“…the reason I am a poet is entirely because you wanted me to be and intended I should be, even from the very first. You brought me up in the tradition of poetry, and everything I did you encouraged. I can not remember once in my life when you were not interested in what I was working on, or even suggested that I should put it aside for something else…”
— Edna St. Vincent Millay, poet
Parenting is tireless. Never enough time. Never enough patience. Never enough. But your child won’t remember all of that.
Children remember the time you gave them. Wait, doesn’t that sound counter to that first paragraph: not enough time. That’s because we grownups think in grown-up terms. And that’s our downfall. Children think of time in a different way.
Time spent with a child comes in the most mundane ways. When you teach your child to make a bed, dry a dish, pull weeds, any domestic chore, at an early age (no matter how awful the child is at it), you teach the child a multitude of life lessons.
1) Your child matters enough for you to want to spend time with him even if the job is not done perfectly;
2) You want to spend time with your child. Take the time to talk during your bed-making lessons. You won’t learn about the bully picking on your child if you sit the child down at the kitchen table and ask a question directly. Ask the same question in an indirect way or even by telling your child a story about a bully picking on you as you put the sheets on the bed, and watch your child open up. You are equals sharing a task. The child feels safe talking to you in that equal setting;
3) You teach the child that it is important for him to learn and follow directions even in tasks he hates. Your child’s teacher will love you for this one; and
4) You teach your child that he may be really good at things he would have never thought to try. You are opening up a world of possibilities to your child.
I learned that and more from my mom. I learned the most important lessons of my life as she washed and I dried dishes. My brother and I both grew up to be successes in our lives and jobs. My mom graduated from a trade school, and as a parent, I hope that teaches you something as well. You don’t have to be a Ph.D. to parent well. You merely have to listen and give of yourself—and believe in your child.
My mom told my brother and me that we could do absolutely anything we wanted to do in life. Someone has to win first prize in a contest, why not us, she’d tell us. And we both went on to accomplish great things because our mother never lied to us. So, of course, we believed if she said we could do anything we set our hearts and minds to, and we worked hard and practiced (just like we did making our beds over and over again), we could do it. Let your child know that all lessons small or large can bring great rewards later in life because every lesson teaches a principle.
A lot of kids remember their first jobs helping mommy and daddy involved making the bed. We worked side by side and waited for that special smile from mom or dad that said we had done it right. For us, no one else’s opinion mattered.
Rituals, in this case, training a child to make that first bed, sets the tone for the future. When my mom told me I was ready to move on from being a spectator to “helping her,” I knew I’d made the grade. What grade that was, I had no idea, but by the look on my mom’s face, I knew I wanted more of it. And that’s what every child needs: the thought of a job well done. When all else goes wrong, that feeling of having done a job well done that makes mom smile will help you make it through an obsessive boss, a cranky spouse and/or unruly children.
The exact “how” my mom taught me to make the bed that day really doesn’t matter. What matters is that your parent took the time to teach you, followed by the lessons you pass on to your children and that you make sure your children feel pride for a job well done at the end of it all…just as you did as a small child.
Hopefully, you’ll pass these same skills on to your own offspring along with tips you add on your own. We all want to evolve and make life better for generations to come. Rituals, in this case training a child to make that first bed, sets the tone for the future, not just for the child, not just for the parent, but for all of us who depend on one another to make each day a little better.