When I was 19, most of my friends were living off Ramen Noodles, cramming for exams, and primping for parties. Me? I was living off Ensure and Saltines, stocking up on Pampers, and picking up Parents magazine at Target.
The summer before my 20th birthday I found out I was pregnant, and as you can imagine, I was thrown onto a path I was nowhere near prepared for. Didn’t help that the father was my 28 year old boyfriend that had a bad temper, a thing for women at his gym, and little regard for me.
Long story short, I opted to raise my sweet girl alone. I got my own apartment and began life as a single mom at the age of 21. The cards seemed stacked against me, and some of those years were more trying than I could have ever imagined, but I wouldn’t change a single second of any of it.
While plenty of people warned me about how hard my life would be raising a child alone when I was ultimately still a child myself, no one ever told me that I would learn more from my daughter than I would ever teach her.
These lessons would not only empower me to be a good mom, but to be a successful entrepreneur, and a more compassionate, mindful human being.
You can choose to start over, anytime you want to.
There have been days I wish I had acted with more compassion and less “I’ve asked you to clean your room 23412o235801865 times in the matter of ten minutes and I’m about to stick a fork in my eyeball if you do not just freakin’ do it already”. In the moments where my frustration gets the best of me, my daughter cries, I cry, and after time, once the room is cleaned and the tears have dried, my little girl is jumping into my lap with a smile, asking if we can play together. She doesn’t hold grudges against me. Let yourself off the hook, and when you have a moment of weakness, one you wish you could erase, simply choose to start over. A day is never ruined, unless you choose to spend it in misery. Never be too proud to apologize, especially to (and in front of) your children. Owning up to your mistakes, doing what you can to mend what you’ve broken, and then moving on, is one of the most important lessons you can teach.
Make yourself your most important priority.
My goal is to be the best parent I can be, by filling my daughter’s days with love, meaningful conversations, learning, and fun. I do not make a single decision or plan without thinking of her. Let’s be real- that is completely exhausting. Hands on parenting is not as easy as Pinterest makes it out to be. The harsh truth is you’ll never be a good parent if your mental and physical health aren’t in check. If you have children, you owe it to them to be the best version of yourself, all the time. So, eat healthy, exercise, and see a therapist. If you’re at a higher risk for health problems, your child is at a higher risk for living without you. Similarly, if your mental state is a hot mess, you won’t be able to parent without bringing some of your baggage into your parenting style, and you will pas that mess onto your kids. Stop making excuses and take the steps you need to take to be a happy person capable of giving your child the life they deserve, for as long as possible. You want to be around to rub it in their face when their children give them as much trouble as they once gave you, right? Then get your act together and do something about it.
You must lead by example, all the time.
To me, good manners and kindness are the top traits I want my daughter to possess. From the time she was young, I drilled into her than written thank you notes were always necessary, and giving in any way you can, to causes that are important to you, should always be a priority. I had to live those things out myself, and allow her to see that they were important. Now, my daughter pulls out her stationary on her own to write notes for gifts, and she recently organized a glove drive to help the homeless, without me promoting it. If you want your children to be charitable, you must be giving. If you want them to be accepting, treat everyone with kindness. If you want them to love themselves, learn to accept yourself. Words mean nothing if your actions fall short.
Live in the moment.
Sometimes I look at my daughter, wearing a women’s size 8 shoe and standing nearly as tall as me, and wonder where my baby went. She is nine now, and I find myself straining to recall where we were when she took her first step, what she smelled like at 2AM when I rocked her in my arms, and the weird way she said “sushi” when she was a toddler. Each stage of life is fleeting, and someday you’ll long for the nights your little one crawled into bed with you and proceeded to kick you all night long because they wanted to snuggle. I know, sometimes you just want a few minutes peace. I haven’t peed alone in nine years, so I totally feel ya. Appreciate the special moments as they happen, not when they’re nothing but distant memories. Similarly, never put your children on the back-burner. When you’re knee deep in work and they want to show you a picture they drew, take a minute to REALLY look at it. Comment on the colors they used, ask them to explain what they created. Try your hardest to seem genuinely interested in every single word that comes out of your child’s mouth, because allowing them to feel comfortable sharing the small stuff will lead to them freely sharing the big stuff.
Never apologize for doing what is right for your family.
Your job is to make the best choices for your children, and fact is sometimes other people will disagree with your decisions. Listen to their opinions, and then go ahead and do whatever the heck you feel is right. If you’re not comfortable with someone babysitting, don’t let them. If you want to start your own holiday tradition instead of going along with the ones other people started, do your thing. If you don’t want your child watching TV, hide the remote. And if you think Spongebob marathons are a right of passage every kid deserves to enjoy, buy a 70″ for your four year old’s bedroom and have at it.
No one knows your child better than you do, and you should never feel you need to explain, or apologize for the way you parent. As long as you know you are truly trying your best and acting in your child’s best interest, own your choices!
At the end of the day, parenting is all about showing up and trying our best. We all have different battles to fight, and come into our roles with different stories that will shape the way we parent, either for better or for worse. The great news is that how we choose to allow our past experiences to dictate our children’s futures is all up to us. If you let it, being a parent can be the most magical journey you will ever embark on. Even when it feels mostly scary, overwhelming, and full of shit.
Perhaps someday my little lady will read this article, so it’s only fitting to end by thanking her for inspiring me to chase my dreams. Without you, Dakota, I don’t know where life might have taken me, but the journey we’ve gone on together is so much greater than anything I could ever imagine. I am me, because you are you. I can only hope that the strength you’ve given me has allowed me to raise you to be a strong, happy woman that follows her passions and lives a life filled with laughter, love, and compassion. As my Grandpa Lam (your Bapa) wrote in a very special letter to me, “Perhaps I say this too rarely, but I’ll willingly put it in writing, I love you very much.”
What has being a parent taught you? I believe that all moms are a part of a super special club, so share your stories in the comments. You never know who your story will inspire!
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