Parenting By the Book – Read with a Grain of Humor

There’s a reason I pick up parenting magazines with apprehension.

While I enjoy learning about new parks in my area and ways to save on kids’ birthday parties and clothes, at the end of it all, I somehow end up feeling overwhelmed and exhausted and none the wiser for having read the latest issue from cover to cover.

Take last month for example. I picked up this magazine for some light reading by the pool while overseeing my daughter’s swimming lessons.

I was glad to see that the issue covered affordable birthday party venues and ideas since my kid’s big day was coming up and for the very first time, I was actually considering throwing a party at one of the party places. I had evaded party planning, goody bag shopping and related tasks for the past 6 years by choosing other ways to celebrate instead. These had included a trip to Disney World, a small family get together at home, a cupcake party at her school and other less complicated celebrations.  This year, there was no escape and I knew it. So, I made a mental note of what some of the wisest and most experienced party planning supermoms around town had to say.

As I turned the page, I was dismayed to discover all the wonderful things my daughter was not learning. From tap dancing to rock climbing, Swahili to advanced calculus, I had deprived my 6-year old of a lot of enriching activities she could have unquestionably benefited from this past summer. You see, instead of sending her to camp, I had taken her with me on a trip across the globe to visit family, friends and thousand+ year old temples in India.  I wonder how many learning opportunities she had lost in the process.

I then saw that I hadn’t entirely missed the boat. There was still hope. The places that offered all these splendid life skills offered them throughout the year. So, my daughter could still be the tap dancing champ and rock climbing rock star after all, if I could just manage to drive her fast enough from one lesson to the other and still be back in time for homework.

Speaking of which – the next article talked about school homework policies and homework tackling strategies. It had some great advice for parents on how to encourage children to get their work done one time, stay organized and even turn in their term paper on the first day of school. As it turns out sticky notes and file folders are the answer to most of today’s world problems.

OK. So, by now I was determined to get my daughter’s home work habits in order, prioritize her extra-curricular activities, learn how to whip up 5-minute super-nutritious meals three times a day and of course get this all done every day for the rest of my daughter’s school going years.

I began to get physically tired somewhere between turning the pages of the magazine and glancing up to check on how my daughter’s swim lesson was going (she was still sitting on the steps at the verge of convincing the coach that people didn’t actually need to learn to swim without floats – at least she gets bonus points for logical reasoning and negotiation skills). The idea of a nap floated pleasantly in my head for a brief moment.  Before I had a chance to acknowledge and entertain it, I snapped awake when I read the next article’s headline. Apparently, children my kid’s age needed between 12-13 hours of sleep a day. Huh. Who knew! I realized that children actually needed to sleep over half the time each day to be able to spend the other half productively at school and in the various classes they would take. This not only would help them develop better memory and math skills but also bring rest and relaxation to parents, thereby restoring some of the pre-baby peace at home. What a stroke of brilliance! Tire them out every waking minute and get them to sleep the rest of the time – sounded like the perfect parenting mantra that had been missing all these years from my life.

Except, there was just this one problem. You see, my kid spends almost 8 hours away from home, 6 of them in a classroom learning all this stuff that’s supposed to be making her smarter and better prepared for life.  So, if I were even to succeed to get her to sleep for the recommended 12 hours, that would leave us with 4 hours to do all the other life-changing things the magazine was talking about. That would include the time to finish the day’s homework, drive her to and from lessons, the time to shower, change, cook, eat, brush and maybe even exchange a few words and a hug or two with my child. And let me not forget the 20 minutes of ‘recommended reading’ she was expected to do every night. And the 1 hour of physical activity and free play that was important for children her age, according to doctors and other experts. Oh, and the well-researched fact that one of the articles had thrown at me stating that all kids over the age of 3 should pitch in with household chores in order to grow up to be responsible adults.

You see, this is around the time when I begin to feel utterly exhausted and overwhelmed with all the information and recommendations I had just gathered. My ordinary little brain simply could not do the math and for the life of me I could not figure out how the tiger moms and dads of the world managed to do the best for their kids. Did their worlds function in a different plane where time was more elastic? Did they have some magic cloning potion for themselves and their kids? I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

I put down the magazine and smiled at my daughter who looked like she was having a good time – floats, goggles and all. She didn’t seem to care that she wasn’t one bit of a better swimmer that day than she had been the previous day or that I had shelled out $20 for her and her floats to hang out at the pool with a swimming instructor. All she seemed to care about was that she was in the water, having fun splashing around.

Was I depriving my child of a well-rounded and complete childhood? Was I doing enough to ensure she’d be happy?

I thought about the things I did manage to do with her. The weekly piano and classical dance lessons. The trips to the park once or twice a week. Riding a bike with her once in a while. Taking her on summer vacation to see great grandmothers who were over 85 years old. Having conversations with her in a language that is thought to be the world’s oldest. Reading to her every night and maybe even getting her to read a few sentences although that’s not her favorite thing to do right now. Going for hikes and nature walks to collect rocks and leaves. The 10 minutes we had just to ourselves each morning as I drove her to school and the conversations that invariably ensued. “Why is there a sound when we clap?”  ” What is so safe about a safety pin?”  ” If the sun is supposed to be so hot, how did they manage to measure its temperature?” “How cum scientists know the answers to everything – who checks if they’re even right?”

It didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that it was ok that we weren’t doing everything we could be, as long as we were doing what made us happy. For now, that’s all that mattered. And I hoped that’s how it would stay.

As for parenting magazines, I still have a place for them on my coffee table. Just not in the light reading section.

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