I have five resolutions for how to be a better parent to Emmy in the new year. Let’s go.
5. Be careful of the snap-back.
I don’t necessarily lose my temper with Emmy. Wait. That’s a lie. I do often lose my temper with Emmy. Because her sister is 10 years older, Emmy functions as an only child. Which means there’s a lot of "Why, why, why?" and a lot of "Please, can I … please, can I?" There are far too many times when I respond to Emmy in a way I later regret.
Now, I’m not burning her with a hot iron like Penny’s mom on Good Times. But I definitely snap at her often, usually with something like, “Oh my God, Emmy, please go sit down somewhere.” I’m ashamed to admit that earlier this week, she was following me around the house as I tried to clean, babbling about a television show, and she stopped and asked, “Are you even listening to me?” I told her, “Honestly? No. I’m not.”
Emmy’s face made me feel awful. I apologized. I know I’m human and I’m bound to make mistakes as a mom. But in 2016, I’m determined to have fewer snap-back moments. Emmy is 8. And it won’t be long before I’ll be following her around the house—and she’ll want nothing to do with me. And I won’t want to hear any snap-back from her. Modeling the behavior you want to see from your children is critical, and I can do a better job of it.
4. Save money for Emmy’s college education.
My go-to order at Starbucks is a triple grande soy Cinnamon Dolce Latte. The cost? $6.26. I am ashamed just to type that. Why on earth should a cup of coffee cost $7?! I don’t buy it every day. It’s more like once a week. But even that needs to end. I can’t bemoan my financial situation and Emmy’s paltry college fund and then turn around and ever spend damn near $7 on a cup of coffee. That’s obscenely irresponsible. Even if I buy that drink only twice a week, that’s nearly $700 a year that could be growing in a college fund for Emmy.
My husband and I didn’t save as much as we could have for our oldest daughter’s college education, and she was fortunate to receive several scholarships. But that may or may not happen for Emmy. We were able to send our older daughter to school without saddling her with student loans (yet). And I want the same for Emmy. In 2016, there’s no Starbucks. Unless it’s a $1.50 drip coffee.
3. Stop stressing the little things.
I often compare myself to my own mom. Especially when it comes to the cleanliness of my house. You can eat Thanksgiving dinner on my mom’s bare kitchen floor—no plates needed. My mom went to college part time and had two children and a husband as well as a full-time job. Yet there was never a thing out of place in our home. She did laundry every week. (And actually folded it and put it away!) She even washed and pressed my hair and my sister’s hair every week. Basically, she was a supermom.
If you eat something off my floor, you might end up with the stomach flu. Right now I’m looking at laundry on my living room floor. One is a bag of clean clothes that need to be put away. The other is a bag of dirty laundry. I don’t know which is which. And they’ve both been there for over a week.
My house is almost always in a state of disarray. I have a rambunctious dog who thinks that empty paper-towel rolls and water bottles are dog toys, so I often come home to cardboard and plastic confetti all over my floors. I’ve been pretty hard on myself. One of my best friends sent me this blog post from a mom in a similar situation. The graph is super simple but absolutely amazing.
If I use this mantra going into the new year, I know it’ll help. If I can pick only two things, happy kids (and dog) and my sanity trump a clean house every time. Emmy jumps on the couch and helps the dog shred his toys. She’s happy. He’s thrilled. And if I stop holding myself to the standards my mom had in place, I’ll have my sanity. What’s that expression? “Bless this mess.” Yeah, that’s me in 2016.
2. Continue building Emmy’s hair-esteem.
Most of Emmy’s school friends have stick-straight hair, and I know she often wishes her hair were the same. I have been diligent since she was 3 years old to consistently encourage her to embrace her beautiful curls. It’s a never-ending journey. She often begs for me to straighten and flat-iron her hair. Sometimes I give in, but mostly I try to figure out how to style her natural hair in ways she can be proud of. That means spending an ungodly amount of money on products for natural hair and watching YouTube videos for styles I know she’ll like.
This year I whipped up a complicated braided style that she liked. And just this past Christmas, I did her hair the same way I do mine: a wash-and-go that is essentially a wild-and-crazy super Afro. And Emmy loved it. Score! Caring for Emmy’s natural hair is work. It’s so much easier to send her to get her hair blown out. But in 2016 I’m going to continue to show Emmy how beautiful her natural hair is.
1. Remember that the days are long—but the years are short. Make the days count.
Many years ago, when Emmy was about 2 years old, she had a meltdown in a shopping mall. She was hungry and had missed her nap, and it showed. As I tried to collect her and put her in a stroller while trying to shush her screams, an elderly gentleman walked by and then came back to me. He said, “Seems tough right now. But remember, the days are long but the years are short.”
I wanted to punch that guy right in the throat.
I was overwhelmed and near tears, and this guy was trying to throw some adage at me? How about you help me stuff this girl in her stroller and find her pacifier, old man?
Much later, I thought about his quote. And it’s quite profound. That day felt as if it would go on forever. Except now it’s six years later and Emmy is 8. And it feels as if that day was last week—not six years ago.
I recently found a picture of baby Emmy that I sent to my family when she was 3 months old. At the time, I was struggling with breast-feeding and I was writing my first book around her naps. Each day was endless. But the years are flying by, and I need to try to treasure each moment. Sometimes that means getting off Facebook and helping her build a home for her dolls out of cardboard boxes. Sometimes that means just going for a drive to get frozen yogurt for no reason. And sometimes that means just asking her about her day and really listening.
It feels as if my 18-year-old was 8 years old just minutes ago. And now she’s off at college living her life. I’m determined to try to spend 2016 enjoying each day with Emmy—because I know the years will fly by even when the days don’t.
Aliya S. King, a native of East Orange, N.J., is the author of two novels and three nonfiction books, including the New York Times best-seller Keep the Faith, written with recording artist Faith Evans. She lives with her husband and two daughters in New Jersey. Find her on Twitter and at aliyasking.com.