Secret of happier parenting 2: Let it go

photo-318If you spend much time on the internet, you’ll soon see that people feel very strongly about many aspects of parenting. Maybe it’s that using a microwave will damage your kids forever. Maybe it’s that school lunch is evil. Maybe it’s that using as little paid childcare as possible will win you a parent-of-the-year award (as opposed to just making you harried).

In any case, there’s a cacophony of voices claiming that there is some right way to parent, and that way is generally difficult, but by doing something difficult and unpleasant you are doing it better than people who take the easy way out.

To which I say… what’s wrong with the easy way?

As I studied the logs I collected for I Know How She Does It, I saw all sorts of choices that made life easier or made life harder. These choices have profound effects on our day-to-day lives. So the question is why people are making those choices. We have all sorts of narratives we repeat without thinking, but these are often not divinely decreed. My second secret of happier parenting, the theme of this week’s blog posts, is that unless the harder choice stems from a deeply held value, there’s nothing wrong with borrowing the theme song from Frozen. You can just let it go. Most of the time nobody cares, and there’s no long-term effect anyway.

I’m actually serious about the “divinely decreed” ideas in some narratives. I did an interview the other day in which the host mentioned that his wife often felt push-back from their faith community because she worked outside the home. I found this strange, as I have read much of the Bible, and I don’t recall any official positions on this. In any case, there are all sorts of narratives that insinuate themselves into our brains. A good mother picks her kids up at school each day. A good mother never misses a soccer game. A good home manager does the laundry daily. She also leaves no dishes in the sink or toys on the floor when she goes to bed.

But what of this is a deeply held value, and what is just noise? It’s quite possible to have a happy life and not bathe your small children nightly. They can eat fast food on occasion. If my 7-year-old turns his homework in late, this is a learning opportunity for him, not a reason to worry that everything is falling apart at home. My boys choose their own clothes in the morning, and there are some interesting pairings. My favorite is the bright orange Princeton shirt paired with camo pants. That ensemble makes a frequent appearance, which means that the kid who chooses it really likes it. So…let it go.

Likewise, if the house gets picked up, great. But I value my sleep and my leisure time more right now. So…let it go. The toys will just come out again the next morning but when the baby is up at 4 a.m., I’ll be glad I slept. I adore my kids’ preschool for many reasons, but a key selling point is that it is half a mile from our house. Perhaps there is a better school on the other side of town, but why would I add an hour of driving to our days? Last night I had some quiet moments while the kids had all gotten absorbed in an extra show. The baby was napping. I could have come in and insisted that screen time was over and we must do something meaningful or educational. Or I could have sat outside on the porch enjoying my solitude, the gorgeous pink puffs of plum trees, the lacy Bradford pears, and the sinking sun.

I chose the latter.

To be sure, I will sometimes take what is the harder way (for us). I have us sit down for meals as a family whenever we can, because I want us to spend the time together, and I want to encourage my kids to try new foods, which is why I make the space for it and deal with the complaining. No judgements on anyone who chooses differently; this is a value for me.

But there’s little with parenting that’s guaranteed. You can cook vegan meals from scratch nightly and have kids who rebel and eat nothing but fried chicken once they turn 18. You can limit your work hours in order to drive the kids to school daily and later learn they spent years furious because they wanted to ride the bus with their friends. If it’s a deeply held value, then you wouldn’t care about these discoveries, because you would do it regardless of the outcome. If you’re banking on the outcome — that’s a different can of worms.

When do you take the harder way? When do you take the easier way?

In other news: I’m working on a piece on setting calendar alerts/email alerts to help one live a better life. For instance, in October: time to plant the tulip bulbs! (You thank yourself in April). In February, a reminder to plan summer (so camps aren’t full). Maybe on Wednesday, a reminder to plan the weekend. What other ideas can you think of? Feel free to comment or email me: lvanderkam at yahoo dot com.

In other, other news: Postpartum weight loss update. I was at 130.5 lbs this morning, which means the pregnancy weight from this go-around is officially gone. However, I would like to get down to my wedding weight of 125 over the next few months.

Photo: Cloud of flowers out my bathroom window this morning.

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