Julie Levine's kids during an earlier stage in her parenting journey.
Julie Levine's kids during an earlier stage in her parenting journey.

As I exit J., here is what I’ve learned about everything 

Our youngest, now in his senior year of high school, recently turned 18.

He’s spending his year thinking about his next chapter, and, in many ways, I am, too.

My parenting column for J. began when he was 13, and it seems only fitting that I wrap it up when he’s 18. I figured it’s good to start with a bar mitzvah and end on a chai.

Though I’ll still be parenting — and even writing about it occasionally — this will be my last regular column. It’s time for my role to recede a bit as the kids (our daughter finishes her sophomore year in college this spring) make their way in the world, separate from me. It’s time for me, too, to separate from them, and also make room for other writing projects beyond the scope of day-to-day mothering.

Meanwhile, I’m reflecting on what I’ve learned about parenting since I began writing this column, and I’d like to share some of these things with you.

I’ve learned to trust my own instincts and not compare myself to other mothers. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to raising kids. No two families are alike, no two kids, no two mothers or fathers. I always come out ahead when I parent from the inside (“Parenting from the Inside” was this column’s original moniker) rather than looking outward.

Wendy Mogel’s “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee” is the only parenting book I needed when the kids were younger, and it still is. I’ve learned that most other parenting books just made me feel lousy because they seemed to point out everything I was doing wrong.

So I stopped buying them.

Mogel’s no-nonsense approach to child-rearing makes sense to me. I relate to her Jewish values that serve as the backdrop to her views on raising children. Like Wendy, I also think it’s OK for my kids to have skinned knees.

I’ve learned that nothing beats good girlfriends. This was true when our kids were younger and has become even more true as our kids have grown. We walk, we talk about our kids, we worry, we problem-solve. Most important, we make each other feel better.

I’ve learned to ignore the negative mother labels such as the helicopter, tiger and snowplow, but “Jewish mother” is a label I’ll proudly embrace. Why wouldn’t I want to be associated with a group of women who, according to Marjorie Ingall, are “responsible for the outsized success of the Jewish people”? All my female ancestors, the formidable Jewish mothers who came before me, are a part of me. We are collectively a powerful group of women.

It was important for us to tell our kids about their family history when they were younger. I’ve learned that, by doing so, it has given them a more profound understanding of who they are. They know their place in the world stretches beyond their bubble in the Bay Area, back to Ukraine and back further still.  My grandfather’s story of courage and resilience is our kids’ story, too. When they encounter setbacks in their life, maybe they won’t feel so alone. They’ll know we come from hardy stock.

When it comes to older kids and parenting, the most difficult lesson I’ve learned over the years is that there is no easy fix (though a bowl of homemade chicken soup goes a long way, whether your kids are 2 or 20). Patience, I’ve discovered, is the key to everything.

And sometimes, just when I think I have this parenting thing figured out, our kids grow and change, and I’m back at square one. Parenting is hard. It’s messy work. But there’s beauty in the mess, too, if you just know where to look.

I’ve watched our kids take their first steps. I’ve seen them fall and I’ve seen them soar, and I can hardly believe they’ve blossomed into such lovely, kind, smart and capable young adults.

Thank you for joining me on this crazy, wonderful, parenting journey for the past five years. It’s been such a privilege to have had the opportunity to experience it all with you.

Julie Levine

Julie Levine is a writer who lives in San Francisco.