Parenting often feels unbelievably weighty – the smallest decisions loom as the most significant and permanent ones we’ve ever made – making it natural for us parents to worry excessively about all the wrong things.
But natural doesn’t mean good.
When my kids were little, I read books to determine what exact age was the perfect developmental time for toilet training. I spent inordinate amounts of time stressing over what my children ate. When they ate it. I quizzed other parents about how to get a child to fall asleep unaided. I spent my few moments of privacy in the shower debating how long was too long for a temper tantrum (45 minutes?).
Then as they grew up, I worried about what school they went to, how many play dates to which they were invited (a key measure of their social skills), whether or not their teacher appreciated their unique talents, were they reading enough and the right books, did they score enough goals, where on earth would they go to college one day.
Then all that worry made me tired.
Now, looking back, I see clearly what I’ve done right and what I’ve done wrong as a parent so far. I’d like to report that there was zero correlation with my extreme obsessions. I wish I had asked every other parent further ahead in the parenting timeline what they had worried about too much that turned out to be utterly irrelevant.
So here, for you, is my list of what I worried about too much as a parent:
1) Yelling at my kids. I thought this was awful at the time. Now I see it was relatively harmless. I was working fulltime, and trying simultaneously to be a fulltime stay-at-home mom to three kids born fewer than five years apart. My husband did little in terms of daily childcare. My life was stressful from the second my alarm rang at daybreak until I passed out at night. I am not a person who inherently has a lot of patience. So I yelled. Almost every day. And you know what? The kids got used to it.
2) What they ate. My kids were picky eaters. I am a lousy cook. So my children ate a lot of chicken tenders, hot dogs, Cheerios and applesauce. It was a major victory when they started eating baby carrots. I always felt deeply ashamed as a mom about this. Now looking back, I see my nutritional victories. My kids drank six to eight glasses of water and milk every day; never soda, little juice. They ate lots of protein and fruit at every meal. All three are now strapping giants embodying physical robustness. And over time, as their taste buds matured, they came to eat kale, edamame, sushi, blueberries, watermelon and mango without me bugging them even once.
3) How much TV they watched. Although studies deplored TV for kids, and our elementary school had a “suggested” rule that students watch zero TV during the week, my kids watched it every single day. I needed a break and TV kept them from fighting. I am pleased to report that they eventually got bored. Today, they watch a lot of sports, and each one has one or two favorite shows like Modern Family and the Simpsons. There is no evidence that TV turned their brains to mush.
4) The fact that we never ate dinner together as a family. My husband worked late every night. I wanted to eat grown up food with him at 8.30, not tator tots at 5.30. My oldest child had sports practices almost every evening. So my children ate by themselves very early – often at 5pm. The only time we were all together as a family was in our car, where we talked, laughed, and fought; I think the car became our dinner table. But I cringed every time I heard an authority figure proclaim the importance of gathering around family meals, even though I have never heard one explain how chewing food together can be a prophylactic for family dysfunctionality.
5) Timing of milestones. Looking back, it made no difference how old my kids were when I threw away their diapers or pacifiers; when they slept through the night in their own bed; when they learned to swim, read, talk, tie their shoes, ride a bike, etc. Each kid was different. Over time, the timing was irrelevant.
6) How my children behaved in public. Rambunctiousness or bad behavior in supermarkets, airports, and parties used to bring out the demon mom in me, particularly if they cried, used an “outside voice” inside or kicked the seat on an airplane. Now I want to make megaphone announcements to distressed parents when I see their spawn raging in public: your kid is adorable, just momentarily tired, scared or hungry. None of us obnoxious strangers has even the slightest right to be annoyed at you or your child.
I also see now, in hindsight, many big things I did right as a parent. These also did not correlate to what I fretted over. I’d like to share these feats with you too. However, due to the parenting life lessons I’ve learned about the senselessness of worry, I am no longer worried about being a perfectionist, and I am saving that list for next time.