They call it “maturity” for a reason. Some life lessons take a long time to sink in, but gather ‘round, my young sisters, and take a few notes.
1) Men want respect the way women want love.
Bet that’s a hard one for some of you ladies to swallow, but it’s a fact. Studies have even shown that, if given the choice of being tenderly loved at home but reviled by the masses in public, or vice versa, males will choose to have the esteem of the general public. We may not understand it, but that’s the way they are. Of course, what they’d really like is to be respected everywhere, so just remember that the next time you roll your eyes and call your man an idiot. To a man, one “You’re good at that,” beats ten “I love you’s.”
2) Just because something’s true doesn’t mean you have to say it.
Sometimes it’s better to just shut up. For example, nobody really needs to hear, “I told you so,” or “See, I was right.” Control freaks know they’re over the top and fat people know they ought to diet—they haven’t been waiting all their lives for you to enlighten them. You don’t always have to express every thought that crosses your mind.
3) You’ll always have a boss.
This one’s depressing but oh so true. If you’re in a family, your partner and even your kids will hold sway over your life. If you have a job, someone’s always over you. Work for yourself? Your customers are your bosses. Then there’s the homeowner’s association in your neighborhood or the leasing office, the police, the government, and so on, ad nauseum. I guess you might be independently wealthy and live alone on an island that you own, but it’s doubtful. Other than that, you have a boss.
4) You should steer your kids into some activity early.
I thought my friends were ridiculous for signing up veritable toddlers for organized sports and activities. Why on earth would they subject themselves to that, I wondered. It’s expensive, it takes up your valuable time, and the child would surely rather be at home. I thought I’d wait until my kids were old enough to show some interest in something to get them started, but it turns out I was totally wrong. Participating in organized activities is a habit that must be developed early or chances are, it won’t be developed at all. You’ll wind up with a kid who has no particular passion. Or, when they finally take an interest in something, they’ll try it and find out they’re years behind the curve. This is one area where you need to bite the bullet and lead.
5) Family is only permanent by choice.
I’m speaking not of your spouse and kids, but your extended family. Maybe they’ve always been there, gathered around you like a warm cocoon. If so, you are privileged and whether you realize it or not, you’re probably holding up your end of the bargain with them as well, doing your share of calling, visiting, and showing up for holidays. But situations can change. It can happen that one relative passes away, and you suddenly realize they were the glue holding everybody else together. Today’s argument can grow into a decade of “not speaking.” Family members can move away and reorient their lives in new directions. Look around at your aunts, uncles, and cousins; your siblings and grandparents. Make the choice to stay in touch.
6) In marriage, being available for sex all the time is a turnoff to men.
I know, right? You wouldn’t think so. In fact, you may be thinking, “HA! You’re out of your mind, my husband would love it.” But no. If you think that, it’s because you’re not available and enthusiastic all the time, so your husband continues to pursue. Good job, sister. That’s how it’s meant to be. Let them know you’re a red-hot ball of sexual desire and their weird male psychology finds a way to construe that as a demand. It’s totally unfair to those of us not into game-playing, but there it is.
7) Silver and gold.
Make new friends but keep the old; for one is silver and the other, gold. Do you tend to let go of people easily? Did high school friends become relics when you went to college? College friends gave way to married friends, and then mommy friends, or work friends? It’s always great to make friends wherever life takes you, but there’s no need to leave the old ones in the dust. You may not hang out as much, but keep the lines of communication open.
8) You never know what kids will remember.
Any moment can make a permanent memory. I was never much of one to get down on the floor and really play with my kids (once they were past babyhood), but there was an occasion when I was in my little boy’s room, and we were playing with some little action figures on a pirate ship. He’s thirteen now and he must have mentioned that night a dozen times. There was nothing so special about it, but he’ll remember it all his life. This can be true for unhappy moments as well, so let’s strive for balance.
9) Someone would love to be in your shoes.
It’s a great thing to keep in mind when you want to complain. Husband making you mad? Just imagine him coming home and saying he’s leaving you for a colleague. Kids annoying? Reflect for a few minutes on your dear friend who was never able to have a baby. When my whole life seems to suck, I think of a certain friend who was bullied as a child, orphaned as a young woman, and has lived for many years, scraping by at minimum wage or close to it. Totally alone in the world. Somebody would love to trade with you.
10) Pick your battles with your children.
Some things you will be absolutely unwilling to compromise on, but with most issues you have some leeway. A messy room or neglected homework doesn’t have to ruin your relationship with your kids. Not every little thing they do as children has to have some larger implication for their adult life. Relax a little.
11) Do some things that you really don’t want to.
Go visit the ailing relative in the smelly nursing home. Put up with your annoying mother-in-law. Go help clean the church on Saturday morning, or chaperone your child’s field trip to your least favorite place. Do it because it’s the right thing, and because not every thing other people do for you is a Mardi Gras of pleasure for them.
12) Help out a coworker.
Along the same lines, go the extra mile at work sometimes. Stay half an hour late to help out someone who procrastinated and got into a crunch. When things are slow for you, rather than just enjoying it, offer to help out a colleague who’s buried. You will find that work is a more pleasant experience when your coworkers like you.
13) Enjoy the good in each child.
Your kids are going to be different from one another and it’s not your fault. It’s just the way it is. If the first one turns out as you dreamed, beware…the second one might be different; but focus on the positive in each one. My firstborn daughter loves to seek my counsel and hear my hopefully-wise advice, just as I’d always imagined a daughter would. My younger child, a boy, is about as transparent as a brick wall. He does not care to confide his personal feelings or benefit from any of my wisdom. The nerve of him! On the other hand he’s a grammar and spelling nerd, like me, and he likes my cooking.
14) Don’t let your hair down too much.
I once had the silly notion that home was the place I could say and do whatever I wanted. Au contraire, my friend. Even home amongst your nearest and dearest is not the place to be rude and self-centered, to whine and say But what about me, me, me? in the way you can’t do in the real world. Your partner and family don’t enjoy that any more than other people. Even at home, you still have to act nice. Bummer, I know.
15) Love and affection count a lot.
There are plenty of areas where you may not be a star wife and mother. But if you hug and kiss your family every day and tell them how much you love them, it tends to over a multitude of sins. I hope.
16) Not every difference needs to be fixed.
You and your husband are different. You may assume that when he does something differently than you, he is doing it wrong. You may even assume that large aspects of his personality are just plain messed up, but time will prove this is not always the case. For example, I’m often annoyed by my husband’s uptight OCD way of going about daily life, but I’ve learned to appreciate him when we go on trips. Every detail is covered and everything we could possibly need has been packed.
17) Don’t always go for the joke.
Lo and behold, people don’t like to be teased and made fun of. Who knew? Having a dry sense of humor, it seriously took me the better part of a lifetime to catch on to this one, because I could not resist my urge to go for the joke, no matter at whose expense. It’s not that I ever aimed to be hurtful, it’s just the way my mind works. But eventually I learned that people appreciate kindness more than wit.
18) They won’t always be there.
Your parents, your grandparents, your friends, maybe even—God forbid—your kids.
Life won’t always be what it is today and there won’t always be a tomorrow to set things right. Forgive, be kind, and don’t take them for granted.