By Arleen Sorkin
When someone I know has a newborn, I always feel the need to say to them “You will love every single age.” And that’s true. When they’re one, you think it can’t possibly be better than this.
When they’re two, people will say, “Aren’t they supposed to be the ‘terrible twos?’” No, they won’t seem terrible to you. When they’re three, you think, “This is the perfect age.” But when they turn four, you can’t believe how cute they look, act and talk.
But I’m here to tell you, that now with my youngest is in his senior year — and soon his father and I will be empty nesters — all of the ages are perfect.
But you do need to have a few tricks up your sleeve because they don’t raise themselves. I’ll share some of mine, which I learned on my own or by instinct.
When my kids were young and people would remark about how well behaved they were on a plane, it was partly due to my days as a soap opera actress and a little advanced planning. First I would go up to the flight attendant and say “How would you like to be an actress?” Inevitably, if they watched NBC soaps they’d think “Oh, my god, an actress is telling me to be an actress.” I’d tell them what was needed in the scene. “Come over and yell and tell me to make my kids stop misbehaving.” And then I’d tell them how I was going to play the scene. I told them I would yell back at them and be the most obnoxious mother they might have ever had to deal with — or at least the worst one that day.
I did this because I knew in my heart that my sweet, thoughtful and kind sons would be absolutely mortified that I was making such a terrible fool of myself.
So while I watched super stressed parents on flights walk their kids up and down the aisle, or let their kids scream all through the flight or allow their kids to kick the backs of the seats in front of them until 1 minute before landing or encourage them to play peek-a- boo with the business traveler trying to prepare for a big presentation (who starts to believe this game may never end), once my scene was played, I relaxed and watched the movie.
The scene would start when the flight attendant would come over and tell me to not let my kids stand on the seats. I would become outraged at the flight attendant, sticking up for my perfect little darlings. How dare she tell me that my kids are annoying! And there would be my kids, cowering in horror that their mother was making such a fool of herself and being mean to the attendant, and they would stop and not do it again the rest of the flight.
I didn’t have to play this role more than maybe three times. And my boys, even at tender ages, were wonderful, considerate travelers. I had another trick to cure lying. Now I also explained why lying could be problematic, but my kids have an excellent sense of irony and wonderfully sophisticated senses of humor so sometimes a little tongue-in- cheek threat could work magic.
Once when my son told a lie at school, rather than react harshly or dismiss it something all kids do, I said to him “Quick, we have to go to the hospital to get a picture of your brain.”
And he of course asked, “Why?” And I dug deep into the Stanislavski method and said with great feeling, “Because I am worried. It’s not like you to tell a story that you know is not true. There must be something going on and we have to see what it is.”
So yes, he might spend some time on the couch in a nicely furnished office, but he gets to tell the story about what a neurotic mother he has. But I wanted him to know that I didn’t think that my kid was capable of something like that. Or at least that I knew he wasn’t going to make a habit of it.
My kids call me Debbie Downer because I will send them every scary story that is an example of something I worry about. Recently it was something about texting and driving. I know that I can’t stop them. I can’t stop them from doing anything. But they will have all the information I can give them because they have a mom who simply cannot stop herself from sending them something she thinks they should know about, learn more about, worry about or be warned about.
Another small but important thing I’ve taught my kids is to always send thank you notes. It’s important that they acknowledge that someone made an effort for them and was generous or thoughtful.
Both of my kids write beautiful thank you notes. Short but meaningful and with at least one laugh.
Another lesson learned from performing and passed on to my kids was knowing when to get off the stage. My youngest just reminded me that I taught them that once you get your laugh, get off the stage, and don’t keep pushing for more. Know when to leave on the high note.
Happily they both have the ability to get their laugh. And they both have impeccable comic timing and know when to get off stage — or rather when to exit the dining room stage left and leave the adults to their mundane conversation.
That’s not to say that if your career is really important to you, you shouldn’t keep it up. And I worked all through my children’s lives. In fact I remember this one mom, who was really involved in non-profit work, telling me, that she finds that working mothers create hardier children. I don’t know if that’s true, because I think that you can’t help being a working mother even if you don’t have a job. The one thing you can’t have with you kid is guilt. Whether you go to a job, whether you stay at home, the thing that will most harm your children is guilt and regret. So regardless of your circumstances, leave those two emotions off the list.
And whatever you do, don’t teach your kids to lie by example. A friend wanted to use our address so their kids could go to the school in our neighborhood. My husband had to explain to me why that wasn’t right. This friend that wanted to use our address would then have had to tell his children to lie every time he or she was asked where they lived. And that’s a terrible lesson to teach a child.
I thought it was a nice thing to do. But my husband said it’s not selfish to say “no,” and this is the explanation he gave me. They’re rich, they can afford private school. The reason we have a great school is because people pay property taxes. If everybody let people use their address, we wouldn’t have a great school. And also, I have an article, another one that I sent to my children. A woman went to jail for it. She used her father’s address for her kids to go to that school and she did time for it.
I can imagine that if you instruct your kids to lie, they’ll be very stressed by that responsibility to keep up the lie and the guilt, and you as the parent should be even more stressed. That’s a burden I couldn’t act my way through and I wouldn’t want my kids ever to be pushed by me or my husband into doing something we all know is wrong.
People always used to say to me “don’t you miss acting?” And I’d say “No. As a mother, I’m acting all the time. I have to act mad, I have to act sad, all in the goal of teaching my kids to have a conscience.”
Perhaps my kids would have had it regardless of my mothering, but whether due to heredity or environment, they are deeply empathic individuals who have given me joy every second of their lives.
Originally published at medium.com