Sons, I had a “moment” this week after reading so much information online about parenting the “right” way according to “experts.” I realized that I’m tired of trying to keep up with all the new research and decided I just want to follow my instincts and keep on loving you and believing in you and God’s work in your lives. In other words, I’ve chosen faith over fear. Anyway, this is what I wrote:
Picture it: 1994. Jennifer, a stay-at-home mom, wakes up, makes a cup of coffee and attends to her children. If the phone rings, she either picks it up or lets the answering machine get it. If the message sounds urgent, she picks up, but otherwise, she just focuses on her kids and feeds them what is reasonable – plain ole’ wheat toast, regular ole’ eggs, Kellogg’s cereal, regular ole’ 2% milk – pretty much whatever the kids ask for (within reason). After breakfast, she breaks up fights if needed and gets the kids off to school. She drives home with a to do list that includes laundry, a nail appointment, and a leisurely jog to get those endorphins going, and she might even make time to find out if Eden and Cruz will get back together on her soap opera before making dinner.
Later, the kids come home from school, and she gives them grapes and graham crackers and lets them play outside for a bit before having them work on homework (or they watch tv for a bit if the weather is bad), because she knows that childhood is a time for play, relaxation, and exploration. No guilt. She’s just following what feels right to her. Later, if the kids have a homework question, she helps them and then encourages them to keep doing their best. Those kids are in their 20’s now and doing just fine overall. Some are rocket scientists, attorneys, and doctors, while others are managers at McDonald’s, mechanics, and jobless residents in their parents’ basements. All of them are, in one way or another, trying to find their way like the rest of us did in our 20’s.
Now, picture it (and it shouldn’t be too hard): 2014 (the Internet age). Meet stay-at-home mom Monica. She wakes up, checks Facebook and reads two blog posts from her Facebook news feed – one about rear-facing car seats (She thinks, “Oh, crap! I moved my tall kid around when he turned 18 months old!”), and the other post about why Montessori education is the only way to raise self-sufficient and confident human beings (She thinks, “Oh, crap! I have always felt strongly about traditional preschool and went that route. Have I been wrong? Are they going to fail at life?!”). The kids come in and say they’re hungry, so she goes into the kitchen and strictly offers only food that is organic, paleo, super, sugarless, saltless, and packed with protein and probiotics – all of which she has heard about from numerous blog posts sent, again, through social media. The kids cry for a bowl of rice crispies, but Monica sticks to her plan out of fear of destroying her children’s bodies. After swallowing their bland breakfast, the kids begin fighting, and she remembers the article she read yesterday about why it’s best to teach kids to work these issues out on their own and the other one she read a few days ago about why one shouldn’t teach her kids to share since it will spread the message that whenever a kid wants something, he or she should expect to get it rather than teaching them to wait their turn.
Somehow, Monica gets the children out the door and to school. She drives home feeling guilty that she forgot to move the car seat back to the backwards-facing position before leaving for school and that she might have been a little too stern about breakfast and a little too laid back about the fighting since little Suzie got the short end of the stick in the fight, as usual.
She arrives home and attaches her Fitbit and makes sure to train for her triathlon coming up and then stops to buy kale at the store for a snack later. The kids come home from school, and she has a plate of homemade kale chips on the table ready for them to devour. While they eat, she checks her Facebook app and reads about the harmful effects of a parent checking her phone and shuts it off with feelings of guilt for checking it right then, and she wonders if she’s ruined her relationships with her kids for all the other times she has checked her phone in front of them.
She then loads the kids into the car (and moves that car seat around) for their respective and super important extra-curricular activities, and while she waits for them, she reads another article that popped up on her news feed about a mom who says “no” to screen time for her kids because she wants to see their eyes light up at every possible chance. Monica sighs and wonders if that mom ever cooks or takes care of any household chores. Later, she stays up with the kids until midnight helping them with their homework since Suzie’s friend’s mom posted a photo on Facebook of the beautiful project “they” had finished “together”. Monica then feels afraid of Suzie going to school with something a child would actually make and “helps” her make something that could be a display item in a craft store. She then falls asleep clutching her book she heard about from a Facebook friend about how to get your child into an Ivy League school, because she feels that the next 10 years before they apply to college are going to make or break the path to a successful life for them.
It is an over-achieving, information-overload fest out there in cyber space these days, and it is hard to picture what sort of effect today’s Internet will have on the kids when they are grown in about 20 years, but one thing is certain. The effect on us parents is going to be pretty hellacious if we keep falling into the trap that is the illusion of human perfection. I imagine that if I’m feeling exhausted with all of the information out there crowding up my brain, it is going to have a negative effect on my children.
After today, I’m finished clicking those posts that somehow draw me in because I either want to be validated in that I’m doing a decent job as a parent, or I’m hoping to receive some advice to make this job easier and better for my kids. More often than not, my reading the posts do neither. When I might have felt like I’m doing a decent job as a mom before I read the post, I finish reading and question it all since the author’s point of view is different from mine, and she must have perfect kids since she’s writing about why her way is the best way, right? Well, wrong. The author is a completely different person with different children and a completely different set of experiences in life, and chances are pretty high that her kids are willful and difficult, too, because well, they are human beings (who, by the way, by nature, are imperfect).
Now, I know there is indeed a bright side to social media. I do greatly appreciate informative and helpful “tips” to make my life easier, and I’m all about life hacks and inspiration, and I admit that I have received valuable advice by way of social media. In fact, those things and my connections are why I still use Facebook. But I’m finding that in this day and age when it seems like everyone is trying to over-achieve in every area of life, including parenthood, social media can be less than helpful. In fact, it can drive us all bonkers. I’m only four years into this parenting gig, and I’m ready for a month-long soma holiday from all the pressure.
I can’t help wondering lately who it is we are trying to impress. Our parents? The Jones’s? Ourselves? Each other? Why the competition? And why the obsession with perfection? What happened to the obsession with raising good and decent people who love life and live it with grace and a sense of humor? Why can’t we compete in those areas?
So, yeah. I’m finished with the rat race before my kids are old enough to feel like they have to join in. Instead, I’m going to focus on following my reliable instincts (rather than my fears) and living out the most valuable aspect of parenting: loving on, believing in, and enjoying my kids.
And to my sons who will read this in 2030, I pray that you are proud of and grateful for my approach of going by my own set of standards. Heck, maybe by my letting go of the perfection illusion and believing in you, you have become healthy, happy, and confident (Dare I say almost perfect?).