Before a baby ever rests in our arms, most of us seek out parenting role models– people who have climbed the mountain ahead of us and can offer a few bits of wisdom. In books and in person, I’ve modeled my parenting after dozens of other families a few years or a few decades ahead of me.
Now, my kids are getting older (ages 10-22) and I still seek out families a few steps ahead of me (I’ve already targeted some fantastic mother-in-law and grandparenting role models) but I also make an effort to step back, spend time with younger families and learn from them.
The benefits are many. First, I want my children to love toddlers and babies. Once kids reach elementary school they can enter an artificial world where everyone is within a few years of their own age. I often remind my kids that the rest of their life will be spent with people of varying ages. Little people keep us humble and joyful. And well entertained.
Second, younger parents tend to be so earnest. And I love earnest. My friends in their first decade of parenting are trying harder, always coming up with new ideas and new ways to teach and motivate. I’ll admit, I’m tired. I’ve already done every practice method and chore chart. I’ve been to the zoo and the library and the Natural History Museum a thousand times. I’ve seen all the movies at Temple Square and wandered through the exhibits. But my younger children haven’t. Or at least not since they were in diapers. Joining our friends on outings reinvigorates all the familiar experiences. And my younger friends are a wealth of information– books, recipes, happy traditions, ways to promote kindness at home, etc.
The photos in this post are from a cookout with my friend and one of Segullah’s most talented writers, Catherine Arveseth, and her beautiful family. All my children crave time with their family– from my Mary who plays fairyland with Catherine’s girls, my boys who can’t get enough of her wild twin boys, to my oldest who loves talking to Catherine about ideas and scripture study.
Last week, we spent the afternoon at This Is the Place with our friends, the Pugsleys. I’ve wandered TITP so many times and was weary of the same tours, the heat, the dust. But with our friends who volunteer there each week, the tree lined streets came to life, their enthusiasm refreshed the pioneer games and the Deseret Alphabet. Next year, we’re volunteering with them.
My friend Kit has five babies, her oldest two years younger than my youngest. The births of their babies has served as a kind of Parenting 101 for my kids as we witness the work and the joy of so many small hands, so many needs and take turn caring for them. Although Kit and Kevin are only a few years behind my husband and I, they serve as a bridge between the generations– my older kids respect their opinions and ask their advice because they are just that much younger and cooler.
Finally, younger families remind me of all the good parenting I’ve forgotten. All families change over time, and some of that’s good. I was way too hard on my older kids, “You’re eight years old! You should be more responsible.” In many ways I’m a much smarter, happier, more relaxed parent. But in other ways, I’m just lazy– or tired. One of our violin teachers told me she only likes to teach the first or second child in a family, because parents tend to wear out by the time they reach their third. I see her point. But I also want to give my younger kids opportunities.
A few weeks ago, I spied an Armor of God print out on my sister’s kitchen table. Her children had colored and cut the pieces in what looked like a joyful Family Home Evening. “I remember using this handout!” I exclaimed. My younger children looked at me blankly.
Sure, we’d done the Armor of God FHE a half dozen times when my boys were little and loved to put on helmets and wield swords (OK, they still like helmets and swords), but we hadn’t taught the lesson once in my 10 and 12 year olds’ memory. The next week, we used her handout and had a marvelous lesson with crayons and scissors, some swords and a truly beautiful discussion about the Atonement of Christ.
And that’s why I’ll keep seeking out the moms balancing babies on their hip and the dads chasing toddlers through the lobby. And that’s while I’ll try to be quiet and learn. I’m full of advice– ask me my opinion on every parenting subject and I can go on for hours– but truly, I need to sit back and listen.
What have you learned from parents with young children?
Who do seek out as role models?
What advice would you give those ahead of you in life or parenting?