For six years I have done the most important job on the planet. I have attempted to raise brand new, never been used, straight from my box, innocent little people. I would like to emphasize the word “attempted” because after six years I still have no idea what I’m doing. I read articles about “helicopter parenting”, “free range parenting” and “attachment style parenting” and I think that I’m neither of those – and possibly all of those. I can tiptoe the ballet of the helicopter parent, and sway in the modern dance of the free range parent, and I have performed the suffocation salsa of the attachment parent. I’ve done it all. But I think if I were to take a step back and watch this parenting dance I performed, I would look less like a professional and more like Elaine from Seinfeld.
I must not be the only mother who feels this way. It seems no matter what decision I make – it’s both right and wrong.
When my daughter looks up at me with those beseeching sky blue eyes, and asks for a chocolate bar after our grocery shop is over, my brain veers through the backed up traffic of parenting advice that I’ve collected in my head over the years and I can spend more time making that decision then I would in choosing my next house. Why? Because as a parent there is no simple question that has a simple answer. Every decision comes with a warning label – and that warning label is typed in impossibly small font and loaded with words that are only used by corporate lawyers.
So she wants a chocolate bar. If I say yes, am I establishing a precedent that would lead to a kid who has no restraint, one who can’t delay gratification and constantly asks for chocolate bars every time we go out? But maybe we have delayed gratification – she did go the whole shop without asking for one. But if you look at the back of one of these bars the calorie content alone is alarming – not to mention the ingredients I can’t pronounce. How am I supposed to encourage her to eat healthy if I buy junk as a reward? Obesity is a rising trend. But incentives – especially positive ones – encourage good behavior. And teaching a child to enjoy life within moderation is a positive lesson. But am I spoiling her? Does a child need to be rewarded for behavior that should be expected? And then there’s the mother behind me – what is she going to think if I buy my kid a chocolate bar?
And so I’ve danced this perilous break dance in my head and as the time slips by and my kids question becomes more insistent and whiny, I panic. I slip the chocolate bar onto the conveyor belt just to keep her quiet and tell her she can eat it after dinner. When she inevitably forgets, I eat it despite knowing she’ll freak out about it later. This is probably because my mother never taught me to delay gratification. And as I swallow the last bite, I wonder what her parenting dance looked like?