And there he sat. And sat. And then my firstborn, fresh from the maternity ward, sat some more. We had just arrived home from the hospital and placed our son directly in the center of the living room. He was still straitjacketed in his car seat, cocooned beneath two blankets that reached his lower lip. An oversized beanie half covered his dark eyes. He squinted at us. My husband and I glanced at each other. Now what? Did we really have to remove the bubble wrap?
Yes. Yes, we did have to remove it. I’m sure there is a law against keeping your kid in restraints, even if you think it’s for their own good. A few years later, we had to remove it again when we brought home our daughter. But it wasn’t easy.
Who knew there would be so much to worry about, to consider, to debate, when raising kids? Parents of older kids know. Now that my babies have made it to the teen and tween years I know. As the saying goes, if I knew then what I know now, well I would have saved myself a lot of angst and time. So I’m sharing the main things I wish I had known back then. If all else fails, go straight to number 9. You’re welcome.
1 | You will seriously screw up and it will turn out okay
I consider myself pretty vigilant, borderline neurotic even. Yet once, when my son was an infant, I accidentally locked him inside my running car and had to call the police for help. You’re probably wondering how that can even happen. Well, it’s not easy, but trust me it can be done. Another time, I managed to unlock the seatbelt holding in the car seat and didn’t realize it until I took a sharp turn and heard the thump, thump, thump of the car seat, with child harnessed inside, tumbling across my back seat.
No one’s perfect. The kids survive. Fortunately they are resilient little buggers.
2 | Make sleep a priority
When you first bring a newborn home you’ll probably hear the advice to sleep when the baby sleeps. Sounded like a good idea to me until I realized, “Wow, this baby never friggin sleeps!”
One drizzly evening, completely exhausted, I walked the neighborhood with my child nestled inside one of those kangaroo-type baby carriers that make you feel pregnant again, particularly in the lower back area. As I spied people in their homes sitting down for dinner, I had a mini-meltdown that I couldn’t simply sit at a table. At that point, I realized the importance of sleep.
One recent study found that pulling an all-nighter is worse for your body than months of unhealthy eating. If sleep is cut short, we wake up less prepared to concentrate, to make decisions, or to engage fully in activities.
I thought that since I was on maternity leave I should be able to easily stay up all night with our newborn. Dumb idea. Better idea: I didn’t have the funds to hire a night nurse so I split the night with my husband. I was responsible for any cries until 2:30 a.m. My husband was responsible for any cries after 2:30 a.m. This way we each had about seven hours of sleep a night. I was much happier and probably so were my neighbors since I wasn’t peeping in on them anymore.
3 | Your child will learn to read
These days, kids are required to reach a certain reading level as early as kindergarten. I remember the panic I felt hearing parents talk about their 5-year-old reading prodigies.
Practice your head-nod and ignore. Maybe their kids really are reading “The World According to Garp,” because they need more challenge, but I’ve discovered being first doesn’t really matter. Both of my kids couldn’t read novels in kindergarten, but they can now when they actually need to. Your children will learn on their personal timetable, but they will get there.
4 | Let them go outside without a coat
Starting at age 4, my son would appear to suffer a seizure following any glimpse of a winter coat. He claimed to always be hot and never put a coat on without a battle. One time, finally all bundled up, he glared at me and said, “When you’re really old and you have a broken brain, I’m going to make you wear four sweaters. Four! In the summer!”
It took years, but I realized this is one battle that is not necessary. Shedding a coat will not make your child sick. When you look to see what the CDC says about ways to prevent colds there’s nothing about coats.
The important thing when it comes to cold prevention is actually washing your hands. So if my kids don’t want to wear a coat or want to wear shorts in the winter, I learned to let them make the decision themselves and suffer the natural consequences. “Oh, you’re cold? I guess next time you should wear your coat.”
5 | Embrace the grocery store
Nowhere is private once you have kids. I’ve been in the middle of a shower and my daughter has popped her head in asking me to braid her hair. Umm, I’m in the shower? Whenever I’m on the phone, even when I hide in the basement, my kids find me. They sidle up to my hip, tip-tap their feet and correct my discussions. “No mom, I didn’t say I loved the field trip, I said I liked it. Geeez.” This is why I nominate the grocery store as the premiere parent haven. I leave the kids at home and up and down the aisles I go, round and round in a walking meditation, catching up on all my phone calls, enjoying the peace and quiet. Sometimes I’ll even have a snack. No sharing required.
6 | Phones are fine
Screen time is evil, according to… pretty much everyone. My pediatrician often gives a screen-time warning at checkups, suggesting no more than an hour a day. Recently she scared my daughter half to death noting how you can become addicted to electronic devices the same way people can become addicted to drugs and become homeless. Was she saying watching too much YouTube will make you homeless? Maybe?
I’ve realized, however, that with some basic rules, phones can be taken off the worry list. My children received phones on their eleventh birthdays. We check them frequently and keep them in our room at night.
We’ve seen the phone provide a lot of benefits. It helps with responsibility. My kids have to keep track of their phones and call in when they are out. I know where they are either by calling them or through the free Find My iPhone app that tracks phone locations. Their phones also provide an opening to talk about serious issues while they are still at an age when they’ll listen (sort of).
We’ve had the “no dick pics” conversation regarding the consequences of distributing inappropriate images, for example. We’ve also exchanged numerous texts that are silly, fun and keep us connected. Without my kids having phones I never would have known about mustache monkeys… and that would be just sad.
7 | Make them run
Increasing research shows that physical activity, like running, provides a number of benefits for kids, boosting their psychological well-being and academic performance. Running elevates endorphin levels; running can produce a meditative state, or maybe it’s just because it gets your kid the hell out of your face and you both have a chance to take a breather from one another. Whatever the reason, I’ve found that sending my kids out for a run means they will come back in a much calmer mood. Most of us can run. No special equipment is needed, just a nudge out the door. Buh bye.
8 | Good food equals good mood
Gold fish were one of my go-to snacks for the kids until I spoke with a nutritionist who mentioned how eating crackers like goldfish are basically like eating air. She told me to instead focus on snacks that include protein or fiber, such as nuts, cheese, peanut butter on whole-wheat toast, hummus or eggs.
I made the change and quickly noticed a difference. The protein helps provide fuel to keep young brains charged for the long school day and keeps my kids’ moods more even. I also hear much fewer complaints about stomachaches since the added fiber keeps things moving in the digestive tract.
9 | When things really suck, try ice cream
No matter the setback, whether it’s a bad grade, a diss from a peer, or a skinned knee, ice cream helps. Something about the treat’s creamy, sweet goodness just seems to make kids feel better. Plus it has protein in it. Just saying.
Now I just need some better strategies to handle the tween and teen years. So far, my best tactic is banishment. “Go to your room!” is a favorite phrase. Too bad my kids can’t stay in their rooms forever. Again, I’m sure there is a law against that. But while they are in there, I think I’ll have some ice cream.