So much of parenting is about the long game. We may be raising children, but we’re really raising adults — people who, in a surprisingly short amount of time, will be off on their own, living their own lives. And how we parent them as kids will at least partially impact the type of adults they’ll grow up to be and the relationships we will have with them. We know this, but we can still get caught up in the day-to-day frustrations of tantrums, bad attitudes, and non-compliance. The days are long but the years are short, and all that.
Particularly during the pandemic, I’ve really noticed that if I’ve got a task to complete, whether it’s for work, something I need to do around the home, or something volunteer-related, it tends to take all my immediate focus. What that sometimes means is I don’t want to be distracted by a story my 10-year-old wants to tell me about the video game he just played. And that’s when some of the best parenting advice I’ve ever heard comes into my head, and I force myself to look up from the computer screen, or the recipe I’m trying to follow, or the closet I’m organising: Listen to the little things so that one day, he’ll tell you the big things. Because to him, the little things are the big things right now.
Does it matter if, in this one moment, I’m too busy to listen? Probably not. But if I’m playing the long game, I want to cultivate a relationship with him in which he knows his interests and feelings are important to me. So I listen to the little things so that one day, he’ll tell me the big things. It’s become a mantra for me.
I came across another one recently that I scribbled on a Post-it Note and stuck to my computer monitor: Beneath every feeling is a need. It’s a reminder that if my son seems moody or irritable, I need to pause and wonder why. I need to be curious about what is happening beneath the surface of the emotion or behaviour. (And the same goes for when I feel moody or irritable.)
And then there’s my new favourite, which I came across in the comments of this Reddit post about a five-year-old who accidentally smashed a blender and was afraid she’d get in trouble: The axe forgets but the tree remembers. It appears to be Zimbabwean proverb, and it refers to the fact that people who are hurt will carry the experience with them much longer than the person inflicting the wound — a good thing to remember the next time you find yourself starting to yell at someone you love.
It made me curious what little bits of wisdom other parents are repeating to themselves and sticking up on bathroom mirrors and refrigerators as daily reminders to be more intentional in the way they parent. If you’d like to play, share your favourite parenting mantras with us in the comments.