Settling Into Your Parenting Skin

When my tween daughter was a baby, I had a lot of opinions about parenting, which is pretty bold considering I had only been a parent for a few minutes.

In fact, I think my legs were still up in the stirrups at the hospital.

Parenting is one of those things about which everyone has something to say, even though many of those people are not actually parents themselves.

And others haven't been parents long enough to have earned the right to open their mouths.

Now I'm not talking about a child's safety or illegal activity. I'm speaking about the parenting decisions we parents of older kids make that we never envisioned when we had babies.

Because when kids grow up, it's a whole different ball game—dishing out judgments on discipline methods is simple when your kids aren't even old enough to misbehave.

Dishing out judgments on discipline methods is simple when your kids aren't even old enough to misbehave.

I admit that I was one of those annoying new parents, with a wee little baby tucked tightly in a sling, wondering out loud who would conceivably allow their kids to run around at a safe, neighborhood playground without parents in direct eyesight.

Then there were the kids playing video games at restaurants. Little boys playing with wooden guns or foam swords.

I can't even remember the number times I spouted out, "I'd never"—to friends, family, even to other mothers.

We'd rock our babies back and forth as they were strapped in their strollers and judge the moms of tweens and teens because we'd somehow be different with our precious babies.

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The only problem is that precious babies grow up, and suddenly they get opinions and friends and lives of their very own.

They watch television, even though you carefully choose which ones they're exposed to, and turn LEGOs and wooden blocks into weapons. They won't sit still when you're eating out so you give them a video game to play—just so you can talk to your husband for a minute and eat your meal while it's hot.

I understand that this is pretty tough to imagine when you're just trying to get your little one use a spoon.

Since having more kids and watching them grow up, I'm quite certain that I've changed my mind about a number of what I thought were my core parenting beliefs.

It's all too easy to give an opinion about someone else's parenting choices when your children do nothing but eat, sleep, and poop, and your biggest concern is whether you should introduce peas or spinach next. Dishing out judgments on discipline methods is simple when your kids aren't even old enough to misbehave.

I'd never say that parenting babies is easy. I still reminisce about the first year of my oldest daughter's life and wonder exactly how I survived. And it's important for all parents to actively think about the myriad parenting decisions we'll have to make before our kids get to that specific age. It's scary to find yourself in a situation that you thought would surely never happen to you or your children and being completely unprepared about how to react and how to assist your child in dealing.

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But the difference between parenting an 8-month-old and 8-year-old is enormous. And what I've found over the course of these years is that you often need to be in the trenches to truly know the right thing to do for your own child and your own family.

It takes months, sometimes years, to settle into your parenting skin, where decisions don't feel like complete crap shoots. And even then, the answers aren't cut and dry. You can bet on the house, but that's not a guaranteed win.

And it takes time for your own child's personality to emerge, and for you to get to know them for who they are. As much as you might think you know your baby, you will be surprised and possibly overwhelmed when they become a walking, talking human with feelings and opinions. Dreams and nightmares.

It's all so clear until your child tells you they're afraid of dying. Yeah, that whole teething thing doesn't seem so bad, now, does it?

So those ideals you once had, as thoughtful and honorable as they might have been when you first decided on them, might not end up being the best choice, whether it's for their well-being or your own sanity.

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I can't tell you how many times I've thought about older kids' moms I interacted with in person and on the Internet who must have rolled in laughter at some of the things I said. In fact, I can't believe they never once spat an "Oh just you wait" at me, which is pretty darn tempting for me even now.

Maybe they did an "I told you so" dance when I wasn't looking. I can't say I blame them one bit.

The hard truth: When it comes to parenting, you may think you know. But until you're actually knee-deep in it with your tweens and teens, you might just want to hold comment. Or hope that your friends are as nice and forgiving as mine.

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