Let me make this clear at the outset: As a parent, I absolutely, positively give a f*ck.
I give many f*cks, actually.
I give a f*ck about what my kids eat. About how much they sleep. About whether or not their clothes match (an unfortunate fixation I can trace back to my days at a fashion-conscious summer camp) and whether or not they are saying their pleases and thank-yous and whether or not they are being respectful.
I give a particularly large f*ck about my kids’ routines. After all, I’m a cognitive-behavioral psychologist. I often talk to patients about the importance of schedules and routines for alleviating anxiety and managing mood. Like most CBT therapists, I practice what I preach.
Recently, I, a mom who gives many f*cks, was contemplating my nephew’s upcoming bar mitzvah. The day would entail a long service in the morning followed by a reception on a party boat. Awesome, right?
At first, it did not seem awesome. It would be a super-long day for my boys. There would be no opportunity for my little guy to nap, but plenty of opportunity for him to have an accident, as he had just potty trained the week before. In my mind’s eye, I saw any number of potential disasters, like my younger son peeing on the floor in the middle of the hora or my older son and his cousin devouring sugary treats and falling overboard.
As I was considering potential disasters, it suddenly occurred to me: I could decide to not give a f*ck that day.
When I say “not give a f*ck,” I don’t mean that I would cease to care about the boys’ safety and well-being. I mean that I would cease to care about their routines, their diet, and their manners. I would choose to ignore all of the playful/borderline-violent shenanigans that would take place between them and their cousins, and I would not follow them around all afternoon to make sure that they weren’t destroying any property.
My boys woke up at 5:30 a.m. the morning of the bar mitzvah, a clear indicator that they would not be their best selves that day. So I strengthened my resolve to not give a f*ck, got the boys in their suit jackets, and got to the synagogue.
And I did it. I didn’t give a f*ck that whole day. I didn’t care that my kids ate nothing but grape juice and cookies. I watched my older son and my nephew chase each other around the dance floor and didn’t try to stop them or apologize to the guests they left in their wake. I let my younger son spend an hour playing with a long, rusty chain hanging precariously from a staircase, which he found infinitely more entertaining than the DJ. (Lest you think I was totally irresponsible, my husband and I took turns supervising this activity.)
I had a great time that day. I didn’t follow my boys around everywhere they went. I had time to catch up with relatives who I rarely see and have adult conversations and pay attention to the bar mitzvah boy. Relaxing my standards meant that I could relax — and I did, almost the point where I felt carefree (or at least as carefree as you can possibly feel when you have two small children in your charge).
My kids had a great time that day too. Somehow, my little guy didn’t have an accident, and none of the kids fell overboard. They were oversugared and overtired, sure, but they were also super-happy to be celebrating such a fun occasion with their family.
My experience at the bar mitzvah taught me that you can be a parent who gives a f*ck but not always give a f*ck all the time. You can take breaks from giving a f*ck. And in fact, you should, because there are instances in which you have no control, and trying to give a f*ck in those instances will just leave you frustrated and angry.
Such instances include — but are not limited to — trips to Target, vacations, crowded holiday celebrations, and any event involving a bounce house. I’m already eagerly anticipating not giving a f*ck during the two beach trips we are taking with our extended families this summer.
Moms, as you’re navigating your own parenting journey, you might find yourself on a party boat with a recently potty-trained 3-year-old and a 6-year-old hopped up on sugar. Or in any number of other situations in which total control is impossible. And if you do, make the decision to not give a f*ck. It’s the only way you’ll be able to stay afloat.