Last week, I attended our preschool’s monthly “night class” for parents, or as I like to refer to it, the “why I’m a terrible parent” class. Every month I go in thinking “I got this” and I leave with my tail between my legs and the realization that as hard as I try, I’m doing more wrong than right when it comes to raising our little preschooler.
I really like the parents in our class; everyone is doing the best they can for their children and they are a well-intentioned and helpful group. But within minutes of arriving at class I’m struck by how much emphasis we – like parents everywhere — put on every decision related to our children.
The topic at this month’s class was “feeding our children.” We discussed the challenges we all have at mealtime: struggling with picky eaters, children that won’t sit at the table for more than one bite or how to manage two kids who eat on different schedules. This is one area where I was pretty much at ease. Alex is good eater and generally tries new things and, let’s face it, he’s a way, way better eater than anyone else in my house (including the labradoodle, who finishes her bowl of kibble 1 out of every 3 days).
As the conversation advances, however, I quickly realize that all this time we’ve been doing everything wrong…well maybe I already knew that. We’ve been known to bring food to Alex vs. at bring Alex to the table. We have (dare I even admit this?) actually let him use his iPad while eating (OH THE HORROR) and we’ve given him cookies at night, after dinner is over. But, in general, Alex enjoys eating, eats balanced meals and is able to sit for as long as we want him to both inside the house and at restaurants. When I was his age, rumor has it that our family was kicked out of a restaurant in New York City after one of my parents’ children who shall go nameless thought it would be fun to use a fork to launch a glass across the restaurant. I’m sure my parents were very proud of their young physicist. Anyway…I digress.
One of the topics our class discussed was whether to allow our kids to have a snack after dinner but before bed. There was pretty clear consensus that snacks after dinner are a no-no except maybe something very small and healthy because kids will take dinner less seriously if they know there will be more food later. I get that, but at the same time, after one parent clearly was now going to stop her after-dinner snack-giving, I regret not speaking up to at least say “do what you think is best for your kids, whether they have a snack or not will not have any bearing on their future.”
All of this got me thinking about whether we (Amy and me) “under-parent” our kids or others over-parent? Let me be clear that I think the worst thing parents can do is judge other parents. I try very hard not to judge unless your kid is truly an asshole. And everyone has to parent in a style that suits them; and as long as your child is a net-benefit to society and doesn’t hurt my child physically or emotionally, then have at it. I might not want to give omega 3 supplements to my three-year old, but I have no problem if you do, and honestly, you’re probably smarter than I am for doing so.
But selfishly I wonder in my own family whether we’re “under-parenting” and actually not doing all that we can for our children. Perhaps we should be more like the parents I met at the park recently who let their two-year old daughter watch Frozen only on the weekends on their iPad even though she begs all week to watch, while we allow Alex his iPad mostly whenever he wants within reason (Note: why do some parents assume a two-year old knows the difference between weekdays and weekends?)
My personal belief is that too many of us are parenting on the margins, focusing on all the small stuff while missing or not knowing how to help support a child on some of the bigger things like establishing self-confidence, decision-making, risk/reward/failure, fostering independence, and how to show love and compassion. I sure as hell don’t know how to do it, but I hope that the mere fact that I think about it all the time will at least give me a fighting chance.
Most times when I feel insecure about whether we’re doing the right thing, I look to my own childhood and how I was raised — or to be fair, the memory of how I think I was raised. I’d like to think my parents raised four pretty normal, well-adjusted kids (I was so tempted to say three of four kids right there just to drive my siblings crazy). So, in no particular order, here’s how I remember the lessons I learned, none of which are on the margin:
– Nothing is more important than an education. School always came first, including snow days when no else went to school, though it didn’t mean we had to be perfect students.
– Violence solves nothing. It takes more courage to walk away than to be in a fight, which is why I lost the only fight I was ever in.
– The worst words in the English language had to do with race or religion — they were way more upsetting to my parents than the run-of-the-mill curse words because of how hurtful they were.
– If you want something, you need to work for it.
– You can’t play outside on the Jewish holidays unless you are dressed up. To this day, I hate collared shirts because of that.
– Tell the truth.
– There’s nothing more important than family.
– Don’t drink and drive — you can’t un-ring that bell.
– Call home if you’re going to be late.
– Be yourself. It’s what’s on the inside that counts. I personally think my parents took this too far. I think in reality it does matter what’s on the outside too otherwise you may become scarred for life that your gym teacher in sixth grade always called you a girl because you had long hair and everyone laughed at you.
But in all seriousness, the most important lesson I learned — whether under-parenting or over-parenting — is to be present. Be truly present both physically and emotionally. Nothing is more important for a child to know that they’ll always have someone in their corner. When I call my parents at 2am because one of our kids is sick and I need someone to tell me it’s going to be ok, you can bet the phone is answered by the second ring with a claim of “no, no, don’t worry, I was awake anyway.” (or just today when I sliced my finger cutting an apple and was bleeding everywhere, my mom knew exactly how to stop the bleeding and both of my parents called within the hour to make sure I was ok and hadn’t bled out on my way to urgent care).
And about everything else — it’s called moderation. It’s probably the only thing one really needs to know.
There’s nothing wrong with a child using an iPad or having a snack after dinner.
As long as they share.