I am becoming an increasingly indulgent mother. Suddenly, my daughters seem old. With their first years of high school and middle school over now, it feels like the end of their childhoods are hurtling toward me at break-neck speed.
When they were toddlers and preschoolers, every decision, every parenting choice felt weighty and precedent-setting. There were so many huge developmental milestones looming, and so many of these milestones formed the very basics of human existence: eating, sleeping, eliminating, reading, grooming themselves, relating to other people. I didn’t want to screw them up. I fretted about screwing them up. Fifteen or so years into parenting, I think that this fretting, while perhaps unnecessary, wasn’t entirely a bad thing. I was consciously, thoughtfully considering each parenting choice, even if reading three different parenting books would end up with me circling back to that first gut instinct.
At this point, though, it feels like the die has been cast. I mean, there are all sorts of high school perils in our future, all sorts of decisions to be made, but so much of their essential characters has been consistent for a while now. They’ve definitely surprised me along the way, but the surprises are. . . well, they’re sort of like an Agatha Christie novel, I guess. Briefly startling and unexpected, but then, looking back, I can see the breadcrumbs that I hadn’t noticed in the plot, and then it is all true and clear and satisfying. I wrote years back about this sense of suspense, the surprises and things I learn about the girls as they’re growing up, and that still holds true.
But I have come to a conclusion about my children: they are mostly quite awesome.
And I usually don’t say this, because it is bragging and I know that so many parents are dealing with so many challenges, and I personally can’t stand all of those bloggers, magazine writers, and social media mamas who go on and on about how their children are simply the Best Children Ever and how they are Doing It All With Style And Serenity And Firm Abs And A Huge And Gorgeously Decorated House. I would much rather laugh and commiserate about household messes and blowing our cool and such. But, dude. Occasionally you just to have to give a little credit where it’s due, so I’m just going for it today.
The girls are mostly awesome. Much of this is a direct result of some awesome parenting by yours truly and Cute W. How are they awesome? Let me count the ways.
They are excellent students who care about their grades.
Their amazing final report cards are probably the main reason why I could not suppress the bragging any longer. The grades were fantastic. I was a very good student, but they are better than I was. They are super-motivated and hard-working. Back before they started school, Cute W and I speculated about this. We had both been somewhat nerdy kids who cared deeply about our grades growing up, and we both wondered how we’d be able to relate to a kid who didn’t really give a crap. Hooray, this turned out to be a non-issue. I will say that switching from the vague, touchy-feely elementary school grades to grades where 50 points for the quiz + 200 points for the test + 5 points for each homework assignment equals a tangible, specific number grade has helped in this department.
They are mostly kind and do not engage in girl drama.
This is one I hesitate to mention, because it is mostly speculation. I don’t get to actually spy on their lunch tables every day. But most of the reports I hear and the actions I’ve observed have been good. I’ll hear from moms about some dramatic skirmish, and my kid was oblivious. Or my kid will be treated unkindly and manage to shrug it off. Or I’ll witness my kid shutting down someone else who’s saying mean things about an absent classmate. They have also thus far avoided being infected by my adolescent boy-craziness (knock on wood!). I don’t know quite how they have this drama-avoidance superpower, but I do think that they’re both pretty mature, which helps. Also, maybe because. . .
They are comfortable with themselves and proud to be strong.
Okay, I’m super-excited about this one. Maybe they do it around other girls, but I never hear the girls say anything bad about their bodies. Now, of course it is easier to do this because they are generally attractive and super-fit, but I firmly believe that a large part of this is because they never hear me saying anything bad about my (not super-fit) body. I mean, we’ve all seen perfectly gorgeous young women complaining about their thick ankles or whatever and it is both depressing and irritating. That doesn’t happen at our house. We’ve always emphasized being strong and the things that their bodies can do, and the girls love to show off their muscles. They are also fortunate enough to appreciate their hair just as it is.
They are fierce feminists and they’re interested in the world around them.
The girl power is strong in our house, and it has been since they were teensy. A key source of this massive girl power is a super-feminist, thoughtful father who challenged them early on, like when one of them said that her Barbie was happy because she was getting married and he asked, “Or, maybe she’s happy because she got elected president of the board at her company?” Since they were little they’d ask about the stories on NPR, and we got a globe and a map and a subscription to The Week and to National Geographic, and they pay attention and are generally more informed and engaged than I remember being as a kid.
They are conscientious about more than just their grades.
It was only after chatting with other mothers that I started to appreciate how organized and self-directed our girls are. The other day a mother texted to see if M was going to an early-morning practice, because that might help her to motivate her daughter out of bed. Meanwhile M had woken up on her own, fed herself, and was walking to practice. J requested a day planner so that she could make To Do lists as part of a campaign for summertime self-improvement. They are focused and serious about doing what they do as well as they can. We expect them to be responsible and productive people, and most of the time, they really are.
They are big readers.
Cute W and I are have read to these girls for hours upon hours upon hours, and that helps everything so much. Reading is great for grammar and vocabulary and spelling. But the best is that they are independent readers now, too. I know that some of that is modeling, of course, but I also know avid readers who have one kid who just never wants to read anything, so I feel like we’ve also just really lucked out. It helps that there are books all over the house though, and I’m a firm believer in free, unfettered reading, and I know that’s helped, too.
They are not whiners.
When we travel, there are times when the kids are hungry or tired, but they understand that moaning and whining will only make the situation less pleasant, so they just don’t do it. It’s amazing. When they’re doing sports, sometimes a soccer referee or a gymnastics judge is making what we consider to be a bad call, but we’ve long established that the only thing they can control is what they do, so complaints are rare and brief. Cute W is a huge advocate of “working the problem,” which is more effective than whining about a problem, and we apply that frequently. For example, if the girls are hungry for dinner, I’ve trained them, so that when they want to say, “When’s dinner? I’m starving!” they say, “What can I do to help with dinner?” instead.
They love each other.
Okay, yes: they also hate each other. They slam the bathroom doors and call each other names and dig their fingernails into each other’s arms and steal each other’s stuff. But they have good times, too, and they enjoy each other’s company, especially when we’re traveling or on an outing. I think that when it’s important, they’ve got each other’s backs. I believe it’s the foundation for a lovely sister relationship for the rest of their lives. Which is excellent, because those first few years were pretty rocky.
And I’ve gotten way off track, because I meant to talk about how I’ve become more indulgent. I’ll get to that next time. For now, thank you for indulging me in some shameless bragging. I promise that I won’t do it here again for years.