When my first son was born—i.e., when I was a highly inexperienced mom with laughably lofty parenting ideals—I was sure that I was going to have the most well-rounded, well-behaved child that ever toddled the earth. Why was I so sure? Well, because. I was going to closely monitor everything from his food intake (only healthy, organic, nutritious meals) to his television viewing habits (no more than one show per day—and only educational content, please). But there was one critical glitch in the plan, something I didn’t understand back then: the general noncompliance of kids.
The great delusion of novice parents is that their children are going to agreeably accept their 7:30 bedtimes and their broccoli spears. And for a while, they do, because babies don’t know any better. But then comes the toddler stage, when they start to develop a frustrating little habit called independence—wherein they learn the word “no” and use it freely and irrationally, just because they can. From there, it only gets worse as they start to gain a sense of personal preference and make friends with classmates (“But Jayden’s mom lets him play Grand Theft Auto!”). They don’t grasp the motives behind the smart choices you make on their behalf, and frankly, they don’t care.
After just over a decade of parenting, now that I’ve got four kids and considerably more practice, I’ve finally learned something valuable and it’s this: Pick your battles. Or lose your sanity. Trying to control everything will cause a state of constant discord, and everyone will be miserable and you will be exhausted and it will suck.
Some things aren’t up for debate. You don’t like your seatbelt, kid? Tough. And hell no, you’re not finishing this movie that’ll keep you up past 10 on a school night. But sometimes—a lot of times—there are gray areas, and I’m faced with a choice: Stick to my rules despite the inevitable protest and struggle, or bend them a little for the sake of peace. Does it really matter if my preteen wants to wear shorts when it’s 50 degrees? Sure, I think it’s too cold, but he’s probably not going to contract pneumonia, and feeling the chilly wind on his knobby little knees might actually teach him a lesson. Besides, I’d rather send him off to school without an argument (and with my blood pressure still at a manageable level).
There are certain things, at certain times, that just aren’t worth the effort involved in fighting them. Things like…
Would I rather my kids’ screen time be filled with documentaries and brain-enriching, educational stuff? Sure. And sometimes it is. But sometimes it’s SpongeBob or Adventure Time, and I don’t care.
The majority of the time I prepare a healthy(ish) dinner and present it with an unwavering “eat it or starve” philosophy. However, there are times when they beg for cereal or popcorn, and I don’t have to order them to eat or do much more than pour the milk. When I’m tired, that’s pretty awesome.
I like my son to wear the crisp button-up shirt with the pressed collar. I also like letting him wear his Minecraft T-shirt instead so I don’t have to hear over and over (and over) about how “scratchy and hot” the button-up is.
There are lots of learning games and apps that will teach your kid something. My kids have a ton of those. They also have a ton of mindless time-wasters that aren’t good for anything—except buying me a little silence—and I don’t have any issues with that.
Most mornings, I make a reasonable attempt to style my kids’ hair before school and try to ignore the predictable complaints I hear with every brushstroke. But there are times when one more whine is going to send me screaming for the horizon, in which case…bedhead it is.
Even though they all have their own beds, it seems like almost every night someone asks to sleep somewhere else—the couch, his brother’s bed, in a blanket fort on the floor. As long as they’re actually sleeping, who cares?
I have made it a point to fill my kids’ bookshelves with classics, both old and new. Sure, I’d rather my son read something by Roald Dahl or Mark Twain or Judy Blume, but if he prefers to delve into the latest copy of Game Informer magazine, who am I to argue? He’s reading. And reading is good.
In my head, I’ve got an idea of the perfect decor for my sons’ rooms (and Pinterest boards to back it up). So do they: Star Wars posters and Nerf basketball hoops and dirty socks. Mostly, I just let them be the masters of their own domains and pray that they develop a sense of style someday—or marry someone who has one.
I’m not letting my kids out the door sans coats in, say, 35-degree weather, but scarves or mittens or boots or hats or earmuffs? Those are negotiable, depending on how much of a struggle I think they’ll put up. Besides, they’ll probably just stuff them in their pockets as soon as they’re out of my sight anyway.
Kids (especially those with older siblings) learn early that certain bodily parts and functions are hilarious. The other day my toddler was playing a spelling game and cracked up because it asked him to spell “but.” If I were to chastise my kids every time they guffawed over somebody farting, that’s all I’d ever get done, so I just teach them that you can only laugh at that stuff at certain times and places, and call it good.
We all try our hardest to do a kick-ass job at parenting, and there are still rules we have to enforce, even despite the opposition—that’s what parenting is. But as much as we’d like our kids to always willingly follow our every request (we do know best, after all), we know that’s almost never the case. Choose to stand firm on the important things, but teach yourself how to let stuff slide. Because sometimes peace holds more value than power.
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