I’ve been at this parenting thing for over a decade now and I’ve had a realization: my standards are slipping.
At a Superbowl party last weekend, I watched my kids chug Sprite and eat jelly beans by the handful and never batted an eye. About eight years ago, I can remember calling my daughter’s daycare to complain, with the righteous indication of the first-time parent, that they had dared to serve her a sugar cookie during snack time. How dare they?!
Also, we bought valentines for the first time this year. It wasn’t that we boycotted the holiday in years past. Oh, no. For ten heroic years, we made our valentines. With one child, it was easy. I lovingly cut shapes out of her adorable scribbles or spent hours melting old crayons into new crayons – now shaped like hearts! More kids required more effort, but it had become a mark of pride. We were Homemade Valentine People in this house. So I mixed vats of slime and lassoed plastic animals to cards that read “wild about you” and spent a small fortune on sparkly stickers and glitter glue.
And then, all of a sudden, I let it go. My elder daughter asked if she could buy valentines this year and instead of feeling guilty, I felt free. I only spend every other weekend with my kiddos and it turned out that none of us really wanted to commit a day to making upwards of 60 personalized holiday greetings. So we headed to Walmart and returned with Star Wars cards (complete with matching pencils), scratch-off rainbow unicorns, and candy heart-themed cards. Done and done.
We actually still made quite a lot of art that weekend – including painted glitter pinecones, rainbow painted canvases, and perler bead turtles – but they were projects born of spontaneous creativity rather than unenthusiastic obligation.
In retrospect, I realize that I applied Marie Kondo to our valentine experience. If it doesn’t spark joy, don’t do it! It turns out that you don’t actually have to measure your parenting abilities by the amount of effort that you put into your child’s classroom holiday celebrations. Go figure.
So back to the jelly beans. The older I get, the more I realize that I was pretty hard on myself as a new parent. Many of my parenting choices were rooted in joy – like my collection of truly adorable cloth diapers – but there was also a lot of fear and guilt and a desperate desire not to screw up and accidentally ruin my children’s…everything. Their health, their creativity, their minds, their self-image. It all felt so vulnerable. It was all riding on me to provide the perfect balance of organic food and engaging screen-free stimulation. Or else.
I’m more kind to myself now, but it isn’t always easy. Screens still freak me out. I have an aversion to video games and cannot seem to stamp out the instinctive guilt reflex that flares up any time I let my kids use their Kindles. I worry that I’m enrolling them in too many extra-curricular activities. Or maybe I’m not signing them for enough things and they’re missing out. I let them ride their bikes around the neighborhood, which is either empowering or negligent, depending on which Facebook group you’re in. The mixed messages can be pretty daunting.
But we’re figuring it out and I think we’re doing okay, even if my standards are a bit lower than they once were. We ate cookies for breakfast this weekend, but they had peanut butter and oatmeal in them, so I’m calling that a win.