The blogosphere is full of positive parenting manifestos and well-meaning tips. For example: Never say Hurry up. They grow up so fast, make sure to be in the moment with them. If she doesn’t want you to leave, don’t leave — don’t let the lasting lesson be when she needed you, you left. And like all parents, I pick and choose what advice I can get on board with and what doesn’t jive.
Parenting advice can’t be one-size-fits-all, because even within the same culture and peer group, we are all such completely different families. Take my own collection of mom-friends, for example. I have friends with one child and friends with four, friends who are financially comfortable and friends who are desperately paycheck to paycheck, one who has two under two and a few with a teen and toddlers (or babies), friends in stable partnerships and friends in strained, crumbling or no partnerships, friends who invest in sitters and cleaning services and one who has very rarely been apart from her children in seven years (never for more than a couple hours), friends with family support and friends who are far, far away from that, friends who work full-time, stay at home, and work from home, friends with children the picture of health and friends whose children face life threatening illnesses and special needs, some never-ending, friends who get a full eight hours and friends who never get more than a two hour stretch. So one person’s Sleep when the baby sleeps is another person’s And have my toddler make lunch?
So here’s my probably-not-one-size-fits-all parenting advice: It’s okay to be a big picture parent.
A digression: In many ways my college (and beyond) years of waitressing prepared me well for the multi-tasking of motherhood (and life). So, in restaurants, there’s a priority list that most can agree on, with running out hot food at the top. However, there’s a seemingly unimportant task that trumps all, even running food to a table. It’s a rule that rookies break all the time, driving veteran servers crazy. Can you guess it? Here it is: if you have something in your hand – a cleared dish, a coffee pot, etc. – you do not just set it down in the most convenient spot, so you can do the more important thing, e.g., run out hot food. Ahhh! No! You put it where it belongs. Why? Because you are being kind to your coworkers. You are keeping the machine functioning, even if it means a slight delay in the more important task. You are seeing the bigger picture.
Our second baby, Nico, is a real joy. He’s a very easygoing little guy, and lets us get away with a lot more than we ever did with Micah as a baby. Micah was all, No, I don’t think you should take a shower, Mom, I think you should bounce me up and down all day or else I will cry and cry. Nico’s like, You go ahead and take that shower, Mom, I’m cool listening to the sound of the water over here, and if you’d like to do some laundry after that, go for it! However, one thing we didn’t score on was Nico’s relationship to cars. He’s just not into it, and oftentimes car rides are stressful experiences for us all. So, you’d expect that after 15 minutes of his wailing and we finally reach home, I’d hurry to soothe him. In my restaurant scenario, he’s the hot food. But the dirty dishes in my hand are my ridiculously overstuffed purse and toddler, neither of which I can just leave in the car. So, as much as it pains me, I’ve got to look at the bigger picture. Gather everything up, crying baby and all, and get us into a safer and cleaner position before the “hot food can be run.”
Be kind to your future self. People always talk about being in the moment, and yes, I agree, get down on the floor and be in the moment with your kids. But if you’re always only in the moment, you’re being very unkind to your future self. Your future self is going to be full of regret about the diapers you forgot to buy, the crusty dishes you left in the sink, the state of affairs in your car. Yes, enjoy those moments. Yes, they pass so quickly. But be kind to your future self too. See the forest for the trees. It’s okay to be big picture. Even if that means tears. Even if that means the food stays in the window for just a bit.
A mama friend of mine recently expressed guilt she’d felt when, while she was busily working on something on her computer, she’d absently brushed aside her toddler who was wanting to play. His feelings were hurt and he started to cry, so naturally she felt bad. I’m not condoning intentionally hurting your child’s feelings. Yes, from his perspective, Mommy prefers to stare at some boring screen than to play with him and that hurts. But it is okay to remember that there’s a bigger picture in there. She was working on something that helps their family as a whole, she’s human too, she has a tremendous (staggering) amount of energy for him in general. It’s okay (I’d argue important) that our children don’t think of us as their tireless entertainers. It’s okay (I’d argue important) that our children start to also think of a bigger picture, one where they are a part of a family unit as a whole, where Mommy and Daddy are not JUST Mommy and Daddy, and one where we all help each other. Sometimes that means that Mommy has to stare for a long time at a boring screen. She promises that when she’s done she will play for a while and she will not feel regret about doing what’s right and best for HER family.
I have a standing mommy-toddler date with some mommy-toddler friends of mine. The get-togethers are not only beneficial for our toddlers to play and build friendships and for us mommies to lean on each other and build friendships. But they’re also beneficial for our toddlers to witness their mommies as women. We don’t spend those evenings entertaining our kids. For the most part, we’re hanging out on the other side of the room, sipping wine and being grown-ups, one part of our family units, part of a bigger picture.