I really tried kids. I really, really did. I tried my hardest to be the perfect parent. One that feeds you only organic, homemade meals. One that never exposes you to TV or gives you sugar in any form. One that would always be fun, fair and firm. One who was consistent in discipline and rules balanced with love and encouragement – never giving into stressful situations or moments of frustrations.
This was my grand plan. Sounds good, right? No, it sounds ignorant. If anything, it resembles a bad instruction manual from someone who has never parented a day in their life. The rules of perfect parenting remind me of those annoying instances when your boss tells you how to do a job they’ve never done them self.
In my early days of being a parent, I was too naïve to know any better. I strictly adhered to all the guidelines with a borderline-obsession to ensure we were raising our children “the right way”. Are they watching too much TV? Are they eating healthy enough? Are they hitting their age-appropriate milestones? Are they getting enough socialization? Are they learning the basic principles of being a good person so they don’t turn out to be assholes?
I was the definition of mom who was ‘parenting too hard’ – consumed with trying to fit our family into this perfect mold.
Why was I allowing these unrelenting pressures and stressors get in the way of being the parent I wanted to be? Instead, I’m spending way too much energy attempting to be this ridiculous, unattainable notion of what a perfect parent is – more time filled with instructing, disciplining, and implementing rules than actually enjoying time with my kids.
In an attempt to be this perfect parent and follow this never-ending list of rules dictating what you should and shouldn’t feed your child, how much screen time they should or shouldn’t be exposed to and teaching the importance of life lessons (sharing, turn-taking), I realized I’m missing out. I’m missing out on the beautiful, spontaneous moments that happen when you learn to let go and embrace the chaos.
As a mom of three children under the age of four, I’m completely familiar with a life of chaos and unpredictability. Throughout the craziness, I’ve learned the importance of flexibility, compromise and moderation. If life isn’t black and white – especially with three little ones – why should we parent as if it is?
Some days we will have more TV exposure than what the latest and greatest recommendation dictates, especially when a much-needed distraction is required. When time is in short-supply or I’m just too exhausted and depleted of energy, we will have a hot dog for breakfast and more dinners comprised of dinosaur chicken nuggets and French fries than I’d like to admit. In those moments, I’ll just be happy my boys made a choice of what they want to eat and are consuming something other than crackers.
I pick my battles when necessary while understanding my children’s limitations, character and temperaments. When my children are tired, cranky and overdue for a nap, I’m not pressing their need to pick up their toys. If I’m in dire need of my children to get through some experience or adventure that’s excruciating for a toddler – AKA grocery shopping – I may call upon a sugary bribe. On a night where they aren’t in desperate need of a bath, it might not be worth the battle and fight to get them in the tub. If allowing them to bring their favorite toys with them gets us out the door when we are in a rush, then I guess the whole chest of dinosaurs are coming along for the ride. When they wander into our room at night asking to sleep with us, I might agree even if we usually say no – we all may be in desperate need of an extra hour or two of sleep.
In order to be this idea of a perfect parent, you’d have to be a robot with no human emotion with insurmountable patience and resources – no consideration for the unexpected nature of children and life itself with its constant, intense demands and struggles. This just doesn’t exist, yet many of us parents are guilty of feeling this unbelievable amount of pressure to fulfill this unattainable idea. You’d have to have a perfect life with perfect kids – neither of which exists.
Every child is different with individual personalities just as each parent is. You take the approach that best aligns with your morals, values and attitudes and adapt it to best coincide with your child’s unique personality and disposition. My approach isn’t the same as another parent’s, but neither is wrong. We are all in this together trying to raise our children the best to our abilities.
Living in the realistic world of understanding and compromise, I’m content being the world’s ‘okay-est’ mom. In addition to keeping my sanity, I’ll have the relief in knowing I’ll be able to look back on this time remembering moments filled with laughs and smiles, not thinking about their how well-balanced their diet were or how great they cleaned up their toys.
Even with my best effort, I still am guilty of sometimes feeling this need to be a perfect mom from time to time, but quickly snap out of it when I see how much fun my children are having when we don’t follow the rules.
©2017 Ashleigh Wilkening, as originally published on Motherly