Once upon a time, we were all perfect parents. Before we had kids, of course. We knew what should be done, how to raise well-rounded kids. We read the books. We attended the classes. We bought the course. Then we had kids, and everything went out the window. We learned on that first night in the hospital that our baby did not agree to our terms. Perfect parenting was out; winging it was in.
Except we still know how to be perfect parents, and the guilt is big.
Theoretically, we know we should limit screen time. Too much is not good for their little brains…but that Daniel Tiger episode about potty training is coming in clutch. We need to cook dinner and keep little hands from grabbing at hot pans. We need to finish a work call. We need to take a shower. So we turn on the TV, hand them an iPad. And feel guilty. Because we know it’s too much, but the situation called for it.
Theoretically, we know our kids need well-balanced meals. They need exposure to a variety of textures and flavors. They need vegetables. “Don’t let them start on processed foods because it’s all they’ll want.” But sometimes we have to get out the door early, so they grab a poptart. We’re on the road, and the only food at this exit is McDonald’s. We’re exhausted so pizza night it is. And we feel guilty. We know they need vegetables, but today turned out to be a day without one green veggie in sight.
The thing about all our knowledge (and there sure is A LOT of it available now) is that it is meant to be applied in IDEAL situations. Ideally, kids should have no screen time until two years of age. Ideally, kids should eat well-balanced meals.
Have you ever once had an ideal day?
The contexts of our lives and our knowledge of parenting are at a constant tug-of-war. We know what our kids need on a macroscale, but the microscale, the everyday situations, are constantly changing. Their needs (and ours) are shifting moment to moment.
The other thing about all that parenting knowledge? It is meant to be applied to a typical kid. All those books and courses about potty training, sleep training, toddler emotions — they apply to a typical kid.
Have you ever met a typical kid?
It’s easy to imagine how parenting advice would need to be modified for children with special needs and neurodiversity, and trust me when I say it absolutely does. All the shoulds and musts have to be different for our kids with different needs, but some of our kids have temperaments that call for diverging from the “perfect plan.” Some of us parents have temperaments that require us to do things a little differently. Sometimes you have two children with perfectly pleasant temperaments individually, but when you put them together, it’s a powder keg. A few hours of screen time is necessary for survival.
So how do you reconcile what you know you should do and what you are actually able to do? Grace. It’s a wonderful thing to have the amount of knowledge we have now. I love learning new tips and tricks for parenting. I love new research that helps guide us in the best way to raise well-balanced children. However, I don’t love the all-or-nothing culture that has developed over the years.
We need more grace for the situation.
Grace for knowing what’s best in the long run, but deciding to do something differently in the moment. Grace for knowing that your child can’t do it the way “experts” say it should be done. Grace for knowing yourself enough to know that you’re going to have to go against some advice. Grace for knowing that as long as you are putting your child first in all your decision making, they’re going to turn out just fine.