Best Parenting Advice I Will Ever Give

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Parenting advice is usually like any other advice you get: totally unsolicited by strangers and family alike. But I promise you, if you listen to this one piece of parenting advice, (I know, I know) both you and your children will be happier because of it.

 

parenting advice

Here’s the thing about parenting: it makes so much sense in retrospect.  Once you’ve traveled down that broken road, you can see all the mistakes you made and what you’d do differently if you were lucky enough to get a do-over.  Most of the early years are spent trying to figure out what’s critical and what can go by the wayside.

I’m here to tell you, most of it is wayside.

I speak from my experience as a mother from both the early years and from where I currently stand, deep in the parenting trenches.  Listen closely, because this is more important than you think.

starry night

My 16-year-old daughter Sofie is a gift.  She showed up on this earth knowing exactly who she is, and hasn’t been a slave to anyone’s opinion since.  She’s smarter than almost everyone I know.  She’s beautiful, and deeply introspective, and hilarious, with a dry, wicked, sense of humor.  She’s curious, and sassy, and compassionate, and completely unique.

 

best parenting advice I wil ever give

I embraced all of her in our early years together.  I catered our little family life to her needs and interests, both because I could, and because I wanted to.  We went to the library every week, where she checked out as many books as she could carry.  I painted her bedroom like the inside of a giant ocean wave, and glued a constellation of glow-in-the-dark stickers on her ceiling. I played dress-up with her, and took her to the park, and painted her little face like a kitty cat. We listened to music, and danced, and explored the world together.  I fostered every bit of curiosity and creativity she could muster.  Our life together was uncomplicated and very, very sweet.

parenting

And then Sofie started Kindergarten.  I outfitted her closet with several combinations of darling outfits.  Cute little pink shirts that matched cute little jeans with hearts on the pockets, which matched her socks, which matched the bows I bought for her hair. All of which was just fine, except it wasn’t what Sofie wanted.

Immediately we began to have massive, knock-down, drag-out fights about what was appropriate to wear to school.  And I laid down an ultimatum: if Sofie didn’t brush her hair every single day, I would cut it all off.

You can guess who won that battle.

Sofie had short hair until the 5th grade, and in retrospect, the hair fight should’ve been a huge epiphany to me.  I should’ve realized it didn’t matter to Sofie one iota what anyone thought about her style, including, and maybe especially, me.  But I fought on anyway.

The what-not-to-wear war lasted several months.  Sofie and I would fight all morning long about what she wouldn’t wear to Kindergarten, right up until it was time to drop her off at school for the afternoon.  We would both end up in tears, confident in our defensive operations.

Eventually, I ran out of energy.

I couldn’t keep fighting about clothes and hair, even when Sofie looked homeless and unmothered. Which she did, most of the time. The problem was that I made Sofie’s appearance all about me.  I worried the other mothers would think she was unkempt, unwashed, unloved.

And what Sofie was saying from the beginning was this:

I know who I am.

I love me.

I’m enough.

I’m not worried about anyone else.

I was so concerned about what everyone else would think of my parenting, and my kid, that I fought, and fought, and fought with Sofie to try and make her fit in.  Because I thought it would be easier.  Because I never wanted her to feel less than, or weird, or lonely.

What I didn’t get then, and what I finally get now, more than 17 years into this parenting gig, is that weird is a superpower.  Different is magic. Our individuality is what makes our contribution to the world worthwhile. Sofie’s strength is that she knows who she is, and she doesn’t waste any time worrying who anyone else thinks she should be.

parenting

So if I could go back in time, this is the parenting advice I’d give myself:

Love your kid unconditionally.  It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about you, or your kid, as long as you love them for exactly who they are

Because even if you think you’re hiding it well, your kid knows if you don’t approve of them and:

who they are

who they love

their hair

the way they dress

their interests

and what they want to do with their life.

Celebrate their weirdness.  Foster their unique take on the world.

Help them feel safe, and loved, and accept them regardless of your own discomfort with yourself. Because eventually your kid will figure out exactly who they are, with or without you.  If you accept them and love them well, you’ll be the first call they make when they get there. And if you don’t, your relationship with your child will depend entirely on their ability to forgive you for not loving them well enough when you had the chance.

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Allison

Hello there! I'm Allison Czarnecki, founder + editor of Petit Elefant, a blog all about style on a budget for every part of your life: style / home / travel / family. I do a lot of how-to beauty + style tutorials, travel posts, easy recipes, home remodel projects, and cool DIY crafts you totally want to try. I'm super happily married (to a hot Polish immigrant) and am the mother of two kids, a daughter and son, all of whom are featured here on the regular. We live in the country but we're a little bit rock + roll. Welcome!

23 Comments

  1. Natalie :

    I love this, and I have always loved Sophie. I think she taught me more than I ever taught her! She is incredible and is lucky to have such an intuitive mom who lets her shine! :)

    • Allison :

      Thank you Natalie! You were such a great fit for Sofie. Sometimes teachers are threatened by her independence and nobody wins when that happens. ;) We will always be so grateful for the way you embraced her confidence + helped her fly. Thank you! xo

  2. Elizabeth Atalay :

    Your daughter is beautiful and I LOVE her style! This is fantastic advice! Of course I had to learn this lesson on my own as well with my first kid (also now 17) .Our wardrobe fights began when she was three and I had to pin her down and dress her and stick her in her car seat buckled so she couldn’t undress herself before we got out the door. Some brilliant person, I can’t remember who, told me to let her pick out what she wanted to wear, and what do you know? It worked! The battles stopped, and her little personality shone through in all its creative glory! I’m sure I was judged, but also realized those judgy moms were not the moms I wanted to be friends with anyways. Those battles cleared the way for my younger 3 children, as long as they got dressed, to wear whatever crazy outfit they put together.

    • Allison :

      Elizabeth, thank you! She’s the coolest kid, but it took this 1st time mama way too long to give up on a battle that’s totally irrelevant. And it turns out, it isn’t really about the clothes, anyway! Mercy.

  3. donna :

    what a wonderful post. i learned the hard way from my middle child who has always been his own person and not cared what the world deemed appropriate. our fights have been different than clothing but in essence the same, me trying to make him fit the mold of what i thought was “normal”. thankfully i also didn’t have enough energy to keep battling and his personality has shown through. thankfully he did learn to be kind and caring and thoughtful and that is way more important than “fitting in”. i love sofie! she is an amazing young woman who is true to herself!

    • Allison :

      Thank you! Your middle kid is one of my favorite kids, ever. Why does it take us so long to figure out they’re awesome just the way they are? UG.

  4. Rikki :

    Thank you for this. I know I push my style and ideas on my kids. I need to seriously reign that in. I want my boys to be themselves! I always love these advice posts. I soak in all the help I can get from mothers who have kids older than mine. I wish I knew what I was doing! Guess that’s the beauty of it – live and learn, literally.

    • Allison :

      Rikki, thank you for sharing. Seriously, I appreciate it. This is one of those parenting life lessons that seems simple, and maybe even redundant, but turns out to be way more important than what lessons or sports or activities they do. Keep on, you’re doing a great job.

  5. Kim Tracy Prince :

    This post made me cry. You’re amazing and wonderful and how could Sophie turn out any differently? <3

    • Allison :

      Kim, I hope it was a good kind of cry! Thank you! She’s a good egg this one, but man, parenting is so much harder than I ever thought it would be.

  6. Jyl Johnson Pattee :

    Knowing who you are and being good with it is a thing most people would die to come by naturally. Yay, Sophie, for knowing. And yay, you, for letting her be her. :)

    PS: That outfit with the yellow jacket though. Seriously? LOVE!

    • Allison :

      It’s SO IMPORTANT! Thank you! <3 Also, that jacket is my favorite! Yellow wool with big buttons? Come on!

  7. Lisa :

    WOW. I really needed this. Dammit. I have a sixteen-year-old. She’s beautiful. Back to school shopping this year was jeans, t-shirts, and 5 flannels. No cute sweaters, surely no dresses. God forbid, anything flattering. My version of flattering. We don’t fight about it, but she sees my disappointment. I know I need to let it go. She’s kind, smart, has great friends, and music and art are her passion. My worry is that she is trying to hide under these flannels, that she lacks self-confidence in her body. Like she doesn’t want to be noticed so she can avoid dealing with any potential relationship. Worry. Worry. Worry.

    • Allison :

      There are so many worries, so so many. And we want our kids to be loved and accepted by themselves and others. It’s scary! Especially being on the grown-up end where we’re dealing with the repercussions of childhood stuff. But loving your girl for who she’s comfortable being is a huge big fat deal. <3 You’ve got this.

  8. Noël :

    So happy I saw this post! My daughter is tween turning teen and it’s a reminder to let her be. We want her to feel loved and supported.

    • Allison :

      You’re headed into some wild and wonderful years, and loving and supporting her for who she is is a MAJOR deal in her figuring herself out.

  9. Susan Carraretto :

    What a beautiful post.

    People don’t usually want their kids to be “average”, they want them to be exceptional. And yet, when they are unique, people are quick to say, “that’s not normal”. Since when is being “normal” something to strive for.

    You’re exactly right. Being weird is a super power.

    • Allison :

      Thank you, Susan!

      This is such great insight! We want strong, smart, different thinkers when it comes to future leaders and innovators, but that “different” factor is absolute death for the first 18-20 years of a child’s life. I love thinking about it this was.

      xoxo

  10. Somer :

    My youngest is 2 and already reminds me of your daughter. She loves to wear dish towel capes, underwear over her pants. She refuses ponytails and actually enjoys her hair in her face. She likes to wear socks on her hands and is very particular about what she wears every single day. I’ve embraced it all. Soon the world will try to mold her into something she’s not and so I’m starting early to teach her that it doesn’t matter what others think. Be yourself, undies on the outside and all. Congrats on embracing the unique, you and your daughter will be so much better for it.