I was chatting with a co-worker. He was a couple years younger than me, in his early 30s, and a new father. He and his wife had a little girl about 6 months earlier, and he was worried about her pacifier addiction.
“She won’t sleep without one, and I’m afraid to buy too many because I heard it can make it harder to break the habit.”
We were in his office. He sat behind his desk, in an office that fit him like a suit coat that was too tight. He’s a big dude, from LA, who used to play Division 1 football. He’s not the kind of guy to look scared. He’s more the kind of guy that a man like me who stands about 5’ 7” should be intimidated by.
And yet there he was, afraid that his daughter was going to grow up and become a binky addict for life, as if that were a real thing outside of the rave scene.
I put up my hands and said, “Don’t worry about any of that shit.”
He furrowed his brow and cocked his head back as if I was telling him not to parent at all.
The look he gave me was every new parent. It was every parent who spent hours dog-earing a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It was the look of every parent reading over nutritional labels in the store, hoping to find the healthiest option for their child’s development, all the while, their child is in the cart, flipping their shit because they want fruit snacks. And any experienced parent is watching from the sidelines knowing that their kid is going to reject that super grain casserole and insist on mac and cheese.
Ultimately, though, that’s the real key to parenting. It’s not that you need to give up altogether. You don’t have to take your hand completely off the wheel. But you don’t have to be quite so worried about stupid ass shit, like binkies and mac and cheese and making sure every meal is targeted toward your child developing a healthy future doctor brain.
If you live your life like that, you are going to lose your shit. You will never sleep, and you will never relax because you will be worried about making sure everything is just so. Kids don’t work like that. They do their thing. They run their own ship. Your job is to try to guide that ship in the right direction.
“Listen, dude,” I said. “I’m a father of three. I’ve been a father for 10 years, and wife and I, we used to worry about all that stuff too. All our kids have been binky addicts. And you know what happened?”
“What?” he asked.
“Nothing. They grew out of it. But until they are ready, it’s just going to be a battle and a lot of anxiety. And for what? A piece of plastic? A comfort toy? Don’t worry about it. In fact, buy more of them. Load up. It will make your life easier.”
“In fact, you want to know the secret to parenting?” I said, “Are you sitting down? Mac and cheese. Don’t fight it. Just buy the hell out of that shit. It will be fine. The same can be said about a lot of stuff that doesn’t matter all that much, like binkies.”
He wasn’t thrilled with my answer.
And to be honest, I wouldn’t have been either.
When my wife and I first had kids, we often got all worked up about the little things. But eventually, we started to realize that there are situations that just aren’t worth stressing over. For example: My toddler is going to take her shoes off on the way to the store. I can get pissed about it, tape her shoes to her feet, but she’s still going to find a way to take them off. Keeping shoes on her feet is like yelling at the moon for shining. So I just put her in the cart with no shoes. It’s all good.
I suppose what I’m trying to say here is this: So much of parenting is about picking your battles, but what does that look like? Well, it looks like buying a bunch of binkies. It looks like taking the kid to the store without shoes. It looks like sending your little boy to school with their hair mashed on one side because they refuse to comb it.
It’s cool. It will all work out.
If you are a new parent reading this, please realize that not everything should be a cause of stress. If I’ve learned anything over my years as a father, it’s this: What really matters is time. Spend time with your kids. Watch movies with them. Lie down on the floor and let them crawl on you. When you get home from work, drop your bag and snuggle for a bit. That’s what really matters.
My co-worker didn’t say anything for a bit. Suddenly, the conversation got really serious. But you know what? I get it. Parenting is serious, and there are few things more serious than a new parent worrying about every little thing.
“I’m serious,” I said. “Just give the kid binkies. Buy the hell out of them. Make sure there is one in every room. Don’t fight it. And once she’s content sucking on a binky, and has one in each hand, snuggle with her. That’s what really matters. It’ll be fine. Once she’s ready to give them up, you will know, and in a few days, she will be over it and on to the next irritating thing. That’s parenting. In the mean time, enjoy those snuggles. It’ll all work out.”