My dad has a gift of connecting with babies. He really is the baby whisperer. When I had my first baby four years ago, I would go to my parents’ house for much-needed respite. My dad would greet us in the driveway and take my daughter on lengthy tours of the back yard. Papa and granddaughter would sit in the chair and “talk” to each other until hunger struck one of them. Even though she was a newborn, my dad knew what to do to connect with her.
Since that time I have observed my dad be Papa to four additional grandbabies. It has made me realize that there has been some really great parenting advice Dad has never given me. He has never vocally offered me parental advice. Instead, he has demonstrated some solid parental advice that I try to utilize regularly.
My dad always wanted me to know that not all risks are negative. When home for winter break my senior year of college, Dad asked me what my plan was after graduation. I casually responded that I would come home, get a job waitressing for the summer, and then I’d figure it out. My father just as casually responded, “No, you are going to have to move out. I’ll give you until July 1. You have always wanted to live in D.C. You should move there.” I was so angry with him. He was throwing me out?! I felt so abandoned. I later realized he wasn’t letting me sink. He was allowing me to swim. I needed a slight push to take on the next chapter of my life.
This experience gave me insight into the importance of giving my children a little nudge in order to conquer fear (or, on my part, a little laziness) in order to achieve goals. I want to help my girls take risks in order to achieve their dreams. And I want them to be comfortable taking risks because they are confident their parents will always be their support system, safety net, and greatest cheerleaders.
I don’t ever remember my father telling me to be careful. He would urge me to concentrate when climbing trees, but he always encouraged me to see how far I could climb. In school, I would bring a test home after earning a B+. I’d tell him about it, and he’d always ask, “Did you study as hard as you could?” He didn’t want me to be complacent with “pretty good.” He encouraged me to challenge myself both physically and intellectually.
When I am at the playground with my girls, I try not to shout to them, “Be careful!” as they tackle the climbing wall much bigger than meant for their pre-schooler legs. Instead, I advise them to pay attention to what they are doing and make deliberate movements to challenge their abilities. As my girls go further along in school, I plan to make sure our expectations exceed “pretty good.” I want them to be active participants in their education, not complacent bystanders.
When our second daughter was a newborn, my father would have her “talk” to her 22-month-old sister. The new baby would ask her big sister for help using “please” and “thank you.” My dad would engage our toddler on behalf of our newborn. It seemed a little silly at first, but I quickly noticed how my older daughter would puff up with pride from impressing her baby sister. My older daughter began to include her sister in her conversations and play. I truly believe that my dad helping the new baby vocalize her love and respect for her older sister helped foster and nurture their bond as sisters. As a result, our older daughter adjusted quickly to life with a younger sister.
My two girls now have a new baby with whom they share their home. I am cognizant of asking big sisters for help on behalf of our newborn. And I make sure the baby says “please” and “thank you” to them just as I expect them to do. I ask their opinion on what the baby is wanting. With this engagement, I hope it is making the transition a little easier and fostering mutual love and respect from the very beginning.
One of the best things about having my daughters is to see the joy they give their grandparents. Parenting is a challenge every single day. I’m so fortunate to have some great parent role models in my life. I’m grateful for the pieces of parenting advice my dad never told me. Instead, I’ll be sure to utilize them like he did.