I was raised by a single, teenage mom. My upbringing was a tragedy in every way. As a survivor of child abuse, the biggest strength I had when I became a mother was knowing what NOT to do. The list below is one I compiled from all the negatives in my own upbringing. I have converted the lessons into growth experiences and have tried to stay true to their principles. I secretly believe that as mothers we are responsible for what happens in the world. Our children are the leaders of tomorrow.
Keep your promises. One thing I remember from my upbringing is that an adult’s word meant nothing at all. I vowed that when I had children, I would not make promises I could not keep. Your kids should be able to trust that you are the one person in their life who won’t let them down.
Say ‘yes’ whenever possible. They will ask if they can wash your car when it’s going to rain. They will ask to make chocolate cupcakes when it’s time for dinner. They will ask for you to teach them how to drink a honeysuckle blossom when you’ve just settled down with a glass of wine. Your children are always on their own schedule. Their boundless enthusiasm should be indulged whenever possible. Respond with an enthusiastic ‘YES’. Put down whatever you are doing, and jump right in.
Apologize. Sometimes we mess up. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we are just plain grumpy. If you screw up, admit you were wrong and say you are sorry. Don’t make excuses. Don’t blame anyone else. I have found the greatest bonding with my children has come from my vulnerability.
Get along with their other parents. One of the most important skills your children are going to learn from you is how to manage conflict. How you speak to other parents in their presence, how you resolve disagreements, and the level of civility and respect you display is what they will emulate.
Time is about quality, not quantity. You may only have twenty minutes at the end of the night but be present for that entire twenty minutes. Ask them what was the best moment of their day was and really listen to the answer.
The world is your classroom. If you are a single mom like me, you probably have taken your kid to work with you on more than one occasion. Teach them what it means to be a working mother. Make wherever you are a learning experience. If money is short, teach them to budget and prioritize needs versus wants. If there is something they want, teach them to work for it, rather than just giving it to them. Every day is filled with opportunities to create conversations about living a life with value. Last year my youngest, an 11-year-old, had the opportunity to perform at Walt Disney World. Every penny of that $900 dollar trip was earned solely by her. That’s an accomplishment she can be proud of for the rest of her life.
Eat dinner with them every night you can. Lose the phone. Make them food they enjoy and never make mealtime a battle ground. If there is one thing I have learned as a chef, it is that so many of our memories from childhood come from food and being fed lovingly. If your kids don’t like vegetables refer to my blog for “food games we play”. If they are picky, make sure the food they like is as healthy as possible, but never fight at the dinner table. Another dinner without a full serving of vegetables will not be the end of the universe as you know it. Relax, make as many dinners from scratch as you can, pour yourself a glass of wine and unplug. Your love and engaged presence is what they will remember.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You will. I do. Just wake up each morning with the desire to do your best. Hug your little ones tightly before they leave the house and believe they will return to you as whole and complete as when they walked out the door. Forgive yourself completely for the mistakes you make. Try and forgive your parents too while you’re at it.
End every day with love. Tell them, “I love you completely, totally, and unconditionally. You are perfect exactly the way you are. Being your mom is the best thing that ever happened to me”. You have no idea the impact such words will have on them.
Executive Chef Gretchen Hanson is an award winning chef who coincidentally happens to be vegan. She is currently taking a gap year to travel and spend time tormenting her daughters. Follow her culinary adventures at www.chefgretchenhanson.com or on Facebook. Her cookbook “When it’s Done: The Making of a Chef” will be released later this year. Contact her at email@example.com for lectures, teaching, cooking engagements, or just to send airfare.