Parent Survival 101: What My Child Taught Me about Being Good

Posted August 27, 2009 by

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“Catch your child being good,” the experts all say. “Tell them when they did something well.”

Great advice. But how often do we as parents catch ourselves being good? And how often do we actually take time to savor a good moment between us and our not-always adorable children?

It’s hard to remember, to be honest, especially when your child acts out, is defiant, won’t do chores, or yells at you in front of your summer guests as your ferry boat docks on the most populated island in Maine. (Check, check, check, and check.)

But recently my 6-year-old son and I had a near-perfect day. You see, I’d been promising to take Alex to the local water park since, er, last summer, (yes, I know, bad mom). And if that wasn’t enough, we also do a variation of the good behavior chart called the marble jar, and he had saved up enough marbles over the summer to warrant a trip to Splashtown. I knew I had to make good on the deal before school started or lose some serious credibility in the always-keep-your-promises department.

We set off with sunblock and flip flops in hand one afternoon last week and I have to admit that I went with less-than a great attitude — it really was a trip I made out of duty more than anything else.  But here’s the thing: it turned into one of those golden moments — you know, the kind of day when everything goes right, when you don’t argue with your child at all, and they actually give you hugs for no reason. To parents of adolescents, let me say that I am under no illusions about this — I know that these elementary school years are short and sweet, and that parents need to absorb every ounce of love and affection they can get in order to survive the crazy, hormone-sloshing ride that is puberty.

In fact, to really underline this fact, I had a conversation with my friend (also the parent of a twelve-year-old) right before we left for the water park.

“Jack’s not talking to me,” she said with a sigh. “He wouldn’t do his chores so I took his iPod away. Now he won’t even look at me. Enjoy every minute with your 6 year old — it goes fast.”

With her wise words in mind, we left for the park. And it really was a magical day, full of big, toothy kid grins and spontaneous hugs from my son. Moms of teenagers looked at us wistfully and smiled in recognition. I smiled back, nodding — I know what’s in store, I wanted to say, but for right now, my 6 year old thinks I’m the best thing since snow cones, and I’m going to soak up every last drop of affection.

As we pulled out of the parking lot at the end of the day, a sleepy voice piped up from the back seat — and I got one of the best unsolicited compliments from my son ever: “Thanks for taking me to the water park, Mommy. You’re the best mommy in the world!”

My son had the wisdom to catch me being good. And you know what? It felt like heaven.


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor (Edit) Report

    Lulu: You are wise to gather up those moments and cherish them. James Lehman told me once that parents go through a grieving process when their kids hit adolescence — because the kid who wanted to play with you and be by your side all the time suddenly has his own friends and spends all his time in his room (and is not always fun to be around, to say the least). I hope when your son gets through those tough teen years he’ll remember the good moments and all the love you’ve shown him, too. (It’s what I’m depending on, personally!) Hang in there and enjoy the time with your little girl.

  2. Lulu (Edit) Report

    Being a mother of a 16 year old boy has been very overwhelming for me. Dealing with the attitude, and behavior really depresses me. I often think of the moments when he was little and wish he didn’t have to grow. I have a 7 year old daughter who is the sweetest little girl. Knowing she will become a teenager two, unfortanately, makes me want to spend and enjoy every moment with her. I realize how important it is and believe me we have many golden moments. When I’m sad or upset about my son she comforts me. I don’t know what I would do without her.

  3. brooke (Edit) Report

    Great article and great idea. I followed your advice and took my five-year-old to Splashtown and had an amazing day. I felt like a kid again as we ran around the park together, high fiving, splashing and savoring every moment. Its been five days and he is still wearing his admission braclet. What a great day, and memory. Thanks for the inspiration.

  4. Becc (Edit) Report

    ahhhhh…..I find with my small children that i have to geto nto them so much about something…then all of a sudden they stop doing that…but im still yelling at them and they look at me n say “mom…we learned not to do that along time ago”…i guess i still have some more learning to do!!

  5. Elisabeth Wilkins Report

    Annita: Thanks for your kind words. There are days when I think maybe we have prepared him…others, not so much! As a parent, I think it’s easy to focus on the difficult behaviors sometimes and forget to pat ourselves on the backs when things go right. I try to save up these little moments like a squirrel gathering nuts so I can make it through the tough days!

  6. Annita Woz (Edit) Report

    AWwww, bittersweet is right– The “you are the best mom” balanced by the “see ya mom” and no turning back, just hopping aboard the bus…It is all as it should be yes? they should be happy to go, independant and confident- you have prepared him well…Yaaay.

  7. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor (Edit) Report

    Thanks, Dr. Joan! I know you’re right. By the way, I just put my son on the bus this morning for his very first day of First Grade. He gave me a cheeky smile and hopped on, eager to talk to all his friends. It’s hard not to feel bittersweet in September on the first day of school…(though I have to admit, it’s kind of nice to get back into the routine.)

  8. drjoan (Edit) Report


    Well said! Too often I think two things happen. First, we allow life to get in the way of creating those golden moments. Yes, you have to create them in order for them to occur. It can be hard, time consuming, and, as you were initially thinking, dreaded. But look how nice it all turned out?

    Second, these moments are necessary not only to cement our relationship with our kids, but also for our own memories because you are right when you say that puberty is just around the corner. As the mother of an acne prone, hormone-raging, mood-swinging adolescent, I often fall back on those wonderful days filled with memories to carry me through the day! He’s still wonderful to me, but gone is the innocence, the tenderness, and the demonstrative love that was once central to our relationship. In it’s place is something just as wonderful: discussions about politics, music, and anyone in the MLB, but I need those warm memories to get me through the tough stuff.

    You are laying the foundation for a great future relationship with Alex while enjoying every bit of him now. You really are the best mommy in the world.



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