Why Laid Back Parenting Works For Me

This originally appeared on Mamamia. Republished here with permission.

Kids are not cakes, they’re more like stir-fries: You can kind of make it up as you go along.

There’s a lot of hand-wringing over raising kids these days, isn’t there? Mostly over kids who are well fed, well educated, and well loved. I don’t know if the hand-wringing benefits the kids, but I do know that it’s exhausting parents and that can’t be good for anyone.

So here’s my alternative, more laid back approach:

1. I don’t spend 10 seconds feeling sorry for my kids.

Unless they are bleeding or vomiting, I don’t get too upset on their behalf. If they miss a party because we’ll be away or the budget means they can do gymnastics or ballet but not both, that’s a bit of a shame but not much. Tears over not being in the same class as your best friend are tears wasted, and missing the finale of your favorite TV show because it’s on a Sunday night isn’t worth me emailing the CEO of the network.

2. You’re special but not that special.

I reckon if you sign up for a school or a sport, you go with the flow. If your class does special assessment tests, so do you. If everyone is expected to swim in the meet, you will swim. Even if you hate it. The good swimmers need someone to beat, so it’s a way of helping them feel good. Maybe those kids aren’t as stellar in the classroom, so give them their moment.

3. Go outside.

This isn’t possible for families who live in apartments or arctic environments, but if it’s possible for you, I highly recommend it. If you’re shopping for a house and have a choice between a media room and a backyard, go for the latter. There are myriad benefits: healthy appetites, vibrant imaginations, and a house that stays tidier longer. Of course the kids need stuff to do outside so you might need to furnish them with props—old bedsheets, pots and pans, a trampoline if you can afford it. Or (best of all) other kids. Get to know your neighbors and open your world to them. Be clear they are there to play—not to be fed and watered. We installed a sprinkler in the yard for precisely this purpose.

4. It’s OK to suit yourself sometimes.

When my daughter was offered a place at a pre-school closer to home than the one my son went to, I leapt at it even though there was a debate over whether the program was as good. One mother questioned my decision: “You wouldn’t compromise her education for your own convenience would you?” she asked. “In a heartbeat,” I replied. It was pre-school. I had a son in school and was pregnant with our third. Fifteen minutes saved was 15 minutes gained, and that’s priceless. So far, no ill effects of the B-grade pre-school are evident.

5. Classrooms are for kids.

I try to keep out of classrooms. I trust the teachers and more or less leave them to it.  Also, I feel kids need stories to tell—what happened at school, at the party, and on the playground. If you’re always there, what’s there to tell? And they need bad stories as well as good—the cranky supervisor at after-school care, the kid who hogs the swings, the spider in the toilets.

6. ‘I can’t be everywhere.’ This is a fact, not an apology.

Kids are very good at making you believe that everyone’s parents will be at every sporting event and everyone’s mother does arts and crafts and they will be the only one with a diorama they actually made themselves. It is not true. Be there when you can be and give them a hug when you can’t.

7. Third children rarely get pony parties and that’s OK.

I know parents who bust a gut making sure all their kids are indulged as much as the first. This is expensive and exhausting. Either they weren’t there or can’t remember. When my youngest child (Sally) caught a glimpse of the photos of her older brother Ben’s ridiculous first birthday party, I reminded her she regularly stays up later than 9pm—something Ben never did at 5 years old. She has also seen the first two Harry Potter movies. So no “mommy medals” for me.

8. Kids are not cakes, they’re more like stir-fries.

You can kind of make it up as you go along. I know people who disagree and slavishly follow the recipe—thinking if they add the correct quantities of organic vegetables, time outs, and expensive tuition the only possible outcome is a genial Rhodes scholar with Wimbledon potential. These people stress if an ingredient is unavailable or forgotten. They spend their lives checking to see how it’s working and angsting through the oven door.

Those who subscribe to stir-fry parenting work with what they have. Sure, there are a few rules to follow—a hot wok works best, ingredients should be more or less the same size—but the results are delicious, exciting, and the best part is: No two stir-fries are ever the same.

Kate Hunter is a mother of three and the writer of all sorts of things. In addition to her work as an editor at Mamamia, she’s an advertising copywriter with hundreds of ads under her belt. One or two of them were OK. You can follow her ramblings on twitter @katelhunter.

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