What We Learn from Parenting


Author: Noelle Elliott, Darcia Narvaez and Kevin Brennan ’07

Eight Things My Sons Taught Me

You won’t see a return on your investments for a very long time, but that doesn’t mean you stop investing. Making 20 lunches a week can get monotonous, especially when the fruit I pack is returned. But I repack the same apples until they go bad. I will continue to make these healthy deposits into the lunches and someday, maybe, I will open the lunch to discover it has been eaten. If and when this ever happens, I will know that my persistence paid off.

Raising your voice only makes you less heard. Just like car alarms, people tend to tune out loud noises. If I have to utilize the whisper, my sons know they are in trouble. Little do they realize I am just too exhausted to yell.

The heart has room to grow. When my first-born son was 2 days old, he gave his first smile. I told my husband that my life had been made. I had no idea how many times I would think that same thought. Just when you think you cannot love something more than you already do, your heart will crack open again. Leave extra room; you are going to need it.

The best moments happen when nobody is looking. I recently witnessed my older son hold his little brother’s hand when they crossed the street. He didn’t know I was looking. I later told him how proud I was, which made him question if I was always watching him. I let him wonder.

Slow down. When walking with a toddler, you don’t have a choice. A normal 10-minute walk could take an hour and a half. I take the same path to work every day, and it wasn’t until one of my sons pointed out a heart-shaped leaf imprint in the sidewalk that I noticed it. Now every time I see it, it makes me happy.

Look up when someone enters a room. Children want to be seen. As adults we still crave the acknowledgment. Take a moment to see someone; it is an unspoken sign of respect. I walked into a meeting once and not a single person looked up from their laptop. I considered walking out, hoping they wouldn’t notice that either.

When people offer to pray for you, give them a list. You need all the help you can get. Friends and neighbors kept me alive after we had our first baby. When someone asks if you need something, say yes, even if it is a venti triple-shot latte. Then, someday, return the favor.

Sleep is a luxury denied to many. March 24, 2003, was the last time I had seven straight hours of sleep. It was also the night before my first child was born. With each additional child my sleep deficit increases. If they are sleeping too soundly, I wake up in a panic to see if they are breathing. My mother tells me she still wakes up at 3 a.m. worrying. Sleep is a privilege wasted on youth.

Noelle Elliott is the publicity and concert coordinator for Notre Dame’s Department of Music. She is a contributor at Family and Sassy magazines and blogs daily about life with her four boys and husband, Don, at bowchicabowmom.com. Her stage production, The Mamalogues, has sold out every performance.

Five Things Parents Should Purge from Their Parenting

Distressing babies. Babies need to be kept calm while their brain systems are rapidly completing their parameters and thresholds.

Bullying babies into “independence.” Babies depend on loving, responsive care to grow smart, good and well.

Focusing on achievement instead of play. Children learn through self-directed play, and for optimal adult intelligence they should spend most of childhood in free play in the natural world, not in front of screens or books.

Physical punishment. It is bad for all kids, and it pushes them to be self-focused.

Emphasizing obedience over a supportive relationship. Every child wants to be good and only fails because of incapacity, misunderstanding or failure of support.

Darcia Narvaez is a Notre Dame professor of psychology.

Ten Things I Learned at My Grandparents’ House

I grew up a mile from Nana and Gran. My brother and sister, two cousins and I spent almost as much time at their house as we did in our own homes. Here are 10 things we learned:

Generosity: Products of the Great Depression, Nana and Gran are happy eating leftovers but spoil their grandchildren with gifts.

A love of old movies: Thanks to Nana and Gran, we can recite lines from memory while watching Singin’ in the Rain, Drums Along the Mohawk and Hold That Ghost.

How to pray: While waiting for Nana to finish her lengthy pre-meal prayers, the rest of us learned to thank God, pray for your family and the less fortunate, and never ask anything for yourself.

Salt goes on everything: Nana is a great cook, but you better like salt. And she’ll sprinkle more on your food when you’re not looking.

Intellectual curiosity: Ask Gran anything, and he’ll either know the answer or spend the next several days researching it — then report back. And Nana may praise Gran’s smarts, but her intelligence shines through every conversation, especially when debating politics.

Laughter is infectious: Gran has a subtle wit, and Nana enjoys laughing more than anyone I know. You can’t help but join them.

How to operate a record player: At our house, cassette tapes gave way to CDs and iPods, but the record player never left my grandparents’ den. Benny Goodman and Herman’s Hermits helped form the soundtrack of my childhood.

The value of humility: Gran stormed Utah Beach on D-Day, helped liberate Paris and, as chief of detectives of the New York City Police Department, led the investigation that arrested Son of Sam. Just don’t expect him to bring any of that up.

What true love looks like: Nana and Gran have been married for 68 years, and I’ve never known two people who admire, respect and enjoy each other more.

Appreciation: Sitting in their den during a visit this fall, I thought about how lucky I am that Nana and Gran, both in their mid-90s, are still here and in good health.

Kevin Brennan ’07 is the alumni editor of this magazine.

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