As of this week, I'm the mother of a 20-year-old. This is also the week when my oldest heads off to Amsterdam, where he'll attend a new (very small) university. After a year at a very large university in Boston, he decided theater-style lecture halls packed with hundreds of students weren't for him.
Just as I did when he went off to college the first time, I find myself trying to conjure up memories of my son's first steps, first words, how hard he laughed that time I fell out of the kayak, how he played the "Toy Story" soundtrack incessantly on the piano to unwind, and how he alone never failed to ask me about my day when I walked in the door from work.
The sad reality is -- it's all a bit fuzzy.
As I've often said, you think you'll remember every key moment of your kids' lives -- but you won't. Oddly enough, I can recall the theme song to "Gilligan's Island" but I find it nearly impossible to draw out of cold storage a memory of my oldest kid's first bike ride. Didn't he used to hate eggs? I don't know. I really can't remember.
And that's why I've decided to put forth a bit of advice from parents who've already raised their kids to those who are still in the trenches. The first piece of advice is mine (I have three kids) and the rest is from good friends with grown children. Have anything to add? Please do so in comments.
1. In addition to marking down your child's first words, record the first conversations you had with them about whether or not there's a Santa Claus -- or a God.
Often we're so busy obsessively recording every milestone during our child's baby and toddler years that we forget to take video of a typical family dinner, with everyone doing nothing but laughing -- or arguing. Think you will remember what your kid's bedroom looked like when they were SEVEN? You might. I don't. Believe me when I say this: These every day moments are really what you will want to remember after your kids fly the coop.
2. The older the children get, the more you realize how precious the time is.
"When they are little you feel they will be that way forever! Therefore, take as many family vacations together as possible. They make lasting memories of real quality time spent together. Once they go to college and have their own responsibilities, it just gets more complicated." -- S.W.
3. Get to know their friends.
"Encourage them to have their friends to your house. You learn more about your kids from whom they befriend than anything else. Be non-judgmental and open to discussion about anything so when they are away they won't feel like anything is off limits to discuss with you if they need to." -- L.S.
4. Have family dinners often and make them a priority.
"The dinner table is a place for sharing all that's important with unconditional love, respect and openness to discussing ideas. Make it a safe place to be heard and not judged." -- J.C.
5. At the end of every year, sit down with your child and write down their memories of the past 12 months.
"When they turn 18, get those pieces of paper out and look back on all that's happened." -- K.P.
6. Go to every play, sporting event, or awards assembly you possibly can.
"You never want to be that parent who had to work and, therefore, just couldn't be there for your child." -- A.G.
7. Listen from the front seat when they sit in the back.
"Don't comment. You will learn more about their daily lives when you are chauffeuring them back and forth to activities than you can imagine." -- A.T.
8. If your kid tells you a secret, and asks you not to tell anyone, don't.
"If you tell your girlfriends, it will get back to them. It really will." -- K.L.
9. Unplug when you're with your kids.
"When your kid talks to you, PLEASE turn off the cell phone and the computer. You can check email after they go to bed." -- E.K.
10. Help your kids figure out their strengths and interests.
"Try to help your child discover things they are truly passionate about, and then nurture those interests." -- S.W.
11. Be affectionate -- always.
"When your child hugs you, never be the first one to let go." -- M.M.