“Good parenting is simple.”
My eruption of laughter upon hearing that statement from my childless best friend was quite literally uncontainable. Currently a new Mama-of-Two, I was still adjusting to this stage of life for which absolutely no one could have adequately prepared me. No one with kids (at least no one with whom I’ve come remotely close in contact) has uttered those four words that my dear friend spoke.
It turns out, she was right—in a sense.
The Load of Parenthood
Prior to this statement, I was discussing the load of parenthood and how I am living proof of the cliché that one cannot understand parenthood until they’ve entered it. Continuing on and on about the challenges I face each and every day, I explained the seemingly inescapable anxiety I often feel. The attempt to maintain proper balances alone has driven me from healthy-stress-management into neurotic-spiraling-chaos in a matter of seconds. I incessantly grapple with:
- fostering my kiddos’ independence while wanting to be available to them as much as possible;
- encouraging risks and new challenges while desiring their caution;
- finding the “right” intellectual stimulation while avoiding pressuring them to learn new skills before they are ready;
- preparing routine, healthy meals in advance while hoping they will have adaptable palates;
- engaging them in the activities I think will benefit them while allowing them to create their own activities;
- secretly longing for the occasional cry out for comfort during their naps—because I cling to those moments they need me—while knowing that sound sleep will be best for all of us;
- and disciplining effectively while maintaining healthy communication.
When this list expired into senseless ramblings, my dear friend spoke the four words that offered me some severe comic relief: “Good parenting is simple.”
Once my aforementioned uncontainable laughter subsided, however, she offered the most comforting truth I have received as a parent; she said:
“I know that parenthood is the most difficult job. To be a good parent, though, you only have one assignment: to love and provide for your children as much as you can. That is your assignment. All of the other stuff that you do is just the extra credit.”
And just like that, my world shattered, and my tears welled.
She was right.
Fulfilling the External
For so long I had thought that to be a good parent I needed to complete this extensive checklist of tasks every day so that not a single moment in time was wasted—all time was to be spent focusing on development of a specific skill for my children, or helping them learn in some way or another. At times I was probably so focused on the “extra credit” that I may have even taken away from the “assignment.” Instead of being completely present while we danced in the bubbles, I may have been planning the next day’s meals according to the new food charts I’d recently seen. Instead of using fun voices and finding hidden objects on the book’s page alongside my daughter, I may have been turning pages too quickly because I was thinking of the activity we need to try that will stimulate a new motor skill.
I spent so much time worrying about how to be the best parent I can be that I forgot to give myself credit for the things I experience with them every day: the love I offer, the conversations we share, the giggles and kisses we exchange, the food we eat, the (countless) diapers I change, the scrapes I treat, the songs we sing, the books we read, the walks we take, and even my worry. My worry itself exemplifies just how wholeheartedly I long for the best for my kiddos.
This “one assignment” insight of parenting challenged my daily approach. Being a good parent may not be a simple task, but the idea behind being a good parent is simple. I had warped that idea based on fulfilling external expectations rather than simply completing my assignment of loving and providing for my children.
The Simple Assignment
It’s amazing just how much this simple idea has changed my mindset at the beginning and end of each day. Instead of lying down for the night anxious about what I didn’t complete on my “good-parenting-checklist,” I drift into sleep, joyful for the opportunity to love and provide for my children, and proud of anything extra I was able to accomplish with them.
Through this simple approach, I’ve given myself the freedom to fail. I’ve let go of needing to see external value in each activity we do. We’ve had a few relaxing days after receiving troubling news because our hearts weren’t equipped for much activity. We’ve had a few lazy days after hosting company because our bodies had been on overdrive for the weekend. And for the first time since I’ve become a Mama, I’m at peace with the days where I don’t do any extra credit.
So now I ask:
Do you love your children? Do you do your best to provide for them?
Then you complete your assignment—every single day.
Even if that’s all you do today, or tomorrow, or for an entire week—it’s ok. That is all that’s required of you. When you are able, go for all the extra credit possible. I know how rewarding that can be. As long as you do the assignment, though, you are a great parent.