In the spirit of a new year, and inspired by this post for writers (which in turn was inspired by this post, and both posts are awesome, by the way), I have created a new list for you parents. It’s not a list of resolutions, of what you’d like to do this year, but rather a list of all the things you need to stop doing. Now.
Full disclosure: I often find myself doing some or all of these things. And none of them make me a better or happier parent. Perhaps you feel the same. If that’s true, join me in giving yourself total permission to stop messing with your own head this year.
Print it out and tape it to your mirror or car dashboard or inside the freezer next to the ice cream.
Say this list like a mantra; repeat it like the serenity prayer; lotus up and murmur it like om.
Say it often and say it loud!
1. Stop feeling guilty.
Over everything. Over how much time you don’t spend with your kids, and what you don’t do when you are with them. Over what you said or did or didn’t say or do. Over giving your kids Cheerios for dinner and letting them stay up to watch SpongeBob, over ignoring the mess, over not using an iron like your mom did, over not really liking to cook as much as you eat. Just stop. You’re not perfect. No one expects you to be. You’re doing the best you can, and parenting is hard. If sometimes dinner comes from a soup can or the kids skip their nightly bath, who the heck cares? Guilt is a useless emotion if harbored over time (although a little guilt is handy in immediate situations, like if you rob a bank and feel guilty and turn yourself into the police, or if you throw away your daughter’s favorite Barbie shoes that were wrapped in a used tissue). If you’ve erred and made restitution, be done with it. But the kind of guilt I’m talking about will do nothing but give you an ulcer. Let it go.
2. Stop copying other parents.
It’s hard sometimes not to look at other parents and feel like they’re doing everything better, with less stress, than you are. Remember, though, you’re often seeing their out-in-public personas. Mommy McPerfect may be the most whacked-out, disorganized mess in the privacy of her home office, no matter how deftly she negotiates schedules her family’s lives on her pink smart phone while in the midst of volunteering for every school event that her neatly-pressed children participate in. Everyone has a different parenting style. Embrace yours.
3. Stop multitasking.
This does not mean that you should not throw a load of laundry into the washing machine while you are making dinner. That is not really multitasking — that’s just getting stuff done. Multitasking is trying to write a blog post while also singing along with your kindergartener’s 95th chorus of “Pop Goes the Weasel”. Multitasking is catching up on twitter on the sidelines of your kid’s basketball practice and pretending you’re watching. Multitasking is an awful concept and should be forever stricken from our public consciousness. Why? Because if you are multitasking, in its truest form, you are not present in the moment. All the things you think you’re getting done are getting less attention than they deserve. If you’re at your daughter’s basketball practice, be there. Not on twitter. If you’re blogging, blog. If you’re singing, sing. Life speeds by. Do you really want to miss it?
4. Stop overscheduling.
Tired of hauling kids from one activity to the next all afternoon, only to come home to face dinner-making, homework-cajoling, and that towering pile of laundry? You only have yourself to blame. No one says you have to sign your kid up for everything he wants to do. We have a rule — one sport per season. It’s non-negotiable. One nonsport, low participation activity. Non-negotiable. The kids have to pick what they want most to do. It’s hard to say no — who wants to limit a child’s potential and experience? But there’s something to be said for free time, down time, and the creativity and other benefits that come with it. Kids need that today, perhaps more than ever. Their parents do, too.
5. Stop whining.
Yes, I said that out loud. An occasional phone call to a good friend/sister/your mom to complain about how tough everything is is A-OK. A periodic public post on something that just happened is fine. But if you find yourself endlessly tweeting or Facebooking about how crappy everything is, you might want to pause. Everyone needs to vent, but constantly? To what end? Eventually you need to step back, assess the situation, and see what you can fix — because most problems have solutions. While you figure them out, a little rant now and then is just fine. But if whining is all you do….well, how do you feel when that’s all your kids do? There you go.
6. Stop social media bragging.
On the flip side of whining: the nonstop exclamations about how awesome and talented and cute your kids are. If we are Facebook friends, I already know your kids are awesome and talented and cute. In fact, all of your Facebook friends do. We also know that you are smart and funny and have loads of interests outside of your kids. So while I appreciate the updates and the photos and the videos, if *all* you share are these things, you’re going to start irritating people. Every once in a while throw in a comment about politics, a movie you just saw, a book you just read, or a link to an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. For the love of Pete.
7. Stop obssessing over your mistakes.
Coulda, shoulda, woulda. Everyone screws up. I have in the past forgotten to pick up a child at a friend’s house when I was supposed to (and I was really late); made a negative flip remark to a parent about the way a sports organization was run, only to find out that parent was actually in charge of running the program; forgotten about something I was in charge of until 10 minutes before; was late to meet the kindergarten bus, so child rode it for 2 route laps until the distruntled driver returned to school, from whose office I received a terse “Please come get your child” phone call. Plus loads of other stuff too embarrassing to mention. Dwelling on them doesn’t change anything. No one was traumatized, no one was scarred for life. And I guarantee you this: everyone else has mostly forgotten about the screw-ups by now. Move on.
8. Stop trying to control things that are out of your control.
You learned this one early on — try as you might, you could never force your kids to eat, use the toilet, or fall asleep when you wanted them to. Apply this experience to just about everything else around you and you will be much happier. ‘Nuff said.
9. Stop putting yourself last.
This is one plagues parents the most, perhaps. I struggle with it all the timse. It started pretty much from day one. When Mitzi was born, Ray was working full-time and going to law school at night. Although I did return to teaching when she was a few months old, Cooper was born the next year, Ray was still in law school, and I was pretty busy, even when I had to give up the whole job thing. Fast-forward a couple of years, a couple more kids, and things just got crazier. So putting myself last became the norm, the way it was, and it’s been hard to change. But change is necessary. Happy parents make happy kids, and happy parents need to regularly do things just for themselves. Find the time. Make it happen.
10. Stop feeling like you ought to be doing more than you are.
It’s worth repeating — you are not perfect. No one expects you to be. Stop trying to be Superparent! It’s okay to have certain goals — I really need to spend more time reading out loud to my kids or I’d like to volunteer for more activities or I want to start training for the Boston Marathon. Awesome! Go for it! But if the fact that you’re not doing these things makes you feel like lesser of a parent, well, honestly, shame on you. Instead of moaning over what you think you should be doing, try thinking about all you are doing and know this — other people are looking at you and wondering how the heck you do it all so fabulously.
So, what do you think? What negative parenting behaviors should we all stop this year?