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Maybe Your Parenting Is Good Enough

Even as I clean the house and do the laundry and scramble to make dinner, I can waste hours of mental energy worrying that I’m screwing up my toddler’s entire life. Am I waiting too long to transition her to a big girl bed, thereby stunting her emotional growth? Will her teeth rot because she thinks a toothbrush is a crayon you use to draw in the tub? Is Elmo destroying her incredibly independent spirit?

I know my constant worry isn’t helping anyone – least of all my child – which is why I recently called Ada Calhoun, the author of the just released Instinctive Parenting (Gallery Books). She wrote her book in response to the rise of the obsessive parenting culture, a phenomenon she noticed when she became the founding editor-in-chief of Babble.com, a hip parenting site.

“Parenting is hard, but it doesn’t have to be so complicated,” says Calhoun. “There are so many blogs and products and conflicting philosophies out there these days that you can drive yourself crazy thinking that raising a good kid is practically impossible. It’s not. We’re built for this. We all have the instincts to guide our kids into adulthood, and there’s no one way to do it. There are as many ways to raise a good kid as there are families.”

So how can a worried parent calm down? Calhoun says she’s found some sanity by staying focused on her son’s core needs of shelter, food and love. And she tries to remember her goal is to raise a decent and kind person who can eventually take care of himself. Focus on that ultimate goal and you’ll be less likely to waste precious time worrying about things you can’t control, like the brand names and prices of your baby gear. “That doesn’t matter to the baby and it could be a long time before it does,” she says.

Shelter. “The kid can sleep anywhere,” says Calhoun, whose kid sometimes loves to crawl into cardboard boxes (as does mine). Your baby won’t care if bedtime is in a Pack ‘n Play or fancy crib, and he won’t complain if you don’t have the latest stroller. “You need to focus on what’s going to make you the most comfortable,” she says.

Food. “Your goal is let the baby grow up and be nourished,” says Calhoun. Not everything has to be organic. (Check out the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” food list to see what you should buy organic.) You can feed your baby breast milk or formula and eventually Indian or Mexican food or other kinds of diets. So ignore the people telling you that you’re wrong for breastfeeding or not breastfeeding or occasionally using chocolate to bribe your child at the airport. (Calhoun has found peanut M&Ms are an excellent way to practice counting, colors and sharing with your parents.)

Love. Loving your children seems simple but it bears repeating when they’ve inserted pancakes into the DVD player or erased your latest work assignment from your computer. Really spend time loving your children. “Kids who know they are loved have a glow. It doesn’t take heaps of praise or toys to make them feel it,” Calhoun says. “You just need to light up when they walk in the room, to pay attention to them and make it obvious how much you enjoy them and how grateful you are to have them around.” This isn’t a bad idea for spouses, too.

No Judgment. Remember the screaming toddler at the outdoor café who drove you nuts? Why didn’t his mother remove him from the shop? When you have a baby, you know why. Mom just showered for the first time in three days and managed to get out of the house. You will be that same position some day, so be humble. “We get very judgmental when we have kids,” Calhoun says. “With time, you realize nobody’s perfect.” Including you. And that’s okay.

Trusted Advisors. Find allies who will support you and help you raise your children. What worked best for Calhoun was getting reassurance from parents of older children. They convinced her she would survive the difficult days and nights. That includes a recent night when her kid staying up too late playing cars in his bed, making for a cranky next day at pre-school.

Stayed Focused on the Prize. What works in the short term is completely at odds with what works in the long term, Calhoun says. When you regularly give into your kid’s demands for chocolate right before dinner or another 30 minutes at the park after you’ve said you’re leaving in five minutes, your child will expect to get whatever they want all the time. It’s okay once in awhile, but not as a rule. “Professors talk about students are who shocked if they get less than a ‘A’ because they’re used to getting complete validation,” she says. “There’s this obsession about kids’ emotions being fostered at the expense raising someone who can take care of themselves and is a decent and caring person.”

Go on a Date. Remember the person who got you into this parenting mess in the first place? Consider spending some quality time with that person alone. (If you’re single, go out with a friend or date.) Hire a sitter or trade babysitting services with a fellow parent/friend and go out to dinner and maybe a movie. If you can’t carve out that time, put the children to bed early and eat dinner together. And don’t talk about the kids after the first five minutes. If you can’t think to do it for yourself, know your children will appreciate it. “It makes your kid happier to know you’re happy,” says Calhoun.”

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