Five years and three kids into this whole parenting gig there is a phrase that I have decided to permanently retire from my arsenal.
The phrase is:
I WOULD NEVER.
When I was pregnant with my first child I spent a lot of time on an "Expectant Moms" message board. One of the threads was titled,
"THINGS I WILL NEVER DO WITH MY KIDS"
It featured subjects such as:
"I would NEVER let my kids play in one of those disgusting Fast Food PlayPlaces!"
"I would NEVER feed my children any food containing high fructose corn syrup!"
"I would NEVER let my kids eat directly off the table in a restaurant. That's so GROSS!"
At the time, I sat there rubbing my large belly as I perused each thread and smugly nodded my head in sanctimonious agreement.
Cut to yesterday morning when I came upon my two-year-old merrily giving her baby doll a bath in our toilet bowl.
The "me" that thought the worst things my child might ever face were sugar additives and germs from a restaurant table?
Yeah, she's long gone.
It is impossible, in my experience, to decide in the abstract what kind of parent you are going to be. Of course, you imagine it will involve a lot of serving of organic fruits and whole grains while delighting over hand-crafted toys and reading aloud from children's novels.
But yeah -- maybe not so much.
Because having a child is not like being handed a lump of clay to mold in your own image. Having a child is a lot more like being handed, you know, a human. That human is full of personality, unique quirks, and sensitivities that are quite different from anything you might have anticipated. The attempt to socialize said being into a functional member of our race is full of obstacles that are varied and unpredictable; and to try to anticipate all of those fault lines in advance is, in my experience, epically futile.
For me, as this realization began to truly sink in, those "I never"s that I'd declared with such assurance began to fall away.
"I would never bring food for my kids to someone's home! They should eat what is served!"
I mean, this seems totally logical. Except with three kids under six I'm not gonna lie, sometimes I prefer to visit with friends and family and enjoy a meal and conversation instead of furiously whispering "No! The food does not look weird, please stop shrieking that!" at my offspring for two hours straight. And so, on occasion, I'll bring some nuggets for my kids to dinner.
At home we work on table manners, we try new foods regularly, and I attempt to expand their culinary horizons, but there are nights I choose not to die on the hill of "You must eat whatever you are served!" and I opt to instead provide food that they are familiar with in an unfamiliar environment in hopes of cutting down on everyone's stress.
Never thought I'd do it but I do.
"I would never be one of those parents who put their kids on a leash!"
I have, to date, managed to stop short of an actual leash purchase, but let me tell you, having traveled through an airport alone with my three? I'm never saying never.
"I would never leave my children unattended in the car!"
Look, we were out of milk. It was raining and I had all of them with me. Decisions had to be made, people.
"I would NEVER let my children sit in front of an iPad for hours at a time!"
FOUR WORDS: All. Family. Stomach. Flu.
The days when I gave in on those oft-proclaimed "I Nevers" were certainly not my proudest moments, but everyone seems to have survived them intact. Day by day and week by week I try to reset my parenting goals. I work to avoid the slippery slopes of over-reliance on fast food and electronics, and I keep working on being a good parent who sets proper limits and reasonable expectations.
But I'm at the point where I accept that this may involve some compromises that are less than totally ideal. I've decided that letting go of the stress of "being the parent who'd never" ultimately makes our home a happier one.
Which is why I've decided that the "I'd Nevers"?