When my Oldest Little was about 1 1/2, we spent a weekend with a family who had a toddler about the same age. At one point in the weekend, they handed their daughter a bottle of milk. My "mom radar" went off. I had read all of the literature that the public health nurses had sent home with us. Most of it I had read several times. "She should be using a cup, not a bottle," my internal voice said.
Luckily for everyone involved, the comment stayed in my head and didn't pass through my lips. I paused for a moment and looked at their two older kids. And here's the thing: their two older kids had so many of the qualities I hoped my Little would one day have. They were happy, helpful, engaged, curious, thoughtful, and articulate. Hmmm. Maybe getting the bottle vs. cup decision right wasn't that big of a deal in the long view of parenting.
It was a bit of turning point for me in understanding the parenting gig.
We are swamped with information and opinions from the moment we announce we're going to be parents. We have access to more books, articles, blogs, research, and crazy Facebook commentors than our parents could have ever imagined. When an article on parenting pops up on my newsfeed, I'm drawn to it like a bug to light.
I read articles about snacks, screen time, extra-curricular activities, bed time, time-outs, birthday parties, play dates, and chores.
My kids reap the benefit of all of this reading. Or, they would, if all of the experts (and opinion writers) gave the same advice and I followed it consistently. Instead, my kids probably experience a bit of mental whiplash from my inconsistencies.
I'll read an article that says we shouldn't make our kids apologize. I agree with the logic laid out in the article, so I resolve never to force my kids to say "sorry." But two weeks later, I'll read an article that argues the exact opposite and suddenly, my kids are being told to apologize left and right--and to apologize using a certain format. This goes well for a while, until I remind myself of the first article.
I'm so tired of trying to get it all right when it comes to parenting. Because I feel like I rarely get it right. So now, when I see articles with titles like, "5 Things to NEVER Say to Your Kids" or "What Every Organized Mom Does Everyday," I cringe and scroll on by. It's not that I think there's nothing I can learn from those articles--I'm just on parenting information overload and a bit weary of there always being a new measuring stick.
Some of the information we receive is crucial, life-saving information. Don't hear me say otherwise. And, on the other end of the spectrum, some of the advice we get is annoying and a bit crazy.
But it's the in between stuff that's kind of killing us. Not because some of it's not good. There's a lot out there that's really good. But it's killing us because we turn it into law. If we adopt it, we convince ourselves that everyone else should too, if they want to be good parents.
But as much as the articles might offer new ideas or insights that can help us grow, in the end we have to do what's best for our own families and our own kids.
Sometimes, I fear that we make choices simply because it's what we see everyone else doing, even when it's not a great fit for who our kids are. (My daughter's friends are taking ballet...I guess that means she should, too).
Or, worse, we make choices out of fear of judgment from other parents or bystanders. When my oldest was starting Kindergarten, a group of moms were visiting while we waited for our kids. One mom asked when kids are old enough to walk home from school on their own. Without missing a beat, another mom said, "As soon as someone else won't call the cops on you." We all sort of gave the knowing nod and eye roll. But is this what parenting has come to? Do we make decisions based on fear of getting in trouble from the state?
Why have we allowed the village it takes to raise a child become akin to big brother? They are not the same thing. And we need to stop confusing the two.
When it all comes down, we're in the trenches every day, trying to do the best we can for our kids. But most of us don't have it figured out because it's not an equation that needs figuring out. It's a journey and a dance and a party and an ultra-marathon all rolled into one.
So maybe, instead of insisting that our take on screen time or our method of dealing with tantrums is the one everyone else should be following, we should just spend some time enjoying our kids and enjoying our friends' kids.
Maybe instead of judging a mom whose kid runs off while she's got her hands full, we should offer to help. And then buy that mom a latte. She probably needs one.