A while back, the theme of an essay contest caught my eye: If I Knew Then What I Know Now. Talk about “food for thought!” Those of us who have had to work hard to build a family have learned a lot. We’ve learned it the hard way. And we have a lot of wisdom to share. But what exactly would I want to know way back when that I know now?? Think about it for a moment. What wisdom would you share with your younger self?
If, way back at the beginning when you were still hoping, praying, and longing to be a parent, you knew what you’ve learned along the way, would it change anything? Would you do anything differently? If you could somehow magically speak to yourself and somehow magically could get yourself to stop with all the hoping, longing and praying long enough to listen, what would you say? Here’s my stab at imparting wisdom to my younger self.
If I Knew Then What I Know Now Pearl of Wisdom # 1: The worst usually doesn’t happen, and most often when it does, it’s not as bad as you imagined.
First, let me say that I know I’ve been incredibly blessed and haven’t lost a child or husband and we’re all relatively healthy, but, like most of you, I’ve had my share of problems with my children. “Issues” such as health scares, learning disabilities, personality quirks (kid and parent), poor decision making (kid and parent), social difficulties, ad nauseam are a part of parenting.
If I could go back to those many years and tell my younger self one thing, it would be that bad stuff can happen, but the really awful things usually don’t. And many of the things I feared that have happened aren’t as bad as I imagined them to be. This is probably due to a combination of exaggerating the negative and underestimating coping skills and our capability to adapt. So, note to younger self—chill out and enjoy the ride.
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If I Knew Then What I Know Now Pearl of Wisdom #2: Parenting is a relationship.
Parenting is the interplay of two personalities. Duh, you say. But in truth, I think that most of us discount our part in the relationship. We are so focused on what are kids are doing (or not) and how they are reacting (or not) that we overlook the part our personality plays in the relationship. Over my years of parenting, I’ve come to own the piece I contribute, both helping and hindering, to my interactions with my kids.
Personally, I usually find this an empowering concept because it means I have the power to change the interaction. I will admit that it is also burdening because it means I have the obligation to modify my part. Yep, I wish I had a few do-overs where I would keep this concept in mind.
If I Knew Then What I Know Now Pearl of Wisdom #3: It is so worth it.
Parenting exists in a time warp where time both creeps and speeds. There are times—many times—that seem never to pass. When you’re in the thick of it, it feels like your child will never sleep through the night, will never have a regular diet of semi-nutritious foods, will never stop whining, will never stop picking on her sibling. It’s easy to think that your child will always wear footy pajamas and curl up in your lap, that you’ll always be the scheduler of activities and the judge of what’s fun and cool, and that our kids will always smell like that intoxicating mix of earth and heaven.
Neither the “nevers” nor the “always” are right. In the end, your kids are both underfoot and under your wing for an incredibly short time in your life and theirs. I would want my younger self to try to savor this short time as much as possible, because even with all the heartache and whining and worry and sleep deprivation, it is still so worth it.
Please share your own “If I Knew Then What I Know Now” Pearls of Wisdom.
Image credit: Theresa Martell; Patrick Marioné
Originally published in 2011; Updated in 2019.