17 April 2007

Toward less perfectionist parenting

Amazon: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff with Your Family: Simple Ways to Keep Daily Responsibilities and Household Chaos From Taking Over Your Life (Don't Sweat the Small Stuff Series) Take a moment to ponder Cathy's assertion:

My philosophy is, if you don't set the standard too high in the beginning, you can really save yourself some trouble later on.

Examples: from the time that they were babies, I didn’t stress about getting water or soap in their eyes. It’s tear-free, right? Now, my kids bathe a lot easier. I don’t stress about getting them clean by whatever means necessary, and the times I’ve had to shower them instead of bathe them have gone extraordinarily well. You can apply this philosophy to almost anything. I’ve never warmed a bottle or a baby wipe (so cruel). I serve most foods at room temperature. I draw the line at having them potty train in a bucket, but really, the sky’s the limit. [Or is it the floor? -- Ed.]

While I wouldn't have phrased it as Cathy has, I agree with her point. She's not talking about caring or quality parenting -- she's talking about anxiety. Basically: Perfectionism is the enemy. The less you sweat the small stuff, the less your kids will, too.

Two caveats are in order, here, though:

1. Kids are born with a certain propensity for anxiety, and, while most kids will follow their parents' lead in terms of rolling with the punches, others simply won't. I speak from experience.

2. What qualifies as "small stuff" is different for all of us, and we must respect that. For example, some consider food and feeding a deeply emotional issue, connected to nurturing and caring, and are understandably more invested (and worried) about food choices and mealtimes. For others, meals are simply another chore to be dealt with, and so lack the resulting emotional weight.

RelatedEase school dropoff anxiety with a "no miss me kiss"

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Another example: making sure that the room the baby's asleep in is deathly quiet. Bad long-term strategy.

Freaking out, or even paying any notice, at a routine trip or a bump into a wall or table.

(And don't get me started on the misguidedness of making sure they grow up with a completely unchallenged immune system...)

What a great point. You are so right. If you replace the broken cookie once, you'll probably be replacing it forever. I take this in a different direction- into toy choices. My husband and I call it "upping the ante". Don't up the ante if you don't have to. In other words, if your child is happy with a toilet paper tube as a toy, don't buy him a game boy. If he gets tired of the toilet paper tube, try a paper towel tube first. You can't (easily) go back so be careful when you step up.

I completely agree, but maintaining the non-perfectionist stance requires a great deal of resistance. My close friends are pretty laid-back parents, but the larger community puts its collective hand over its collective heart when it realizes that we have sent our daughter to the same summer camp for four years in a row without exploring any other options, and that we've chosen her school and her after-school program and her dance program in large part because they work for us financially and logistically. If she were distressed, we'd change, but we have never felt it necessary to find the perfect option.

After watching friends of mine FREAK OUT when they had their first child, I remember deliberately trying to treat my oldest child as if she were a younger child.
I also use a technique I read somewhere - if you are wondering if you are going overboard with your child, try to imagine if it would still be important to you if you had 7 or 8 children. If not, it probably doesn't really matter, even if you only have 1 or 2 kids.
I know many people will say, "but I deliberately had only 2 kids so my angels could have everything I never had!" but it seems like most middle class and up kids these days suffer more from having too much stuff and attention, not from not enough.

I couldn't agree more. And I had to laugh over "unchallenged immune system," because my son's immune system must be going through a triathlon of pet fur, dust, and shopping-cart germs (that last one should probably worry me more). He's only been sick once and is almost 13 months.

It's good, too, to be supportive of parents more perfectionist than me. After all, we're in this together, and maybe I'll learn something new!

I'd make a distinction between stuff and attention. Kids have a lot more stuff now, but paying attention to them is still something it's hard to over do. Not to interfere, and certainly not to freak out, but to notice.

It is so funny what things you do with the first that then turn out to have been such bad ideas! We used to hand our oldest a pen to play with; we always had them around and she couldn't open them. But then she could, and we've had a scribbled house ever since.

I forgot to put in the original posting the nature of my oldest daughter. Once her expectations are set, watch out.

For example, one day when grandma was in town, I thought I'd treat everyone to an ice cream cone. Maya gets one every once in a blue moon. The last time she had one was probably 3 months ago on a trip to the zoo. She also has a very good memory.

So I announce that we're going out for ice cream expecting Maya to basically wet her pants with excitement, and instead she looks at me, kinda bored, and says, "We're having an ice cream cone at the zoo?" Grandma was more excited than she was.

Think we should wait before planning that big trip to Disneyland?

I also agree. We may not notice it at the beginning, but it will certainly have an effect later. It's too much to be a perfectionist.

I LOVE the comment about "upping the ante" as well as resisting the pressure of those around you. I swear, if I get one more look when I tell people my daughter (at 19mo.) does not NEED any more toys, that she is more than happy with her homemade bath toys, and coffeecan drum set, I'm going to lose it.

I've tried suggesting that if they would really like to get her a gift she has an education fund set up, but apparently I am a terrible parent for not opting for the newest junk on the shelves that she's just going to ignore anyway. God forbid I should try to teach her to be creative and imaginative, not to mention, GASP, thrifty?!!!

I LOVE the comment about "upping the ante" as well as resisting the pressure of those around you. I swear, if I get one more look when I tell people my daughter (at 19mo.) does not NEED any more toys, that she is more than happy with her homemade bath toys, and coffeecan drum set, I'm going to lose it.

I've tried suggesting that if they would really like to get her a gift she has an education fund set up, but apparently I am a terrible parent for not opting for the newest junk on the shelves that she's just going to ignore anyway. God forbid I should try to teach her to be creative and imaginative, not to mention, GASP, thrifty?!!!

I also agree. There are still some areas where in it is hard to refrain from beign a perfectionist. We just have to be aware of it.

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