When we think of great parents, we probably picture all the things that great parents have to do.
In fact, last week on Top 10 Tuesday Lindsay Bell shared ten things that great parents all do in common. But there are also lots of things that great parents DON’T do. And today Rebekah Curtis, mom of 7 and author of Ladylike, is going to share with us ten things great parents don’t have to do–and let us all off the hook just a little bit.
When my husband and I announced our first pregnancy, one of our grad school professors congratulated us and then said, “Get ready for Spongebob!”
We smiled, kept walking, and then looked at each other and whispered, “Do we have to?”
Answer: no. And that’s not the only thing you’re allowed not to do.
1. Expensive photography sessions.
Children are so beautiful they do not need professional photo shoots every six months to prove it. We all take about 3000 pictures of our kids every week. Their growth is so overdocumented they’re probably going to hate us for it. If you get a semi-decent family portrait taken every year (or every few years) and then go to the trouble of keeping your phone on you, there will be a longer photographic record of your kids’ personal appearance over time than there is of Giselle Bundchen’s.
2. Disney trips, even one.
It’s a Magic Kingdom, alright, but it’s just not required. If your family has the wherewithal for a dream trip, make it the trip that’s your family’s dream; maybe Yosemite, New York City, the World Series, or Narnia.
There’s a lot of good to be had from gizmos, but the overhead and service costs are pretty high for entertainment when there are still moldy old books in the world. Devices also tend to decrease a young user’s chances to practice the life skill of spending time alone with her thoughts. Whatever we decide on this one, parents need to be honest with ourselves about what we’re giving our baby along with an iPad. It mostly means less time that I’m actively engaged with her, not a free ride to MIT and a secure future in the tech industry.
At least, not all of them. Sometime after 1980, we started feeling like scumbags if we didn’t enroll our critters in ballet, soccer, harpsichord, and haberdashery classes the minute they turned three. While any of these activities can be a great time for both kids and families, they can also be an expensive pain in the haunches. Most kids won’t end up earning big financial returns on this kind of thing, and the social and character benefits don’t start kicking in until children are a few years older. And there’s a good possibility that if your child’s parents don’t have a musical bone in either of their bodies, he’s not the next Adele either. Aptitudes have a way of coming out, or put another way, there’s a reason this story appears in The Onion and not the Times.
5. New clothes.
There are a lot of kids with more clothes than anyone could wear out in a year, and many of their parents are considerate enough to give those clothes a glamorous retirement at Goodwill. If you have more time than money, you can find really nice clothes that fit your resource set better than a huge Land’s End bill every fall.
6. Field trips.
Some parents aren’t able to go on a field trip, either because of work constraints or because they’re caring for other children. Some parents aren’t comfortable asking another adult to be responsible for the extra level of vigilance required when children are in a crowded public setting, an open rural area, on a boat, or just in a new place the child might find confusing or troubling. Plug this into a Venn diagram, and you’ve got families for whom field trips aren’t always a good fit. It’s OK. It’s your kid.
7. Birthday blowouts.
It doesn’t do any good to tell a kid to appreciate how blessed she is when she’s wearing her new silk kimono and Tahitian pearl earrings while riding a glitter-hoofed pony and porking down cream puffs shaped like swans, all because she turned eight. She has no comparative basis on which to appreciate it. Parents who fear it’s criminal not to throw a big shindig every year aren’t the ones whose child needs more stuff or public adoration. There was a time when it was thought that a birthday party with friends from school, planned activities, and a bakery cake was an extravagance every child should enjoy once. Maybe our kids would benefit from at least one birthday where the guests are the immediate family, the cake is from the house kitchen, and the fun is being with the people who love you so much more than anyone else does.
8. The school bus.
Some kids have a great time talking with friends or get through a lot of homework on a school bus. Others become bully-meat in an environment that can be only minimally supervised, and some find their unfortunate propensity for bullying enabled. A bus can be a friend of family efficiency, or an enemy of family happiness. Lots of good things can happen when moms and dads get to connect with their kids on a school commute, and that might be worth the tax on time.
If you are not comfortable with your kids sleeping at a house whose inhabitants you can’t claim to know that well, it doesn’t mean you’re a paranoid nut. None of us really know what another family’s home life is like. Factor in siblings, friends of siblings, extended family, and family friends who may also end up being present; practices regarding bathrooms and age-appropriate media; the variety of beliefs about swimming pools, copperhead infested areas, or walking to the park without a grownup; and so on ad infinitum, and it is perfectly reasonable for a family to say, “At our house, we sleep at our house.”
10. Another drink, story, or word of comfort for a troubled stuffed beast.
Four things are necessary at bedtime: toothbrushing, pajamas, snuggles, and prayers. Other routines are fun and useful only until they aren’t fun and useful any more. It does not violate a child’s human rights to say, “There isn’t going to be a drink right now, because it’s bedtime. I love you. Good night.”
Almost no one does all of these things.
You don’t have to look far to find a fully operational family that opts out of activities that have somehow taken place in our cultural mind as “the childhood experience.” Everyone remembers feeling frustrated, misunderstood, or deprived as a child. Our kids will be no exception, because dissatisfaction is a chronic human disease.
Our job isn’t to give kids perfect memories. It’s to help them think about their choices and not just do things because that’s what’s done. Children also need to learn that differences among families are OK, to deal with it when things don’t go their way, and to recognize that indulgence is not the solution to envy or discontentment. When they see us finding creative alternatives, they learn to do the same. That’s a lesson, an experience, and a gift they’ll use their whole lives.
Rebekah Curtis is coauthor of LadyLike, a collection of essays on faith and society from Concordia Publishing House. She has written for Babble, The Federalist, Touchstone, and Modern Reformation (forthcoming). You can find her at the LadyLike blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and home with her husband and their seven children.