Dear Young Mom: Wisdom from Looking Back

Filed under Feed Your Strength on May 12 12 by

Dear Young Mom,

We are celebrating you and many others this Mother’s Day season. You are precious and amazing and blessed…and tired and exhausted and bombarded with your own questions and the well-meaning, but often less-than-helpful advice from others.

You will find your way. Your children will grow up and you will look back. I care about the day you look back and size up your parenting experience. I want that day to have the deep satisfaction of knowing that you helped shape your children with intentional guidelines that took them to the brink of adulthood with a soundness of heart, mind, body, and spirit.

You respond to your children dozens of times daily, and you hope these responses carry a message of love, restraint, and wisdom. That is a great “hope”, but good responses grow out of your expectations and belief system, both of which must be well thought out in advance, before the fire of everyday decision-making. When I look back, I see many mistakes that my adult children are improving upon in rearing their own children. But I take seriously the guidelines that I put into place bit by bit to drive my responses over time. I share these here in hopes that they will motivate you to make a list of your own.

Expect your house to look worse than you want it to. Find the peace in that first—before you lose your temper about constant disarray. Then decide on a few areas of the house that everyone is willing to keep fairly clutter-free. Remember that children have no idea what you mean by “clean your room.” Husbands, in all fairness, might not either. Family meetings that make it a joint effort combined with lots of practice put peace back into this potential land mine. Your look back will not include how clean you kept your house, unless it was at the price of little hearts.

Do not expect behavior for which you have not practiced. If you want your children to go in Wal-Mart without asking for candy or a toy, then you need to make a number of trips in advance where the only goal is to enter, walk around, and leave without asking for a thing. If you want your children to sit an hour or more at a restaurant, then hour-long sitting must be achieved at home first, starting with much smaller increments of time. Most things we achieve have a learning curve or training time. Look back with joy at how you helped your kids achieve with practice and intention.

Your children will respond to the expectations you place on them. Teachers learn in college that student performance rises (or stoops) to the expectations of the teacher. Children respond to parent expectations as well. You show that you value education when you say often, “When you graduate from college, you…” Kindness ranks high when you treat your children with the same voice you offer neighbors and co-workers. Children learn to think for themselves when you describe how you made a decision—when they hear you think out loud. Expectations must be intentional and decided upon in advance. This minimizes the cajoling and begging that compromises our position as parents.

Honor the wisdom of old agers. You are modeling how your children will treat you when they become adults. If you relish the stories and know-how of those who have gone before you, your children will offer you that same time and importance in your looking back years.

Be their cheerleader. By grade school, children are beginning to make important decisions for themselves. Cheering their good choices and helping them rethink the poor ones give them a strong foundation before independence, friends, drugs, and sex become the decision ground. For example, you want them to consider opting for virginity? Then start cheering around the third or fourth grade—even earlier—for them to hold out for that and let them know you will help them in any way you can. Cheerleaders come in all shapes and sizes and influences. Be the most vocal.

Understand that misbehavior is an outcry for self-control. It takes great time and intention to teach self-control. One of my kids, as a preschooler, seemed to be especially tempted to lie. When I was sure she was lying, I had her sit on the kitchen counter while I fixed dinner until she could tell the truth. It didn’t take long for her to realize that I would not compromise; I would and could wait her out.

Spanking sparks a wide range of opinions. I never took it off the table, although I think it is most effective with young children and that it is only one of the tools in your repertoire. When the outcry for self-control comes in the form of tantrums or other aggressive or dangerous behaviors, spanking works wonders.

Don’t blame the teacher. One of society’s greatest missteps in guiding our children began when baby boomer parents took issue with the school’s discipline instead of with their child’s behavior. In over 40 cumulative years of teachers for three kids (daycare included), I went to two teachers to clarify their response to my kids. In those hundreds of interactions, I expected my kids to figure it out and adjust to the teacher. If we are training them for all sorts of work environments, colleagues, and bosses, then the adjustment is theirs to make.

Find a church that believes God is approachable—that life is first and foremost about the discovery of that relationship and sharing community along the way. Investing into such a church is like having an extra family member to help you. Freely embrace coaches, parents of friends, and others who seem to spark interest and relationship in your child, especially if you are a single-parent home. God sends other adults to widen the circle of love if we accept that our child can enjoy them without diminishing our place in his or her life.

Guard the door. I’m not sure I can even articulate this, but in the deepest spiritual sense, there are enemies of the family at every turn. Pray, be vigilant, sacrifice your own activities often—though not always—to be available for your children. Help them test the waters of freedom with intention and lots of communication. As they get older, remember to talk with them when they are ready—not when you feel like lecturing. Guarding the door also means respecting their growing-into-adulthood heart.

Final Thoughts

Remember that you are on an 18-year journey, the main purpose being to hand over the reins to mature-thinking and self-disciplined young adults. Nothing is more degrading to a child than to be unable to leave home and make it on his or her own. Your look back will include bouts of loneliness as they move to their own families and lives. Entering into this loneliness with your own self-control is one of the greatest legacies of completing well the handoff into adulthood.

Our family experienced tragedy, ill circumstance, and ultimate joy. Though our suffering was plentiful, many others have known and know much worse. At the end of the day, it is our response to hardship that builds strength in our children. I remember crying out to God on behalf of each of my children. In the midst of great turmoil, I knew I could not begin to settle the flying pieces of their little hearts. My only hope was His guidance and protection along the way. In my look back, I know two things have stood the test of time: (1) I had their best interest at heart every day, and (2) I never quit seeking wisdom for each next step.

Happy Mother’s Day season. Look forward with hope; look back with joy.

Debi White

View all posts by

Debi White
Debi is a former NC elementary teacher and middle school principal. As an educator, she was keenly aware of the need to inspire students and teachers, helping each to understand what keeps the heart melted and learning and productivity strong. She left education to research, on a broader scale, how each of us can move from exile to freedom in every area of our lives. For daily inspiration, check out her blog at