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5 Lessons From Childhood That Make Me a Better Parent

Childhood teaches us many lessons. Here are five that affect the way I parent.

1. Screen time makes addicts, not memories

Back in the '70s we didn't call it screen time. We called it watching television. I spent hours every day with "The Brady Bunch," "The Partridge Family," "The Jetsons" and many other entertaining families. When I tell my kids how much TV I watched as a child, they are aghast and ask why I limit their television time. Why? Because you aren't engaged with the world when you're sitting alone staring at a screen. Life is short and there's a lot of great stuff to do and read and play. We don't have an Xbox, a huge flat screen TV or a cable subscription. But we do have overflowing bookshelves.

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2. Fighting hurts

What doesn't seem like a big deal to a parent can feel toxic and destructive to a child.

My parents argued vociferously and often. Whenever it happened, my sister and I ran into our closet, closed the door and covered our ears. Later when I'd tell my mother how much I hated hearing those awful fights, she'd look at me and say, "That was nothing." What doesn't seem like a big deal to a parent can feel toxic and destructive to a child. It's OK for children to hear their parents arguing now and then. It's not okay to scare them regularly.

3. Swimming lessons are a necessary evil

I remember squatting on the edge of the public pool wearing a horrid pink rubber bathing cap with a chinstrap. Our class of 6-year-olds was taking turns diving in. When my turn came, I was pretty sure I would embarrass myself by drowning. But I survived those tedious rounds of swim lessons and can handle myself well in water. When my daughter was 5, I put her into swim class. On her first day, the poorly trained instructor told her she had to dunk her head under. "Now! You have to do it now so we can go to the next skill!" My daughter started bawling, and I plucked her out of class. A year later, when she was ready, I found her a better class with a patient teacher. She mostly hated it, but he sure loves swimming.

4. Parents are embarrassing

My mother had a loud voice that she would use to ask my friends an embarrassing amount of questions. And when she chewed, food had a way of sticking to her lips. As a teenager, I decided that someday I was going to be a much cooler parent than that. It wouldn't take much. Well, guess what? If I speak above a whisper, my son tells me to "Please stop shouting." If I ask one of his friend's a question, like "How's hockey going?" I'm accused of interrogation. And I'm always wiping stuff off my lips. I love being with my teenage children and their friends, but I'm not cool.

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5. If given time, kids will find that thing they love

Since I grew up in a time when most kids were probably under- rather than over-scheduled, I was never pushed into activities. Instead, I just did what I loved. I acted in school plays and I wrote stories. I valued my time spent doing those things, because I didn't feel pressure to achieve; and I was not constantly exhausted from sports, music lessons, tutoring and cooking class. Children will find the thing they love to do. A parent's urgency and pressure won't find it for them.

Image via Sandra A. Miller

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