Reasonable Parenting

So much of what I read about parenting on the internet falls into one of two categories:

  1. Oh my goodness! Having children is so magical and awesome! Everything is perfect! The sun shines every day and unicorns frolic in the wild flowers that grow in our expansive, beautiful yard! My hubsie and I love each other so and our delightful children in their exceptionally fashionable c/o clothes are so fantastic there is no way you’d believe it if you didn’t see it for yourself. Speaking of, here are 597 Instagram pictures of our morning, where we shared homemade toast and eggs that were brought to us by the chickens themselves in a little basket with a bow on it on cleverly mismatched vintage china and perfectly not-quite coordinated linens. I will spend the rest of the day gazing at the world through my rose-colored hipster glasses and being better than you. Please support my sponsors.
  2. Holy crap! Having a child is so hard! OH MY GOD IT’S JUST CHAOS UP IN HERE WHAT? I haven’t showered for 27 days and I’m bringing two sippy cups to the playground today one for Brayden and one for me and that one will be filled with VODKA. I AM SO EDGY CAN YOU FEEL IT? Sometimes at night I stare at the wall and wonder who I am and what I’ve become and why I’m doing any of this to myself and then just wait for the world to end because it’s just so very hard. Our dog just ate the Christmas tree and pooped in the bed. Please enter my BlogHer contest and RT.

From my (limited) experience, this is all bullshit. Having a child isn’t always magical and awesome, but it’s not always miserably hard, either. I mean, sometimes it can be magical and awesome and sometimes it can be miserably hard but like everything, there’s some of each and it’s way more complicated than many parents will lead you to believe.

The truth, at least from my experience, is that you figure out what your beliefs and priorities are, use them as your guide, and go from there. More often than not and barring tragedy, things will work out. In time, you’ll figure out what really matters to you and what doesn’t, what you’ll compromise and what you won’t. I think it’s good to have some of each — if everything really matters to you and you won’t compromise on any of it, you’ll end up going nuts; if nothing really matters to you and you compromise on everything, you’ll end up miserable.

For example, in terms of what I’ll compromise and what I won’t, these are some things I won’t compromise.

  • Feeding Soren a reasonably healthy vegetarian diet. While Ben and I are in charge of what he eats, he won’t eat meat. He gets vegetarian food at daycare. He has stuff like frozen pizza or non-homemade mac & cheese on occasion but other than that, we try to avoid processed food. We limit sweets. We never eat fast food (we don’t eat out much, but that’s for financial reasons) but we don’t serve him green smoothies, either. That said, I try to avoid being a smug hippie vegetarian and you’ll never hear me mention “real” food.
  • Keeping him clean. I’ve never been a neat or a clean freak, although I do my best (which, next to my mom, is not very good). Still, I’m a bit of a clean freak when it comes to Soren. It’s not a snotty, look-at-my-perfect kid thing. It’s that I’ve realized keeping him clean when he’s not able to do so himself is one way I can demonstrate my love and respect for him. I respect him enough to not let him run around with food crusted on his face. Sure, sometimes there are boogers and sometimes there’s oatmeal residue on his pants, but for the most part, he’s not covered in grime. I know that if I couldn’t wash my own face, I’d want someone to do it for me. That’s just basic human dignity.
  • Treating him with anything but love and respect, in general. Your mileage may vary, but to me this means that we don’t spank, insult, or belittle. We provide a safe environment with clean clothes that fit (sorry about the floods the other day) and an assortment of interesting things to do. As often as possible, he has my undivided attention.
  • Keeping myself fit. This is partly for me and partly for him. Unless I’m deathly ill, I work out for 60 minutes 5 days a week. I believe this is necessary for my physical and mental health. I plan to maintain my current weight and not gain back those same 20-25 pounds I’ve gained and lost many times in my life because I want to be healthy and set a good example in terms of weight, fitness, and eating habits (which, honestly, could improve because sometimes I eat cheese bread dipped in ranch for like three meals in a row).

There are some areas where I’d prefer not to compromise.

  • Cloth diapers. This is mainly my thing but I also believe it’s healthier for Soren. He’s 2 years old and has never worn a disposable diaper. I don’t want to come off as some sort of holier-than-thou Earth mother, but I think that’s kind of cool. The only reason we’d have to compromise on the cloth diapers is if we switch to a less-expensive daycare that isn’t willing to deal with them (obviously, I’d prefer not to do this, but geez the $$$$$).
  • Speaking of daycare. It’s important for Soren to have the best education (including daycare) possible, within reason. I’d like to keep him where he is until he starts school, but if we really can’t afford it (we can’t), we might have to switch. When it’s time for kindergarten, we plan to send him to public school but have concerns about our neighborhood school and I’m not sure how we’ll handle it (homeschooling and religious schools are not for us).

There are some areas where I have compromised.

  • Formula. I was all about breastfeeding. It didn’t work for us, ever, even after seeing lactation consultants and trying everything. I exclusively pumped for as long as I reasonably could (that was, no lie, completely, terribly, absolutely miserable) but at around 7 months (it’s almost funny that I don’t remember exactly when it happened, because I thought it was the end of the world at the time), my supply and our vast freezer stash of breast milk had run out and, horror of all horrors, we had to give Soren formula. You know what? The world didn’t end. Everything was fine. It turned out to be no big deal.
  • Some tv. In my ideal world, Soren wouldn’t watch tv. But realistically, that would mean, for example, that Ben and I wouldn’t watch football while Soren is awake, which is completely crazy. He sometimes watches Yo Gabba Gabba, Curious George, or Peppa Pig (I love Peppa’s brother George, who’s always, “Dinosaur! Rarrrrr!”).
  • Annoying toys. There are some toys I won’t allow (e.g., things that do absolutely nothing but make noise) but I’m mostly much more chill about this than I thought I’d be. It’s not all fancy wooden toys handmade by young existentialists in Denmark around here. Some of his toys have batteries. Some make noise. Some don’t. We have more toys than we need, but I try to rotate the stock (keeping some in storage) so he doesn’t have too many options at once. I believe that having too many toys/too much stuff teaches children to become overly invested in possessions/consumerism (I know this from experience) and I prefer simple toys that allow him to use his imagination instead of being passively entertained. But I don’t stress about it.

I could (and did, sorry) go on and on. There are so many things. You might go into parenthood thinking, oh man, I’m going to breastfeed and cloth diaper and cosleep and wear my child every second and whittle all of our toys out of wood taken from the sustainable pine forest on our property. You might do all those things. You might not. You might make fun of people who go into parenthood thinking they’ll do all those things. Somewhere along the way, though, you’ll figure out what works for you and your family. And there’s a good chance that if you’re a reasonably good person and you do a reasonably good job raising your child, he or she will grow up to be a reasonably good person, too.