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Parenting My Youngest Son: I Am Not the Mom I Used to Be

I am not the mother I used to be.

I started out as a young mother in my mid-twenties full of ideas of just how to raise my baby. Four kids and plenty of mileage later, my 14-year-old middle schooler now has a totally different mom from the one who mothered his now-28-year-old sister.

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With my first child, I prepared very balanced, fresh meals—steamed vegetables and homemade applesauce. By my second child, mac and cheese in the blue box was my friend as I juggled two kids and deadlines. Child number three was a surprise and I spent a lot of time unshowered, leaking breast milk, thinking Froot Loops sounded like a good dinner. They’re fortified with vitamins, according to the box.

I would nurse the baby while working on my laptop and utilize the eyes on the back of my head to make sure my wild-child toddler did not stuff his teddy bear down the toilet. Again.

Now, my fourth child subsists on anything in the 425 Club—you know, frozen stuff that cooks at 425 degrees on a cookie sheet.

My first child wore dresses that were ironed and perfectly pressed, with adorable lacy socks. Currently, I have no idea where my iron even is. I have hemmed kid four’s dress pants with a staple gun. No one’s socks match.

When my oldest daughter was three, she was stung by a bee on her head, and I rushed her to the pediatrician in a panic over the swelling—which was perfectly normal. The swelling, that is, not my panic. Though maybe it was normal for a first-time mom. By my fourth child, I could eyeball a deep gash in his chin and know whether he needed stitches or not. Quite frankly, in a pinch, I am pretty sure I could stitch him up myself. I had learned not to panic over every fever, and I used spit to wipe away dirt on his face instead of sanitizing everything.

When my oldest child wanted to color her hair in high school, I talked her out of it—her hair was long, shiny, and golden-brown. By my third child, I’d learned to accept tattoos, a nose piercing, and purple hair.

It wasn’t just a matter of choosing my battles. I realized I could structure my kids’ lives for every eventuality, but it is in the unscripted moments where we learn.

When I let go, they learned what they needed to—even when they learned it through mistakes.

And as I saw the big stuff of life up close, I realized how small the little stuff actually was. By the time my last child hit the tween years and adolescence, I’d had a front-row seat to the turmoil of those years with my three older children.

I’d held my baby goddaughter as she died. I’d watched as my kids sobbed with the pain of their first broken hearts. I’d buried both my parents. I’d been deathly ill, and my kids had to worry whether I would make it. I discovered that no matter how much I tried to shield my children from the pain of life, it was impossible.

Mostly, I knew that very little mattered—not grades, perfectly pressed clothes, matching socks, tidy rooms, elegant meals, or bedtime routines.

Between my first child and my fourth child, I learned that what mattered is that they knew they were loved. Fiercely and wholly.

What mattered is that they were good, kind, compassionate people, not whether they got straight As, dyed their hair blue or left their dirty socks on the floor.

So my fourth child has stapled hems and is a proud member of the 425 Club. I don’t check his homework, and his bed is never made. I’d rather hang out with him and watch scary movies than nag him about brushing his teeth. I’d rather talk to him about life and the wonders of the universe than complain that his hair is in his eyes.

More thoughts on parenting differences:

My last child has a very different mother. And that’s not a bad thing.

Erica Orloff is freelance writer and novelist based in Virginia. She is mom of four, a fanatical Yankees fan, and a collector of Buddha statues. Follow her on Twitter: @ericaorloff.

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