. I mean a fundamental sense of fairness and injustice, historical trivia to know and tell, nimble skills with newfangled technology, current-events info learned through social media, and good manners exhibited mainly for adults who don't live with them.

You will become your parents.

When your kids crash at a friend's house for the night and you can't reach them, you will give the lecture about not worrying your parents to death.

When they come back from college and do as they please, you'll give the lecture about following your rules while in your house.

When they refuse to go about things your way, you'll give the lecture about learning from your own experience.

But remember, hovering is for helicopters. Kids need room to make their own mistakes; your interference won't teach them responsibility. Get furious when they make foolish choices, be thankful no one got seriously hurt, then help them understand they can't do that again.

Life forces hard choices, and you sometimes will be convinced you made the wrong ones.

I keep reading thoughtful essays about whether professional women can "have it all" and wonder how anyone believes they can have everything. You can try to balance family and work, but show me someone who can do a phone interview with a child in each arm and wash the dog at the same time.

At a work-related conference one fall, I got to hear a breathtaking Mormon Tabernacle Choir performance in Utah -- while getting text messages about the high school football game that veered from a momentous win into a heartbreaking loss in the last seconds. I just knew I wasn't where I should have been.

Your children will take you places you never imagined going.

They won't travel the straight, logical path you envisioned, and they won't do things the sensible way you would. They will exasperate you, and they'll amaze you. They'll find inventive ways of reiterating the learning style you first noticed before they could even talk. The trick is to enjoy the journey, not just wonder about the destination.

You must resist the urge to make letting go harder than it has to be.

The summer our twins turned 13, we traveled to a baseball tournament in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Our daughter kept tugging for independence, and being thoroughly overprotective, I resisted mightily. You can imagine how badly that went. This weekend, she and her brother will explore Manhattan together, and I won't be any closer than an unanswered text message from Texas.

I hope some day they understand the significance of that gift.

Linda P. Campbell is a Star-Telegram editorial writer.


Twitter: @LindaPCampbell

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