In my early years as a parent, parenting experts really knew how to strike intense fear into my heart. With every recommendation they mentioned, I worried more and more: Was I overlooking one of their commandments that might make me a failure as a parent and turn my child into a lazy hooligan who was unemployable and unable to form positive relationships in life?
With health challenges of my own that were stressing me out, a busy career to focus on, and all the daily tasks that go along with running a household, extra time and energy were sometimes in short supply at my house. And to be honest, some of the expert recommendations didn’t make much sense to me. I finally decided that all I could do was give my best effort, let the rest go, and hope that my unconditional love and attention would be enough.
Here are some of the biggest expert recommendations I broke and how it worked out for us.
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Limiting Screen Time
If there was one rule I paid absolutely no attention to, it was this one. When I had to do some work or catch up on household chores, the television sometimes came on. Other times, at the end of a long day, all I wanted to do was to chill out and snuggle my babies on the couch, and the best way to ensure they sat still was to put a cartoon on. As a result, I watched more episodes of Caillou and Peppa Pig than I care to remember. As we watched, we often discussed how the characters were feeling and how they should have acted in certain circumstances.
Television wasn’t the only screen time I let them indulge in. My kids played computer games, sometimes for hours. I limited the violence in their games and tried to make sure some of the screen time was active, such as Wii dance workouts and sports.
Breaking this rule hasn’t appeared to harm my kids in any way. They’re both straight A students, and teachers tell me how kind and personable they are. I will say, though, that in addition to letting them have unlimited screen time, I did stress the importance of staying active because I know childhood obesity is a real issue. From the time my kids were 5 or 6 years old, they were playing organized sports. Now, in my son’s final year of high school, he’s in cross country and track. My daughter, who is a sophomore, is on her school’s cross country, volleyball, and softball teams. And guess what? They still far exceed the daily recommended amount of screen time.
Allowing plenty of screen time has helped my son find his path in life. This fall, he’ll be heading to college as a computer science major. If I had limited screen time, that likely wouldn’t have happened.
Eating Together at a Table
As a family, we have hardly ever dined at a table together at home. One night last year, I made a special dinner, set up the dining room table, and insisted we eat there together. My kids immediately mentioned how weird it was, and we laughed about how formal and awkward it felt.
When dinner is ready, we grab our plates and head to the living room. We’ll watch a short television show together while we’re eating – we’re currently watching Parks and Recreation – and talk during the commercials.
I know some families use their meals as a time to bond – and that’s great. But we do our bonding in other ways. We’ll take walks together, share our favorite songs, play games, and talk for approximately 20 or 30 minutes as soon as my kids come back from school each day.
Not Being My Child’s Friend
Every parenting expert will tell you not to be your child’s friend because it blurs the disciplinary line you need as a parent. I thought this was ridiculous in my early years as a parent, and I still do. In my opinion, being your child’s friend helps them see what a true friend should look like. Friends should listen to you when you need to talk, support you when you need it, and not be afraid to correct you gently when you’re out of line.
I have always been and will forever continue to be friends with my kids. When my kids were little, my daughter had an indoor tent in her bedroom that was shaped like a tree, which I bought because both my son and daughter were big fans of the Magic Treehouse books. My kids and I formed a club we named the Three Friends Club, and we would climb into that tent and have our meetings whenever we felt like it. During the meetings, I would read them short books, and we would discuss anything that was on our minds.
Even though it’s been years since we had our last meeting of the Three Friends Club and the tent has been handed down to their cousins, both my kids still remember our club and laugh about the memories we made there.
When my kids’ friends are mad at their parents and complain about them, my kids are always so surprised because they assume everybody loves and respects their parents like they do. I think part of the reason for our tight bond is because I know and understand them as a friend, not solely as a parent.
Pay Attention to Feelings – Not Rules
If you’re a new parent stressing over all the rules you know you’ll never be able to follow, I recommend taking the path I did. I ignored the rules that seemed silly or unrealistic to me, and I focused on four things instead: Having plenty of conversations, letting your kids know you love them unconditionally, respecting their feelings, and encouraging them to find balance in everything they do.