In the last couple of years I have been told a number of times that I am an amazing mother. Not by my kids, of course, but by others. The funny thing is I do not see myself doing anything special. Some of this praise comes recently because my spouse and I are public about our advocacy for our LBGTQ child. My husband and I went to a fundraiser for a local LBGTQ youth support group last month. I was told about 50 times how fabulous I am. And I said, “Well, yes, I am. Thank you.” Actually I didn’t. I said, “I am not doing anything special. I do what any parent would do.” And this is what I believe.
We have stuff with our kids that challenges us as parents, but that is not unique to our family. Almost every parent is dealing with something with their kids, from physical and/or mental health concerns, accidents, tricks of fate, life, personality, relationships, whatever. We never in our wildest dreams expected to have a transgender child for whom we would spend a great deal of time advocating yet while still supporting our other kiddo who is relatively mainstream (whatever that is). A fantastic and sweet friend of mine and her hubby never expected to shepherd their sweet little boy through cancer treatment and its aftermath while caring for another child. When another friend welcomed her second son, she never expected that she would be holding his hand through severe depression while still providing her other two children all the love and support they need. We all do it. And so do all of our amazing friends who have kids that are just going through the normal stuff (if there is such a thing). We are all doing a fabulous job.
I was chatting with some friends about this topic the other day. We talked about how before you have kids in your life, you don’t realize how it will change you. And it is virtually impossible to explain it to someone without children in their lives. You can tell someone they are going to be different, but it is hard to explain this huge thing that being a parent is: the ways you have to stretch, the puzzles you face every day. Raising kids to be responsible, thoughtful, and kind human beings will be challenging. However, there is nothing that I and these aforementioned friends do as parents on the psycho-emotional level that any other parent can’t do.
I really want to connect with my kids. However, I want them to see me not so much as a friend, but rather a safe harbor, someone they can always count on to hear them. This is not easy. I am always reminding myself to provide information to them rather than advice. Advice comes off as a lecture if it is unsolicited. If something goes wrong, my kids can blame me. If I give them options and information, they can know that they made their own choices on a topic.
Our rules for our children are be kind, be smart, be yourself, don’t hurt others, and prepare for your future. Every day I tell them, “Learn something, make good choices.” My youngest has actually made it a game to try to get out of the car and slam the door before I say it. I don’t tell my kids what to believe, though I share what I believe and ask them what they think. I don’t tell them exactly what to read, watch, play, etc. But I encourage them to gather information. I let my kids wear almost anything they want. I don’t care how they wear their hair (though I do talk a lot about washing and brushing it, even if they ignore me). My oldest has a pierced lip that is actually against the district dress code, but she knows that she has to deal with this in a mature manner if it comes up at school. We expect them to be active, but we do not force them to do any particular sport. They love video games like their dad and music that I listen to even though I do not love it even a little bit.
Before I had kids, I may have cared more about what other people thought about me. It may have colored certain choices I made. As a parent, I realize that I don’t want my kids to make choices based on other people’s opinions, so I role model doing things the way I want to do them. This has actually worked in my favor and helped my kids be their own people. I feel like they may deal with peer pressure a little better than some kids, but I will have to report back to you in 10 years or so on that.
One of the things I have had a hard time with is letting my kids be emotional. Both my husband and I want to fix things for them. Sometimes we do not understand why they are sad or angry. But letting them identify these emotions and talking about why they feel the way they do helps them grow emotionally. We are trying to step back and acknowledge and discuss these things. Letting kids feel, rather than telling them how to feel, builds your connection with them.
I do a lot of talking with my kids. This includes not only me saying stuff, but often more them. While they talk, I listen to them and sound empathetic about the things they are going through. I try not to lecture, which is so hard because I always have an opinion. But they don’t always want my opinion or a solution. Sometimes they just want an ear. This is how I found out my oldest was transgender. If she did not feel comfortable coming to me to talk about things, we might still not know why she was so sad.
I have to throw in here that, as I have said before, I knew nothing about being transgender before she came to me. I could have easily said, “No, you are not.” She was not remotely feminine acting. We had no signs, not one clue before she told us, nothing compared to many of the stories that you see in the media nowadays. I knew she had not been happy in a way that was more than just teenage angst. So I said, “OK, I don’t know much about that. Let me research.” I listened to her, I learned, and I have grown as a person. I still am, every day. The reward is that I have a super happy, confident teenager because we listened and acknowledged her.
Be present when you are with your kids. I read somewhere that we only have about 900 weeks with our kids. Cherish that time together as often as possible. We have the best time when we play board games or Mario Kart together without cell phones distracting us, though of course we have to post a picture of the fun on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. I also find myself savoring the little things. I love it when they come give a kiss goodnight or cuddle up to me on the couch—even more so because I know that they are getting closer to moving on.
One of the hardest things we do (for me, at least, since they seem to have more in common with their dad) is support their interests. Not because they are bad, but because often they are so not interesting to me. I know many other parents will say they love the hours they spend at baseball and recitals. I am going to be honest and say they are not that interesting to me. There was a point in the not-so-recent past when I had stopped going to some of it, but then I realized how much it meant to my kids that I show up for those events. I love the smile I get from my son when he looks over to me as he goes up to bat or the excitement my daughter exudes when she bounces up to us at a concert where she is performing. When we go to events like Comic Con and Van’s Warp Tour with them, I try to appreciate that I would never ever choose to do these things at this point in my life if it were not for them, but they are kind of fun. We think they like to brag to their friends that they got their old parents to do this young stuff with them. We don’t hang out with them all of the time at these places, but they find us and touch base every now and then. It gives us shared experience.
This is what I do. This is what many parents I know do. What makes you an amazing parent? What challenges do you face in raising your kids to be the humans you want them to be?