Last week I wrote my column on the benefit of having young grandparents, urging people to consider having kids at a younger age. An interesting discussion started in the comments, and one woman said that she and her husband have hesitated to have children because every parent they know complains constantly about their children. The reader says: says:
Most of my siblings and friends already have children, which is why kids are not on our radar just yet. We aren’t even sure we want them after hearing time and time again, “I love my kids, BUT…” To me, it often sounds like children are more trouble than they’re worth. To date, we have 7 wonderful nieces and nephews that we can love…and send home.
Those she knows with kids aren’t exactly advertisements for parenting. That’s a lesson to those of us who are parents to speak more carefully about our kids.
But I think there’s more going on here. WHY do parents feel so inclined to complain? Maybe parenting has gotten too big. Now, it’s basic economics that the more expensive you make something, the less you will have of it. On the other hand, the easier that you make something, the more you will get of it.
So I’m honestly wondering: are we making parenting too expensive? I’m not talking about just the money—although I did read a study that it now costs about $240,000 per child. I think it’s that we’ve made parenting require too much effort.
A few years ago I was asked to write an article on how to keep your children busy when the weather’s lousy. I came up with some various ideas, from a board game tournament, to making a fort in the living room, to getting out the video camera and taking tapes of kids singing little songs. I sent it in. I thought it was good.
Then the editor called. She wanted to take the video tape idea one step further. What if I were to host an indoor Olympics, inviting all the neighbourhood kids over? You could play shot put in the hall, and have an obstacle race in the basement, and then you could have the parents in for a medal ceremony and hand out commemorative DVDs of the day!
I thought the editor was off her meds. Because no one is going to want strange kids in playing shot put in their hall.
But that is now what we think mothering is. It is huge. We have to chauffeur our kids to every activity. Every spare moment must be spent reading to our kids and playing with our kids and talking with our kids. They must now consume every bit of our lives.
That’s the expectation.
No wonder parenting is so hard! We do it largely in isolation. We expect our kids to excel at everything. And so they take up all our energy. We have no time to ourselves. And we expect ourselves to be perfect, because we know that if our kids are messed up it will be our fault.
What if that’s making parenting too big? Here are just a few thoughts I have:
1. It’s okay to enforce a bedtime so you have evenings to yourself.
Sure, it means a few nights of lots of tears if kids aren’t used to going to bed at a decent hour, or are used to you lying down with them. But it is okay to want “Mommy Daddy time”. And that goes for when the kids are teens, too. It’s okay to say, “be in your room at 10. We want the house to ourselves.”
2. It’s okay to not have your kids in every activity under the sun.
It’s okay to keep control of your schedule. It’s okay to say no to hockey, even if everybody else is in hockey. It’s okay to say “we don’t have the money for that right now”, or “I just want to have time as a family.” It is okay to not live your life in a car pool.
3. It’s okay to live in an apartment.
Kids do not need their own rooms. They do not need a ton of toys, and they do not need a ton of space. Think of how small the post-war houses were, and many families lived there with four kids. It’s okay to live small.
4. It’s okay to not throw huge birthday parties
There is no law saying that you have to invite your child’s entire class to a birthday party (and if that is the rule at your school, then don’t throw a birthday party!). It’s okay to invite one or two special friends and just do something low-key and fun. Come to think of it, you don’t need to do anything big at Christmas, either. It’s more important to spend time together and have fun than it is to spend a ton of money.
5. It’s okay to insist that kids clean up after themselves
You were not put on this earth to do endless laundry. You were not put on this earth to clean up after everybody else. It is okay to insist that people learn how to clean up after themselves at an early age. My kids started chores at 4. They can now be left for a weekend on their own and they will be able to cook their own meals and do the laundry (they’re in their mid-teens). You are not a slave.
6. It’s okay to leave your kids sometimes
Your children do not need you with them 100% of the time. Will they be sad if you go away for a night and they have a baby-sitter? Perhaps. But it’s okay to be sad occasionally. This will not scar your child for life. And it is okay to need to still do adult things. It’s okay to take some time to yourself.
7. It’s okay to not be perfect
Finally, here’s the most important one: It is okay to not be perfect. I messed up with my oldest daughter in a big way this year. I’ll be sharing about that on Monday. We laugh about it now and I say to her, “When you’re a speaker and writer when you’re older, just think of the fodder I’ve given you now for how tough life can be!”. I have made mistakes. Big ones. And the kids know it.
But I’ve also done a lot of things right. And in the end, what the kids remember is how much you loved them, and how you tried to live authentically and godly, even if you didn’t always succeed in getting everything right. Kids are far more forgiving towards us than we are towards ourselves.
Perhaps if we gave ourselves more grace, and allowed ourselves to still have adult time, and still have fun, and not break the bank parenting, we’d have less to complain about and more to laugh about.
So let’s go, people! Parenting is wonderful; it’s only the expectations on parenting that have become ridiculous. Let’s lower those expectations, and then maybe fewer people would see parenting as a dead-end trap.