About a year ago I wrote a column for my younger friends about raising future citizens of the world called Parenting Advice from a Liberal. Not that I’m an expert mind you, but mine have turned out pretty decent and I wanted to share how I may have contributed to that. I can at least share some of what NOT to do!
Today I want to talk about being a mom or dad, more importantly about how to survive as a parent, and maybe enjoy yourselves in the process, because being a parent is hard, but we make it harder by being so hard on ourselves!
I have really enjoyed watching fellow blogger Pat Lemieux grow up along with his son in his blog Manchild. What I love about Pat’s stories is that he captures the intensity of being a new parent (the overwhelming sense of disbelief when they actually let you take this tiny human home and you are expected to keep it alive, every day) and he perfectly mixes that with the humor so necessary for survival as a parent! I keep trying to tell Pat the whole thing is much easier with a second child, but he seems resistant to the idea!
So my message to all of you is lighten up people, stop being so hard on yourselves. You are doing great! Stop tormenting yourself by questioning your every move!
I know what you are doing to yourselves. I’ve done it too. Am I reading to them enough? Are these the right books? Are the carrots organic? Do they need to be exposed to more classical music? Should I teach them French? What about competitive sports? Am I putting too much pressure on them? Am I not putting enough pressure on them? Have I ruined them completely because we moved or didn’t move, got divorced or stayed together for the children, never let them have fast food, or let them have too much, stayed home, worked away from home, home-schooled, or sent them to public school?
Seriously, chill out. Do the best you can do. That’s all anyone can do. Believe me, as adults, they don’t care.
Breast feeding versus bottle feeding, they don’t even remember it. Does one of my fully functioning adult children hold resentment that I weaned him sooner than the others? I doubt it! Ask them how they felt about their childbirth experience? Believe me, as adults, they don’t even want to think about the fact that they come out of your vagina! If I asked my children now, which of them remember being diapered in cloth diapers and who remembers the disposable ones, they’d think I had finally gone completely over the edge! They don’t care!
They don’t care if the house they lived in was rented or you owned it. I could ask my adult kids now how often I vacuumed? It was so important to me at the time, but they don’t remember! Did they feel the bathroom was always cleaned to their standards? How about the lawn? Did they notice their stepfather did all he could to eradicate the crab grass or that I meticulously weeded the flower beds? Nope, they couldn’t care less. So in all these things, do what is best for you, what works for you and your partner and your family at the time and stop trying to be perfect!
I remember being a new mom and smugly devouring every parenting book I could get my hands on, when my own mother reminded me that unless I got the baby to read the books also, it was unlikely she/he would go along with the script! Every parent has a moment when they realize this job may not go as easily as they were hoping. Sometimes it’s in the first year, in the middle of the night, over-tired and covered in various types of infant bodily fluids. Sometimes it’s in a public place, watching your toddler fling themselves to the floor and scream like they are being murdered while strangers look on with judging eyes. Or sometimes it’s staring into the eyes of a 13 year who has just declared she hates you and you have ruined your life.
We all have those moments, overwhelming moments where we question all of our parenting choices! You just do the best you can, with what you have at the time, and then hope and pray for the best!
My oldest daughter had a meticulously planned home birth, but I doubt she credits that with her academic and professional success! My son has grown up to be a healthy six foot tall adult, despite the fact that he almost always threw his homemade baby food on the floor. My youngest daughter has a healthy relationship with food despite me catching her, as a toddler, multiple times up to her elbows in the sugar container shoveling it in her mouth like I hadn’t fed her in days. And my middle daughter, whose competitive nature landed her in the ER many times during sporting events, has somehow survived to adulthood with all her limbs intact!
I remember the first time I got one of my kids a store bought birthday cake. I was recently divorced, working full time, and frankly too busy and too stressed to get everything done that needed to be done, never mind baking a cake. I felt bad, I mean really bad. You know what the kids thought? They thought it was the most awesome thing ever, a cake from the store, with that sticky frosting in colors not found in nature!!! They loved it!!!
That doesn’t mean you have to give up all your standards. That doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t aim high with your parenting. It just means that when you can’t live up to all you wanted to do and be as a parent, stop feeling guilty about it. Just know you are doing the very best you can and that’s all anyone can ever do. Parenting can’t be done by a strict set of rules. It has to be flexible based on what’s going on in the family at the time, it has to change to meet the needs of different children. Stuff happens that throws you off course, that’s just life, but kids rarely remember that. What they remember is being loved.
Don’t try to be perfect because trying to be perfect sets a very bad example for the kids. They grow up thinking they need to be perfect too. Instead, show them parents who have the best intentions, who are doing the very best they can, but who occasionally fail. Show them how adults pull themselves back up, brush themselves off, and keep trying. Show them how to handle making mistakes. In the end, that is a much more useful life skill!
I know I did the best I could at the time. Yet, if I had to do it all over again the things I would differently are the little things, the things that cost no money at all! I would leave more dishes in the sink and read more books with them. I would cuddle more, and watch more movies. I would yell less, I would worry less about lost mittens and unmade beds and being late to stuff. I would bake more cookies, for no reason at all, and I would build more snowmen, lots more snowmen!