I’ve got a special talent for feeling guilt. I feel guilty about all kinds of things. If I’ve known you for more than five minutes, I’ve likely apologized for something…and there’s a good chance whatever it was wasn’t even really my fault. I’m just really good at feeling guilty.
I’m mellowing, though. Maybe it’s because I’m a wiser, more experienced parent and person. Maybe it’s just that I’m getting old and feeling guilty all the time is exhausting and time-consuming. What I do know is this — there are so, so many things I worried about and felt lingering guilt over as a young, new mom that I just don’t anymore (and yes, Grammar Nerds — ending a phrase with a preposition is #11 on this list. So there.)
Here they are — the 10 things I refuse to feel guilty about:
1.) NOT BEING QUIET IN THE LIBRARY
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not giving up on teaching kids how to behave in a library. And I’d say 80% of the time we get there. But sometimes they forget themselves. And there’s a big difference between kids yelling because they’re angry, and an excited kid yelling, “Mom! I found the Magic Treehouse books! They’re over here!” If in the future we want a literate, book-loving society, we can’t go making kids feel bad when they get excited about books. Sorry, Society. (Sidenote: Most librarians — some I’m proudly related to — understand this and encourage the kids’ love of reading. It’s only been some of the other patrons who make comments or give looks.)
2.) WEARING THE GOOD DRESSES. ALL THE TIME.
This whole having-four-kids experiment has been a trip. It’s fascinating to watch each of them — similar in some ways and in some — so totally different. My oldest daughter wants nothing to do with dresses or skirts and would happily wear shorts year-round, if we didn’t have that pesky rule about dressing warm when it’s below freezing. My youngest only wears dresses. Ever. For a long time I tried to get them both to branch out. Just try something new. They each had other clothes and it was wasteful to ignore half the closet just because they’re stuck in their ways. But you know what? This is who they are right now. And it’s not their fault I ignored that and bought clothes they didn’t want to wear. So now I let them be. I also let go of the idea of saving the “good dresses” for special occasions. If they’re getting worn, and enjoyed immensely, on regular days — well, isn’t that what we all want from our wardrobes? To have fun and be convinced we look good?
3.) STAYING ON THE TRAILS WHEN WE HIKE.
Again, we do mostly. I’m not advocating tromping through fields of endangered wildflowers or anything. But this article changed how I think about kids and their relationship with nature. And if we want kids who grow up loving wildlife and protecting it — don’t they have to be able to experience it?
We have established bedtimes. They’re age-appropriate, and probably pretty early by most people’s standards (I’m getting old, remember? I need sleep. And my kids get up at 6:30am regardless of whether they go to bed at 8pm or 2am.) But I used to worry and feel guilty that I was setting them up for a bad day if they didn’t go to bed exactly on time. I’m learning that getting to bed 20 minutes late on occasion isn’t a big deal. And a late night during the summer, or on an occasional weekend does not, apparently, ruin anyone for life. If we hit the bedtime 90% of the time, the other 10% isn’t a big deal.
See #4. If we mostly eat healthy, I no longer stress over occasional unhealthy snacks and treats.
6.) SCREEN TIME
Ok, so I actually think this one is a big deal. And I know lots of parents trying to get it right, but I don’t know anyone who thinks they’ve got it 100% of the time. But here’s what I do know. Worrying and guilt about how much screen time your kids are getting doesn’t help. Setting reasonable limits, making plans to do other things, getting good books to read and projects to do — those are all helpful, productive things to do. Worrying isn’t.
7.) LEAVING THE LIGHTS ON
This was my husband, actually. I think he heard a pastor say something which resonated with him. Basically this — you’ve got a limited amount of time with your kids. Do you really want to spend it yelling at them for leaving the lights on after they’ve left a room?
It’s true. I used to track down kids, wherever they were, make them stop what they were doing and get up to shut off the lights they forgot. And for what? The cost is minimal. Kids are going to forget and leave lights on, no matter how many times you nag. This is one of those battles it’s best not to pick.
8.) CLEAN ROOMS AND TOYS
One of the hardest things about sharing a home with other people is that all those other people take stuff out. And move it all around. Usually to the middle of the floor, where I step on it. I used to insist the kids put away all their toys before moving on to something else or going to bed…but then they began building things with blocks or Legos, or drawing and painting things. And they might be in the middle of these projects when I insisted they put them away. I’m getting to be okay with half-built projects staying out so the construction crew can see them through to completion, and with art projects drying on the table instead of being put away. It’s hard, when I’d like a clean house, but nobody ever said creativity was nice and clean.
I’m a rule-follower and a list-lover and I’m pretty sure there was one time ever when I didn’t have my homework done. It was seventh grade algebra and such a rare occurrence that I remember it to this day. So I never thought I’d say this — but sometimes it’s better not to do homework. When you have an unusually late or busy day and kids are tired and cranky and the two of you are now stuck in a power struggle that no one will win (I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you can’t make kids do homework no matter how long you two sit there), sometimes it’s best to cut your losses, call it a night, and let everyone get some rest instead. (Check out these other tips for coping with homework battles, too.)
10.) THE FUTURE
Oh, I worry so much about my kids’ future. I’m already feeling guilty for what I did or didn’t teach them to get ready for it. Did I teach them well and gave them guidance and — did I remember to teach them how to wash their whites and manage their money? Will they all be living in my basement forever? I don’t know. I do know that I can worry about this until I’m mentally exhausted…or I can do the best I can now, surround them with other people who love them, and be present in the moment. So that’s what I’m going with until I’ve got a better idea.
How about you? Do you have any things you used to worry or feel guilty about with your kids that you no longer do? I’d love to hear them in the comments or on facebook!
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