Before we have children, we dream about what it will be like. Many of us are starry-eyed and, yes, a little naive, about what it means to be a great mom or dad. And we often invent a long list of “good parenting ideas” we think we must stick to.
Before the birth of our first child, we’ve already decided that our kids won’t watch TV, eat sugar or ever step foot in a McDonalds.
I remember declaring to friends and family that I would never let my kids play video games. (I bet you can guess how that turned out.)
And then we discover that the reality of parenting doesn’t match the dream.
Let me just say that most of the ideas on your list are genuinely good ones. And if you’re willing to be flexible you can find ways to incorporate them into everyday life. For example, you’ll find it easier to keep your child’s eating habits free of excess sugar as opposed to being completely sugar-free.
But be careful of trying to stick to ideas which don’t work and cause more harm than good.
I got a letter the other day that really showed me how often we hang on to a good parenting idea even when it hurts our family.
This mother started her letter by telling me she was against any sort of cry-it-out method for sleep training. She had decided it was wrong. And she thought it created unnecessary suffering for her child.
But she went on to write three desperate paragraphs about how her two-year-old daughter would not go to sleep at bedtime and woke up about five times a night, needing to be rocked back to sleep.
She described being so tired and frustrated that she was living each day, angry and impatient, snapping at everyone around her, even her daughter.
She admitted to yelling and swearing, and on one occasion, felt herself getting a bit rough with her child. She hadn’t slept in her own bed for twenty-two months, and (no surprise) her marriage was suffering.
My heart broke for this woman. Not because I felt sorry for her, but because she was so committed to this notion that her child “crying it out” was a bad idea. Even though that was the only way to fix the situation.
By hanging on so tightly to this idea she had about what a good parent should do, she was actually hurting herself and her family.
And she couldn’t see that by refusing to engage in sleep training for her child, her exhaustion and frustration were hurting the people she loved the most. All she could see was that she wasn’t parenting “the correct way”.
Sometimes, being a parent means doing the hard thing. It means doing something that upsets you because you think it will distress your child.
But let’s look at it differently.
Would you let your child eat only potato chips and jelly beans because she gets upset when you ask her to eat vegetables? Would you let her run out into traffic because you don’t want to limit her freedom? Of course not.
Your job is to teach her to eat a balanced diet, avoid oncoming cars, and to get a good night’s sleep.
I urge you to rethink your mental list of “good parenting ideas”. Think about creative ways you can incorporate them into your family’s daily routine so that they actually work with your life, not against it. And allow yourself to acknowledge and delete those ideas which do more harm than good.
Parenting is so much harder than any of us imagined. Let’s give ourselves permission to ditch the good ideas that turn into rigid standards we set for ourselves and our children, and stick with the ones that genuinely add to the overall health and well-being of our families.