Parenting is like ice cream.
Not in the sense that you gradually melt in the heat of your kid’s constant needs and demands for food, a story, a Pillow Pet, or the SmartLab Human Body model with real surgery tools, look Mommy!–although unfortunately, you kind of do. By the time she’s 18 I’ll be a sticky mess on the floor.
But more than that. Like ice cream, parenting is a guilty pleasure. Pleasure, because of their sweet hand-squeezes in the parking lot and watching them pick daisies in the outfield during their first (and last) baseball season and reading them Love You Forever while you both cry.
And guilty because, like ice cream, pizza, chocolate, and all other things that you enjoy but that are
bad good bad for you, being a parent is all bound up with guilt.
First, there’s the guilt we heap on our kids to make them mind (“every time you yell at Mommy or whine about bedtime or refuse to put your toys away, a happy rainbow fairy dies!”) or eat their greens (“think of the poor, sad kids who have nothing to eat, and you won’t even take one bite of that delicious kale–and no, we can’t ship it to them because it will get moldy and and rotten and that will make them even sadder).
But worse, there’s the guilt we heap on ourselves. It starts in early pregnancy, when we bury our noses in What to Expect When You’re Expecting and follow every relative and friend and random person on the internet’s contradicting advice in order to absolutely make sure that our unborn baby–and then infant, then toddler, preschooler, school-age kid– is healthy and grows up to be a world-renowned brain surgeon who specializes in particle physics and earns the Nobel Peace Prize and takes care of his mom and dad when they’re old.
These momentous decisions are bad enough and guilt-inducing enough. Fortunately, they occur a little less frequently. But there are additional layers of guilt that plague us each day, through each tiny decision. We’re conditioned to believe that raising the perfect kid is completely dependent on making perfect parenting decisions every minute of the day. We continuously agonize over each step, each choice, terrified that we’ll make one misstep and our kid will end up in juvenile court by age nine.
Today we made the mistake of taking the Maiden into Barnes and Noble. Not that bookstores are bad, and not that the Maiden is bad. But put them together with weak-willed parents, and you have the recipe for disaster–especially if an educational item is on the line.
The item in question: the SmartLab Human Body model with real surgery tools, look Mommy! She needed it Right. Now. As in, buy it and she was going to perform kidney and heart and large intestine transplants in the back seat on the way home. It was a question of the end of the world. If she didn’t get it, there’s no question that many, many rainbow fairies would die.
But there was a catch. She’s got a birthday coming up in two months, and the kit was also $10 cheaper on Amazon.com. Also, we didn’t want to
continue start the My Parents are Suckers at Bookstores thing.
So we told her to put it on her (sob, sob) birthday list, but we were plagued with doubt. What if by then she’s no longer interested in growing up to be a surgeon or pathologist? What if, by delaying this purchase, we change the course of her future for the worse? What if now was the crucial moment, the turning point between the heart surgeon and a life of crime? Would we someday regret our penchant for not giving in to our daughter and saving $10?
We can provide a good environment for our kids, one in which they’re encouraged to learn, explore, treat people with respect, make good choices about what to do and say. But while it’s true that our general practices of childrearing will, in the long term, have some effect on our children, not every minute decision needs to be put under the microscope.
They say we need to let kids be kids. Maybe we also need to let parents be parents. Instead of worrying about the future, let’s appreciate the moment. Let’s enjoy raising our kids instead of wasting the entire time obsessing that we’re doing it wrong.
After all, taking the time to enjoy our kids might be the one thing that really does make a difference in helping them “grow up right.”