I will never forget the day I learned the golden rule of parenting. When I first became a mom I was so excited thinking about all the things I wanted to teach and share with my daughter…hold a cup, tie her shoes, write her name, draw her favorite animal, ride a horse, and oh yes, I wanted to teach her to be the best that she could be. I wanted her to love herself and love her life. It was much the same when I became a grandmother.
The specifics might be different but I think all of us moms and grandmoms share the same hopes and dreams that no matter what, we want our babies to grow and thrive and be happy.
Now, almost 34 years after that glorious almost surreal night in February of 1978 when I received my precious baby girl, I sit here a grandmother, raising my two amazing grandchildren, Kaitlyn 14, and Zach 13 and look back over all of my many years of parenting realizing how much they all have taught me!
As parents, we enter this journey so full of our intentions and goals, sometimes planning down to the very smallest detail! I remember when my daughter, Cally, was born, I had visions of all the exquisite ruffled dresses I was going to dress her in, all with matching bows for her long locks of rich brown hair and polished Mary-Jane shoes. While she was an infant I spent hours looking at catalogs envisioning her in the most precious outfits…all fit for a princess. I was ordering clothes that she wouldn’t be able to wear for several years but I was so excited I couldn’t help myself!
And then Cally turned 4. I remember it clearly because it was actually her 4th birthday when I experienced an “aha” moment that not only changed my relationship with my daughter but clearly impacted my parenting mindset.
All of our friends and family had gathered at a friend’s house to celebrate Cally’s birthday by sharing a buffet style meal followed by games and activities for Cally and her playmates. She had on a brilliant red and black Polly Flanders dress, red tights, a matching ribbon on each of her meticulously crafted braids and shiny new black patent leather shoes. She was picture perfect.
In the midst of one of the games Cally tripped and spilled punch all over her dress and scuffed her new shoes. I was quick to react. I knew she wasn’t hurt, but I was afraid she would be upset about her dress and shoes as I was. She wasn’t and that sort of puzzled me. My friend, who had a son Cally’s age, offered a pair of his Osh-Kosh overalls for her to change into. All was well again and the party continued.
The next morning Cally got up and dressed herself before coming into my room. She had put the borrowed overalls back on. I explained that we needed to return them and that she needed to put something else on.
She replied in no uncertain terms that she wanted to wear the overalls. Of course she didn’t have any of her own…after all, she was my princess and princesses wear ruffles and lace, not denim!
As I looked through her closet for her “outfit” of the day, I could see her unhappiness. I asked her if she would like to choose her clothes for the day and she said, “I don’t like anything!” I couldn’t imagine that out of the countless dresses, skirts and jumpers in her closet that nothing appealed to her.
I explained that we needed to go to town later that week for groceries so if she was willing to put on the outfit I chose from her closet that I would take her to the department store and she could pick out an outfit that she liked. She agreed and our day went on as usual.
Several days later we went to the nearest department store. As promised Cally picked out clothes that she wanted to wear…not one ruffle, no lace and certainly no dresses! But she was beaming with joy. I could see that she needed to wear what made her happy. I knew I had to let go of my preferences and dreams and let her live out her own.
I don’t think I ever saw Cally in a dress again until she was in a school Christmas pageant about 5 years later. I learned to ask her what she wanted to wear each day and honor her desires.
This was the beginning of a new mindset for me… I had been raised by parents who honored my preferences and yet somehow in my joy and excitement of becoming a mother I forgot that my daughter had the right to hers as well.
When we see parenting as a treasured role that we are passionate to fill, it is easy to attach our own dreams to the experience and ignore the fact that our children are individuals separate and apart from us.
As a parenting coach, I am often asked what I believe is the most important thing parents can do for their children…my response is always the same…let them be who they are!