Sunday, May 24, 2009

The 10 commandments of parenthood

The line between raising healthy, well-adjusted children and scarring them for life grows ever slimmer these days. Being a parent is hard enough without having to live up to unrealistic standards.

Parenting philosophies run the gamut. One tells us not to use rewards, praise or time outs lest we scar their delicate, developing egos. Another tells us to be firm, even authoritarian, not letting them run you. Nutritionists tell us that juice is the equivalent of Coke and Happy Meals will give our kids heart disease. Doctors warn us to slather our kids with sunscreen; one bad burn will virtually ensure your kid gets skin cancer as an adult. Kids wear long sleeves, pants and a hat at playgrounds on hot days. Purell has become a diaper bag staple because dangerous germs are everywhere.

And if that's not enough pressure, we are expected to pay obscene amounts of money to over schedule our children, all in the name of enrichment. God forbid our child fall behind educationally even before his third birthday.

Enough is enough. What's perceived as a fine line is really an eight-lane freeway and worrying about every little detail of their lives will make them neurotic and us old before our time. We're not bad parents if we forget the sunscreen or don't think bug spray is necessary all the time. (By the way, I just learned that a tick can transmit Lyme disease only after being on a person for 48 hours. Personally, I'd rather do a nightly tick check than spray my kids with chemicals.) Your child will not see the occasional time out as a time out from your love and approval; sometimes my kid just needs to chill out and sit still for a few minutes and there's not a damn thing wrong with that. And, no, I'm not going to pay the Little Gym or Gymboree for exercise classes when my kid can play at the park for free. Nor will I take my child to the museum to look at bugs, frogs and butterflies when he can find them all in our backyard for free.

So here are my first 10 commandments of parenthood, in no particular order. I'm sure there will be more to come. I think you'll find them quite liberating.
  1. Thou shalt not assume your child won't eat apples with the peels on, bread with crusts or any other food that he hasn't tried and refused on his own.
  2. Thou shalt not assume that your child will suddenly dart into the street if he's standing two feet from the curb. Watch closely, intervene if necessary, but don't hover and fret.
  3. Thou shalt not force your child to eat every morsel on his plate, even if he still wants a cookie later on. Eating most of his dinner is enough.
  4. Thou shalt not insist that a toddler at a park with a water feature or a stream stay away from the water. Instead, come prepared to let him get wet.
  5. Thou shalt not rush to your child's rescue every time he expresses frustration. He'll figure out eventually (and usually without your help) that square pegs don't fit so well in round holes.
  6. Thou shalt not aim to entertain your child every waking minute or even most of the time. He'll be much better off if he learns to play on his own.
  7. Thou shalt not try to make every experience educational. Chances are that most of what happens daily in your own home is more educational than anything you plan.
  8. Thou shalt relax about your child's idiosyncrasies. Probably 99 percent of what kids throw at us is completely normal and no reason to rush to the doctor or the child psychiatrist or an exorcist.
  9. Thou shalt not try to be pleasant at all times for your child's sake. It's okay for them to see that you, too, are sometimes a mess.
  10. Thou shalt not restrict activities or food based on the worst-case scenario. It's okay to let your kid eat a McDonald's cheeseburger from time to time. He won't get heart disease, juvenile diabetes or weigh 200 pounds by the fifth grade. Really.
Less is more. It really is. And doing and worrying less doesn't make us lazy parents, it makes us smarter parents. Throw away the books, trust your instincts, trust your kids and have fun.

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