It's Ok to Cheat (at Parenting)

Most of what I read and see as it regards to parenting young children seems to serve one singular purpose: to scare the ever living shit out of me.

Parents are scared enough as it is. Like the annoying phrase that I hated hearing before Olivia was born, you can never be prepared…for how helpless and fragile your child is at first. They get a lot more robust, but you can tend to spend the rest of their lives occasionally underestimating their resilience.

There is a strong brand of media out there existing to prey on that parental anxiety. It makes us worry about things we do to varying degrees. I’ve made a joke in our family for every time we don’t follow the “best practices” of parenting to a T. I laugh and say “well, I guess she/he’s not getting into Harvard”.

Because that’s how it can feel, that you have to make sure your kid is the best and that somehow its a competition. It drives me crazy.

I’ll be expanding on some best practices that I’ve stumbled my way into in later posts. But before I do that, I want to address several “cheats” that we use in the DeSantis household that i’ve decided to feel no shame about.

SCREENS

Have you been told that screens are ruining everything? If you let your kids stare at a screen too long, they will lose all ability to socialize and eventually float off into space like a gigantic helium balloon.

Yes, I let Olivia (Jake is just four months) look at screens sometime. No I do not use a stopwatch to time the amount of time she is using it. I primarily use it at a time when I would like her to sit still, or I am playing a zone with two kids alone and need to go man-to-man with my 16 lb man.

Also on long trips. How did parents survive long trips before IPads? I don’t even want to know, all I know is that they make life way easier and so far Olivia is still a nice sociable kid despite having spent some indeterminate amount of time looking at screens.

CODDLING

You know what I do when my kids get upset. I COMFORT THEM. Before I was a parent, I had some insane idea that not comforting kids that were upset was how I was going to “toughen them up” for the real world.

I also thought that kids that were excessively comforted by their parents grew up to be a huge pain in the ass for everyone around them to deal with. I know think I was wrong on both counts.

Note what I don’t include in coddling, which I will get into in a moment. In this case I am just referring to offering comfort and understanding to my children when they are upset, regardless of what they communicate to me it is about.

REWARDS

Sometimes I leverage something Olivia wants into something I want her to do. I do this despite the fact that I am not really teaching anything that will stick in any meaningful way. She is unlikely to continue doing something especially if she affixes it to a “treat” for doing it, and later on I may pay the price in her expecting that treat for doing something she should do every day.

But as I’ve said before, sometimes I just need to take a shortcut to get to the next step. I need to get her in the car, or I need her to stay relatively quiet while she sits behind me and I talk to my team, and the only way I can do it is to cheat a little bit with a reward.

HUMOR

Olivia and I share the same sense of humor. I am perhaps one of the worst people in the world to bring to a comedy in the theaters. I can usually muster a couple laughs at most.

Somehow my daughter can make me laugh so hard on a daily basis that I am brought to tears. Likewise, when she is sometimes spiraling in despair, I can pull up her nose with a barely appropriate joke.

Now, when I do this I am missing the opportunity to fully address whatever she may be upset about, and in the long term that is what will help her most. But I am imperfect and sometimes I just want her to smile, so I crack the joke, wait for the giggle and feel the relief.

Whereto now?

For each of these “cheats”, they have a time and place. None of us are perfect, even if we could through sheer force of will avoid using any of these I’m not sure we would be better off for it.

Think of the above like candy. It’s ok to eat candy sometimes. It’s not good to eat a lot of candy. So for each of the situations above, in coming weeks, I’m going to be talking about the best I’ve found for “nutritious meal” that I want to serve to my kids.