Parenting: Everyone’s an expert. Whether it’s your great aunt Gertie or the childless couple down the road, the latest best-selling parenting author or media-backed medical expert, everybody’s got ideas about what you should and should not do with your children. And whether it’s the notion that breastfed babies are automatically smarter than formula fed babies or claims that spanking turns children into serial killers, these days it’s hard to know what is good for your child and what will result in his or her psychological demise.
I’ve been in the parenting game for 10 years and have worked with teenagers for over a decade, and while this experience may seem novice, there are some things about raising kids — especially when it comes to parenting choices frequently touted as faux pas — that I’ve picked up along the way. Here are just a few things I’ve learned it’s OK for parents to do (or not do).
It’s OK to feed your baby formula. Scientific evidence proves that “breast is best,” but this doesn’t mean it’s best for every parent and every child at every moment. Sometimes a mama’s got to sleep, for example, or a daddy wants in on the feeding game. Sometimes breast milk disagrees with a baby’s stomach. And sometimes parents simply can’t or don’t want to breastfeed. And that’s OK. Baby will survive. I did. My parents did. My husband did. My boys have. And no one’s IQ is significantly lower than or health concerns significantly greater than his or her peers’.
It’s OK to let your kids stay up past their bedtime once in a while. Staying up until midnight never killed anyone. As long as children are getting enough rest and have enough of a routine to be healthy, there’s no harm in letting them enjoy a couple extra hours with company or allowing them to stay up to watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve on occasion.
It’s OK to veer from your baby’s schedule (or to not have one altogether). Routine is important, but daily, minute-by-minute schedules aren’t essential. When’s the last time you did the exact same things at the exact same moments every day for a month? Babies and toddlers need naps and food, for example, but no where does it say those naps and meals have to be at the same time and in the same location every day. It’s nice to shoot for a ballpark figure, but insisting they lay down at 2:15 precisely and eat at 4:30 every afternoon will only make for a cranky baby and parent. Trust me. Some of my kids’ best naps happen in the car on the way to our next, unscheduled dinner event.
It’s OK to discipline your children in front of friends (and even strangers). Picking your battles while in public is a must, but allowing your child to get away with a number of things you wouldn’t permit at home isn’t. If it’s judgment you’re worried about, don’t be. Chances are, friends and strangers will judge you more for giving in to a child too frequently and rewarding his or her misbehavior. If it’s the inevitable tantrum that follows discipline that’s holding you back, I say pssshhhhh. Nobody likes to be reprimanded. Kids cry. They melt down (as do some adults). Anybody who knows anything about children knows they can react when disciplined. And anybody who doesn’t wouldn’t be happy no matter what you did anyway, so don’t worry about them.
It’s OK to let your kids cry it out once in a while. Tempting as it is to swoop in and comfort children when they’re upset, kids need to learn how to cope with their emotions on their own. Kids cry at bedtime. They cry when they’ve been punished. They cry when they steal a toy from another kid and get it stolen back within a minute. They don’t need you to apologize and pick them up Every.Single.Time things don’t go their way. This doesn’t mean you should let them scream and throw a fit for hours without comforting them. It simply means it’s OK to teach them how to cope with unpleasant situations on their own.
It’s OK to have rules and stick to them. Our kids aren’t allowed to wander around at restaurants. They’re not allowed to eat cookies on the carpet. They have to pick up and put their outdoor toys away in the garage when they’re done with them. And no amount of screaming and crying and whining changes these rules. So what if your child throws a fit because he or she doesn’t like your expectations? Too bad! Their egos and self-worth will survive. It’s better to teach them the importance of following your guidelines now than to have to deal with the blow back of never sticking to your guns during the teenage years. Buhleee dat.
It’s OK to let your kids watch TV. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting TV time for children and eliminating it altogether for babies and toddlers. But out here in the real world, we parents sometimes need to put the TV on for a little while — to take a shower, to make dinner, to decompress for a half hour after a long day at work. As long as your kids are tuning into age-appropriate (and dare I say “educational”?) shows and have exposure to other activities like reading and play during the day, a little TV isn’t going to scar your child for life.
It’s OK to give your kids sweets once in a while. First it was high fructose corn syrup. Then it was arsenic-infused apple juice. Always it’s been the ever-increasing number of obese children and adults that keeps us from allowing our kids to delight in sweets. But if you feed your children a well-balanced diet filled with fruits and veggies and grains, what’s the harm in putting some chocolate syrup in that milk or letting them have a cupcake once in a while? They’re kids, for chrissake. One fruit roll-up a week isn’t going to tip the scale. Teach them to indulge in moderation as children, and they’re more likely to moderate what they put in their bodies as adults, too.
There are what seems like a million parenting styles, a million dos and don’ts, a million experts out there telling parents what they can and cannot do. But in my experience, I’ve learned it’s OK to break one or more of their rules and still provide kids with a happy, healthy childhood (and one that’s a lot less stressful, too).