Rule 1 of Parenting: Relax
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So who are the best parents you know? The ones who have a seemingly instinctive ability to say and do the things that will result in happy, confident, well-balanced children? Have you ever wondered what makes them so good at it? Now think about the ones you privately don’t think are that great. Why not?
All the best parents I know have one key thing in common. They’re relaxed about it. And all the worst ones are hung up on something. Maybe they’re not stressed out about how good they are as parents (perhaps they should be), but they’re hung up about something that affects their ability to be a really good parent.
I know a couple of parents who are neurotically clean and tidy. Their children have to take their shoes off at the door or the whole world falls apart. Even if the shoes are clean. They get really uptight if their children leave anything out of place or make any kind of a mess (even if it gets cleaned up later). It makes it impossible for the kids just to relax and enjoy themselves, in case they get grass stains on their pants, or knock over the ketchup bottle.
I have another friend who is so obsessively competitive that his children are under huge pressure to win every friendly game they ever play. And one who frets excessively every time her child grazes his knees. I bet you can think of plenty of similar examples among people you know.
The really good parents I’ve encountered, on the other hand, expect their children to be noisy, messy, bouncy, squabbly, and covered in mud. They take it all in stride. They know they’ve got 18 years to turn these small creatures into respectable grown-ups, and they pace themselves. No rush to get them acting like adults—they’ll get there in good time.
Between you and me, this Rule gets easier with time, though some people still never master it the way true Rules parents do. It’s much harder to relax fully with your first baby than with your last teenager to leave home. With babies, you need to focus on the essentials—a healthy baby that isn’t too hungry or too uncomfortable—and don’t sweat the rest of it. It doesn’t matter if their shoelaces are untied, or you didn’t find time to bathe them today, or you’ve gone away for the weekend without anything for them to sleep in (yes, I have a friend who has done this, and no, she didn’t sweat it, being a Rules parent).
Much better altogether if you can get to the end of each day, put your feet up with a glass of wine or a G&T,* and say cheerfully to each other, “What the hell ... they’re all still alive so we must have got something right.”