Whether your child is two weeks old or two decades, by now you’ve probably realized something: you’re not perfect. No parent is. I know it may seem like some are. But remember this: that house you’re visiting — you know, the one that’s immaculate and without a single toy or loose item strewn about — there’s a 98% chance they have a closet on the first floor that was frantically stuffed with crap just before you walked in. And the other two percent is to cover for the slight chance that everything didn’t fit in that closet and they had to use a spare bedroom instead.
The point is, you’re not perfect, I’m not perfect, and even the Pinterest professionals have flaws. But just in case you’re feeling down about your imperfections, I have ten reminders to help you realize that in the same way things are never as good as they appear, they are also never as bad as they seem. Enjoy!
1. This is all temporary.
Any given stage of parenting (of life, really) is typically only temporary. It may last a few months or a few years, but it’s going to pass. Of course, a new stage will likely follow closely on its heels, but the diapers end. The teething ends. The back-talk…well, there’s an exception to every rule, right?
The good news: The good news here is that whatever has you down is going to stop sooner or later. This general sense of overwhelm will pass. Granted, it will turn from overwhelm into constant panic as your teenager takes the wheel, but eventually that too, will pass.
The bad news: The bad news is these stages are all going to pass. And quickly. Don’t believe me? How many times a week to you see your Facebook memories bring up an old video and feel that twinge of sadness as you listen to your then-toddler mispronounce a word they’ve long since figured out how to say? Don’t wish it away, as bad as it may be right now. This moment will be gone before we know it.
2. You are not alone.
While it may seem like you’re isolated in your own bubble of misery, you’re not. I’ve begun to realize very few things that happen to any parent don’t happen to most parents. We’ve all had puke (that wasn’t ours) in our mouths. We’ve all been so tired we’ve mixed up the toothpaste and rash ointment tubes. When you’re a parent, these things happen. And they happen to most of us.
The good news: There are others to commiserate with. Because others are going through the same exact things you’re going through, there are lots of people who understand. And usually they’re more than happy to help. It could be a formal support group, a weekly chat with your best friend, or a simple knowing glance with another imperfect mom or dad at the grocery store, there are others out there and they have your back.
The bad news: You’re not alone…in the bathroom, in the bedroom, while eating a half gallon of ice-cream in your car…you’re never, ever alone. Ever.
3. Parenting is hard work.
There is no glamor in this game. Well, that’s not entirely true. Every so often my daughter convinces me to let her paint my nails, but other than that, this is a job with no fancy frills. When you strip away the occasional toddler applied manicure, what’s left? Hard work. All day, every day. It’s a lot of hard work.
The good news: Whenever I have done hard, physical work, I tend to feel really good….after it’s over. That’s kind of how parenting is too. It’s challenging. Some of it sucks while you’re doing it. But once that part is over you can look back and be proud of a job well done.
The bad news: I’ve yet to receive a paycheck from this job. I don’t even know who to complain to. I was going to bring it to HR, but after a while it dawned on me: human resources in our family is…us. Whoever negotiated this deal didn’t put much thought into it. It might be time to start thinking about unionizing.
4. Parenting is an investment.
If you have a 401(k) you can appreciate this analogy. Every paycheck, some of your money is gone, invested in this account that you can watch get bigger (or smaller, ugh), but you can’t reap the rewards from until years later. That’s what it’s like raising kids. You say the same thing over and over, week after week, and sometimes they regress, but gradually, over time the net gain is positive. Hopefully.
The good news: The good news is smart investments pay off over time. So eventually, your blood, sweat, and tears will amount to a decent human being contributing to the betterment of society.
The bad news: The bad news is with most investments, 10% gains are considered very good. No matter how magical compound interest is, the thought of only 10% improvement after a year of working on our kids is enough to make us want to invest in wine, instead. And with good reason.
5. There is no right (or wrong) way to do things.
There’s a reason why parenting should be a judgement-free zone. There really is no right or wrong way to do it. Sure, there’s this pesky little thing called common sense that tends to influence our decisions, but when all is said and done, your way isn’t any better or worse than my way. Just different. The best way to parent that I’ve learned is to do what works for you and then spend the rest of your time praying that you didn’t completely screw up.
The good news: Your parenting philosophy can be malleable. Think of yourself like a scientist with very little factual information available to you. Then, take everything you’re doing and test the crap out of it. There’s not much in this world as thrilling as experimental parenting (I’m not only saying this because I’m a boring, sad man who is half of my former self…seriously), so do it your way, then take what you learn and get better.
The bad news: There is no manual. Sometimes it would be nice to just sit in your recliner, and when an issue arises, thumb through the index of The Parenting Manual, find the answer to your problem, bark a few orders and go from there. Nope. It’s not that simple. I bought a water-bottle the other day that came with a 12-page instruction booklet, but the hospital sends you home with a newborn and won’t even show you how to strap them into the car seat. Write your politicians about that.
6. They need you.
No matter how independent your child may be, one thing is for sure: they need you. To varying degrees, they won’t ever not need you. Take that however you want, it’s just one of those truths of parenting. They may deny it at times, and you may be unavailable at others, but no child ever outgrows the reliance on their parents in at least some capacity.
The good news: We get the opportunity to teach, guide, and inspire them forever. Sure, that means we will continue to get the complaints, the cries, and the dilemmas, but we’ll also get to share the joys of their success. Not a bad deal if you ask me.
The bad news: It’s one thing to know that they’re always going to need us. But all the time? If it seems like they are always at your feet needing something, that’s because they probably are always at your feet needing something.
7. They learn by your example.
As it turns out, teaching children to do the right thing isn’t all that hard. All you need to do is do the right thing yourself. Our kids pick up on everything, so by just setting a good example we accomplish half the battle (if not more). In fact, words mean very little if they are backed up with contradicting action. Are you going to listen to an obese dietician? I rest my case…
The good news: We have the opportunity to become highly influential role models. We can impact the lives of impressionable minds just by being good people in our own lives. That’s a pretty awesome responsibility. And one I don’t recommend taking lightly.
The bad news: Does this mean we have to give up swearing? No, not exactly. But we do have to be very careful what they see from us. Our actions speak much more loudly than our words. We can undo years of guidance with just a few instances of our own bad behavior. One of the most overlooked pieces of being a parent, I think, is the need to correct our own behaviors first, before we can get our kids to take us seriously. And yes, unfortunately, that includes snacking before dinner.
8. You will learn as much from them as you teach them (if not more).
I have been nothing short of amazed at how much I’ve learned from being a dad. We tend to think of parenting as this top-down system where they know nothing and we have to bring them up to speed on the ways of the world. But in a way, I think they could do without a large portion of the ways of the world. They seem to understand far better than us the truths on innocence and magic and imagination. They have a much clearer understanding of possibility and hope. It’s often us who teach them judgement and oppression. So who really should be the teacher?
The good news: We have them around us every day, and if we are open-minded enough, they are natural examples of the good in human beings. Spend some time just observing them and you’ll see what I mean. Listen when they speak to you. You’ll realize you’ve got a mini Socrates living with you, I guarantee it.
The bad news: In case you ever wanted to learn how to shamelessly take your pants off in Target, you know who to ask.
9. The world is counting on you
No pressure. But we are. Seriously. Your success (or lack of) as a parent will directly impact the world. Your kid could grow up to be a hate-spewing drain on society or the future leader of a global humanitarian organization. More likely, they’ll fall somewhere in the middle of that wide spectrum. But at which end? If it seems like a lot of pressure, good. It should. Because this is serious. We’re raising the next generations of human civilization and it’s not something we can afford to screw up.
The good news: You have just realized you have global reach. We all do. That role is not limited to the executives of a corporate conglomerate. That level of influence has always been available to parents, but I don’t know how many have ever thought about it that way. Now you will. You are playing a huge role in the future of the human race. I know it sounds dramatic, but think about it. How you raise your children affects how they’ll raise theirs and how they’ll raise theirs and on and on it goes. Family values tend to be hereditary. And they matter. So make them count.
The bad news: Oh my God. I really do need to take this seriously. Yeah. It may seem ridiculous when you’re fighting with them over bedtime or who put the Sharpie on the walls, but this is a pretty big deal. And we can’t afford to screw it up.
10. It really is fun
So, now that I’ve scared the crap out of you, here’s something happy: being a parent is fun. You know it. You’ve had plenty of moments, I’m sure, between all the crying and fighting and sleepless nights, where you look at them in pure amazement at what you created. There is just enough “feel good” to make it all worth it.
The good news: The good news is, if you bring your patience and your sense of humor, raising kids is a complete blast. You need to be in a state of mind where you are viewing life through the proper lens, but when you do you you begin to understand why we took this job.
The bad news: The bad news is, no different than after having a couple beers, this amount of “feel good” has the disastrous potential of convincing you that it’s a good idea to have another (or two)…