On Parenting Priorities

As I was reading over last week's comments on my "Is this long enough to eat?" post, I had to smile at the breadth of the responses.  The sugary-sweet saying gets quoted too much, but that doesn't make it untrue:  there is no way to be a perfect mom, but there are a million ways to be a good one.

Thinking about all the different perspectives reminded me of something I read once.  According to the author (of this book I can't remember the name of), if you care enough about it, you can teach your child to do things that are several levels above their current developmental level.  But if you wait until they're actually developmentally ready, you won't have to teach nearly so much--the child will just naturally be more willing and able to do the activity.

The example the author used was teaching a child to sit quietly through a nice dinner.  If you were parents who valued going out for nice dinners regularly, it might be important to teach your toddler to sit politely through a long, restaurant meal.  But unless that's something that's really valuable to your family, why not wait until the child is a little older and more naturally able to sit still and eat with proper silverware?

There's no right or wrong answer--it's all about your priorities.

As an example closer to home, I have several friends with young children who are very big on teaching their kids to sleep in their own rooms.  And, for the most part, it seems they've been successful.  I rarely hear tales of them waking up with hot wheels cars embedded in their backs and toddler feet in their faces.

While I would sometimes rather not have my bed function as a garage, on the whole, I couldn't care less about where the Kid sleeps.  He starts out in his own bed, and if he comes crawling into our bed in the middle of the night...eh, the cuddles outweigh a lot of nuisance for me.  Eventually, he'll get sick of us crowding him.  Or he'll go off to college.  Either way, it's just not a big deal to me.

On the other hand, I will not have a picky eater.  While I feel like I'm reasonable about it--the rules are relaxed a teensy bit on special occasions, there are usually a few chocolate chips for dessert for little boys who try a bite of everything--for our day-to-day, it's not negotiable.  In our house, you eat what's served.

To a lesser degree, I'm also becoming a manners-nazi.  I can remember Nice Dad insisting on "please" and "thank you" for even the smallest things when I was little.  It was annoying at the time, of course, but at this point the habit is almost reflexive and it's served me extremely well.  The Kid already chafes a little at my insistence (we've recently graduated from requiring just a "please" to a full "May I have a glass of milk, please?"), but I fully intend that--whatever else he may grow-up to be--he'll be polite.

Again, maybe that sounds crazy to you.  Maybe you're a light sleeper and the thought of small feet in your face all night makes you need a pot of coffee, stat.  Maybe you're a picky eater yourself, and the thought of choking down kale so that your child will try some makes you gag.  Or maybe you're right there with me, dishing out sushi, refusing to move a muscle without "the magic word", and going to work with lego patterns imprinted into your forehead from the one that was left on your pillow.

A friend of mine has a really nice way of expressing these kinds of priorities.  She has a "no commercial TV" rule at home, but--when the subject comes up in conversation occasionally--rather than demonizing cartoons and kid-centered advertising, she'll simply say, "That's just not what I want for my kid."  It's very no-judgment-like--the same way you'd say, "Med school is great for some people, but that's just not what I want to do."

It's something I'm really working on internalizing, because, when I sit back and think about it--without letting that initial "Why isn't that other mom doing what I do?  What's wrong with her?  Or is it something wrong with me?!" gut-clenching, false-fear, thing take hold--it's pretty cool, isn't it?  It may be that I am a closet sociology geek and therefore more impressed by these things, but there are a lot of different ways to raise a nice, capable human being.