Sarah’s Grand Unified Theory of Parenting

I am a person who likes to do things right. Given a goal, whether it’s a simple task like cleaning, or something more abstract like finances, I like to do the best thing. This often means that when I clean, it’s a sweaty, stressful affair where the even the baseboards end up shiny. In my finances, this means I try to earn the most money and spend the least money.

What this also means is that this perfectionism causes paralysis and stress. I can’t clean the house right now because I don’t have time to do a perfect job (and as a result, my house is dirtier than it could be if I just acknowledge that there will ALWAYS be toys on the floor, the couch, and the table). I get stressed about finances – even though we are saving a ridiculous amount of money, there are people on the internet saving 80% of their salaries so clearly we need to STEP IT UP.

Naturally, when I was expecting with my first baby, I wanted to do all the right things. I read a ton of books on sleep training and feeding and discipline and nurturing your baby’s mind. And I vowed to implement it all, even the stuff that was contradictory.

Of course, these things never go as planned. And I wish someone had told me this before he was born:

In parenting, everything you do is wrong.

This is a truth that should be acknowledged before you have kids. And I wish I had known it before my first was born because it is so freeing. After all, if everything thing you do is wrong, then you can pick the best wrong thing for you and your family.

You can feed your kids the best wrong way for your family.
Both of my kids were primarily nursed, but they’ve also both gotten a little bit of formula. Both started solids with rice cereal. We’re not foodies, so most of our meals are pretty simple; we usually have at least one vegetable, but we also sometimes eat dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. And sometimes I – gasp – even heat food in the microwave!

You can work or not – both are doing terrible damage to your child.
I go to work, although why did I even have kids if I wanted to have 5 minutes of adult conversation and non-pajama clothes and a sense of personal accomplishment every day? I leave work on time every day, although that is leaning out and is the reason why there are so few female CEOs. Even if I quit, I’d then be depriving my daughter of the chance to see that women can be successful in careers.

You can sleep train in the way that gets you the sleep you need.
Kiddo #1 slept in his own crib after 3 months because we didn’t want to provide him with the loving closeness of co-sleeping. Kiddo #2 slept in our bed most nights, because we didn’t want her to be able to sleep independently.

I couldn’t stand cry it out (I get stressed out if I hear someone else’s baby crying!), but of course that means I am not helping my children develop self-soothing skills. But sometimes my husband let them cry if he was finishing up a shower or a chore, so they’re also learning that no one will respond to their cries.

You can discipline in a way that suits your – and their – personality.
We don’t spank, but we do yell and use time-out, which is simultaneously being way too soft on them while also shaming them and giving them low self-esteem for life.

Dessert and snacks are rarely linked to how much of dinner is eaten or tasted. Which means we are giving our kids food issues because sweets are not special. Sometimes we will withhold dessert or snacks as punishment, which means our kids will have food issues because they see food as a reward.

You can nurture their minds – or not.
We rarely buy toys, because we don’t love our kids, but occasionally we’ll get something they mention, so we also spoil them. They get a ton of toys from relatives, so they’ll never learn creativity and they’ll always be overstimulated.

We don’t generally let them use our phones or tablets, so they’ll never be good with technology, but we also sometimes deploy it as a nuclear option, so they’ll never learn to be bored and they’ll develop ADHD.

We haven’t signed our kids up for Mandarin lessons, which means they will be unequipped to compete in the new global economy and are ising the prime age for language learning. But I am teaching Kiddo #1 how to read before kindergarten, so I’m contributing to the vast achievement chasm between poor and rich kids.

Sometimes we play with them, which will make them dependent on us for fun, but sometimes we make them play alone, which probably makes them feel ignored and unloved.

Sometimes, you can even choose your own wrong thing.
We don’t watch screens on weekdays, but sometimes we do if Mom and Dad are really tired. We don’t have dessert every night, but sometimes we have dessert before dinner. We don’t always get a treat at the grocery store, but sometimes – if we were really good – Mom says OK to that candy bar in the checkout aisle.

What wrong things are you choosing for your family? And be honest – how many of MY wrong choices are you side-eyeing right now?

4 Responses

  1. Ok I can’t stop laughing. We share many of the wrong choices about parenting!

  2. […] My favorite theory on parenting so far – Sarah’s Grand Unified Theory of Parenting […]

  3. I was really worried about sleep stuff in the first few months, because… sleep deprivation will do that to you. I’d read nothing about baby sleep before birth (don’t babies sleep when they are tired??). Advice I read (while sleep deprived) seemed to imply there is a magic formula you can crack, which will magically solve whatever sleep issue you have, if only you take the right steps and never ever take the wrong steps. Babies unfortunately(?) are not deterministic systems and the lack of control over a schedule and routine was totally disorienting. Anyway, it worked itself out, somewhat, and I feel more confident that we can survive and resolve sleep issues.

    Feeding was easier. Nursing came easily, and by the time we got to solids, I now have figured out that there a numerous perfectly fine ways to feed your kid, and I haven’t worried as much about it.

    Discipline and such is the next big parenting decision, but I hope it is still a ways away. We have no plan, just some vague ideas on which wrong choice to make!

    • I am irrationally jealous of people with no feeding problems. Kiddo#1 didn’t nurse for 6 weeks in the beginning, and I was so upset about it that a lactation consultant told me just to give him formula and have a glass of wine. We eventually got it working. And then Kiddo #2 refused a bottle FOR 7 MONTHS and so we started her on solids super early.

      We had trouble off and on with sleep. Part of the problem is that we sort of enjoyed having them in bed with us (except for the 2-3 years range, when they sleep like starfish). We’re in a fabulous period now though – I never appreciated the ability to sleep 7+ hours straight!

      I still have a lot of anxiety about parenting sometimes. When I really want to hate myself, I read attachment parenting blogs…

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