Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Good Enough Parent

When Mrs. C., one of our favorite preschool teachers, learned we were adding a third child to our family, she congratulated my husband and I with hugs. Then, she made an observation that made me do a double take.
“Three children is the perfect number of children,“ she said, you won’t have any room for perfection.”
As a highly regarded 16-year veteran of our school’s staff and the mother of five successful children, Mrs. C. seems to perceive the notion as highly problematic for everyone. Striving to be the best you can be is the right path, she argues, but perfection does not allow the natural failings that builds our negotiating and coping skills--keys to true lifelong success and happiness.
How I wish I’d had this sage wisdom when my twins were born.
At the time, I approached parenting with the philosophy that the harder you tried, the better things would turn out. Such an outlook served me well professionally but I learned quickly it was downright silly when it came to rearing babies and managing what evolved into a busy family life.
No matter how perfect I tried to be, I could not force my charges to conform. Oh, I tried--I even called in reinforcements--but in the end, I ended up exhausted and defeated--with unhappy babies.
Five years into my parenting experience, I know better. Thanks to trial-and-error, I’ve learned that being a Good Enough Parent is much more fulfilling--and much more fun--than being a Perfect Parent.
Here’s what I’ve learned in brief.

1. Sleep when the babies (and toddlers) sleep. If you’re exhausted, you’re no good to anyone.

2. Try breastfeeding, ask for help from a lactation consultant if you struggle, but don’t feel ashamed or even bummed out if it doesn’t work out with twins. Plenty of formula-fed people grow up to do amazing things.

3. Keep everyone on the same schedule. To do otherwise is to sacrifice your own sleep and, thus, your well-being. Again, you can’t help others if you are a mess.

4. Find a sleep book you like to offer strategies and stick to it for three months. Without a routine, your wakeful nights could continue for years.

5. Call all those people who offered to help you before the babies were born and give them specific tasks you’d like them to help you with, ie. “ironing,” or “cleaning out the fridge.” Don’t worry, in a few years you’ll be in the position to give back.

6. If you run out of people to call and still need aid, raid the savings to hire good help. Low-interest college loans are readily available in the future but you’ll never forgive yourself if you fail to enjoy your babies and young children due to complete exhaustion.

7. Fast food is no longer a sin and downright imperative if you want to eat more than PB&J during your first two (or three) years of twin parenthood. Try the Dinner Station which assembles homemade frozen entrees for you, the prepared aisle of the grocery store, or chains like Baja Fresh which go beyond burgers and fries.

8. Give up the spotless house--your kids won’t remember it anyhow. Instead, give yourself two twenty-minute windows of “house homework” per day. Work on hygiene--the bathrooms, the kitchen, the laundry. (If your mother-in-law is coming, spray some Lysol in the air just prior for that just-cleaned scent.)

9. Take the children out of the house once per day, even if you’re just going around the block in the buggy.

10. Call one girlfriend from your previous life every couple of days even if you can only talk for eight minutes. If you neglect them, you won’t have anyone to go to coffee with when the kids start preschool.

11. Make new momma friends at the public library, the park and the swimming pool. These women know exactly where you are in life and can offer strategies on how to make more of your mothering experience.

12. Invite your husband to join you in the bedroom for more than “Jeopardy.” He won’t mind your new cooking and housekeeping techniques if “dessert” is served regularly.

13. Find a reliable grown-up babysitter and teach her to put your kids to bed. This will free up your evenings throughout elementary school while ensuring your children get the rest they need.

14. Find three inexpensive tween babysitters who live nearby and can jog over at a moment’s notice to keep your kids busy while you take down the Christmas decorations, clean out the garage, bake a truffle. These girls will soon move on to boyfriends and play practice, so invest in several people.

15. Find a discipline strategy that is reasonable for both you and your spouse. Aim for consistency.

16. Remember that even if you have a bad afternoon--or day--you can start over the following day. Remind yourself that kids don’t remember much before the age of five.

17. Don’t stress over potty training. Few teenagers go to college in Pampers.

18. Don’t stress over pacifiers. Your twins might end up with horizontal teeth, but they’ll fall out eventually.

19. Do check out what appear to be developmental delays. Your pediatrician, day care provider and schoolteachers will be able to guide you to service providers who can offer more detailed assessments. Tackle any issues with super-human strength.

20. Take lots of photographs and keep a journal or calendar to load up with memories. The days--and years--blur together quickly.

21. Carve out family time and family rituals--even small things like lunchbox notes build lifelong relationships.

22. Make birthdays a huge deal. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do this and your kids will long remember being cherished above all else.

23. Trust your instincts. You’re usually right.

24. Take your birth control pills unless you’re absolutely, positively ready to add another family member to your clan.

25. Savor the good times, learn from the bad and know that life only happens once.



paplawsky said...

This has me intrigued to sit and visit with you to find out the background on some of these...:)

Jane said...

omg--what year is this? "your new cooking and housekeeping techniques?" FYI, husbands can help cook and keep house, too with or without "dessert" (ewww!-- not only a cliche but a creepy one). And, no need to be perfect, but just make sure you spend 40 minutes per day sanitizing the kitchen and bathrooms and doing laundry, or else you're not hygienic. Thanks for the permission! And be sure to "clean out the garage" and take down the xmas decorations in your free time-- apparently the husband here doesn't follow traditional, or non-traditional, notions of husband/wife division of labor. So glad you're not my mother in law-- but you sound like my grandmother!