I like to think I was a diligent parent when my kids were tiny. I spent my pregnancies researching and preparing for their babyhoods. Their carefully-curated newborn outfits were meticulously washed in baby-friendly detergent. Guests were greeted with hand sanitizer at the front door, and our kitchen would eventually become an organic baby food factory.
Things have changed a bit in the years since my babies became kids. I can’t remember the last time I asked them to wash their hands (they’re sick all the time, regardless), and dinner last night included hot dogs… and cereal.
It’s not that I’ve given up, it’s just that—OK. Maybe I’ve kind of given up. Because I realize now, with the gift of hindsight, that so many things I fretted over when my kids were little, ultimately didn’t matter that much in the long run. Like…
1. Feeding them homemade organic food
I’m as passionate about nutritious, home-made food as anyone else. But I’ve also learned to scale back my efforts and pick my battles. That’s because those sweet little babies who happily plowed through pureed organic carrots won’t touch anything that isn’t beige and processed nowadays. They come home from school riding a sugar high because someone had a birthday, which means there were ten thousand cupcakes. So, while my kids had a good run for the first year of their lives, we’re now at a place where sprinkles are a food group.
2. Baby boutique apparel that costs more than your own clothes
This. Was. Me. I was that woman buying locally sourced bamboo blend baby tees at $45 a pop. Such was my commitment to baby fashion. Oh, how things have changed. Now, throwing a dozen pairs of $4 Old Navy leggings into a cart (or buying a garbage bag full of pre-loved clothes on the buy-and-sell) is what I consider a shopping spree, because my kids are going to blow the knees out of all their pants anyway. Or, in the case of my six year old, inexplicably lose 50 per cent of her wardrobe at school.
3. Limiting screen time
Ah, screen time, and the endless debate over which is more important: No screen time before two, and limited use after that? Or your own sanity? I was selective over what, and how much, my first daughter was exposed to. But then my second was born, and it all went out the window. I put cartoons on to occupy my toddler while I was nursing, or making dinner, or anything else that required two hands, which meant the baby was exposed to TV from, well, birth. The woman who once allowed her first child to watch only 15 minutes of Sesame Street every day was now turning the Jumperoo toward the television so the new baby could watch The Octonauts, too. (Big shrug.)
4. She’s going to be an immobile blob forever!
These stock images show what parenting's really like (NOT!)I know it seems like that when all the other babies from your pre-natal group are already army crawling, or walking at nine months, and yours just sits contentedly on the play mat. But some kids actually skip crawling altogether and go straight to walking. And I know others who were well past their first birthdays before they walked, and those kids now beat mine in footraces at the park. While hitting milestones late can sometimes be indicative of a larger problem, more often than not, it’s indicative of absolutely nothing, and your doctor will likely let you know if there’s cause for alarm. Besides, once they start moving, They. Never. Ever. Stop.
5. When to potty train
If sleep is the most-oft-debated topic on Facebook parenting groups, potty training is not far behind. As soon as kids hit two, many parents start agonizing over the process of potty training—and how starting too early could traumatize them, yet starting too late could also, you know, traumatize them. Ultimately, there’s no “right” time to start, and no one-size-fits-all strategy for each kid. Besides, that 15-month-old who’s already out of diapers is not necessarily going to Harvard just because she can poop on the potty before she can sing the alphabet. So, don’t feel bad if your preschooler is still having accidents. She’ll get there, just like everyone else!
6. Starting solids
Hitting milestones is exciting! It shows us how our baby is progressing, and it means a little extra fun for parents. (Recording your baby’s adorable first tastes of real food is a must.) But milestones don’t need to be rushed, and starting solids is a good example: in Canada, parents are advised to wait until their baby is about six months. New parents often worry over what to feed baby first, too. Rice cereal? Meat? Fruit? If we start them on fruit, they’ll never eat anything that isn’t sweet. Meat then? But she’ll choke. So… purées? Baby-led weaning? Relax: You can do a mix of both. You don’t have to choose a food philosophy like it’s one camp pitted against the other. It doesn’t reeeeeallly matter what you feed her first if, like my kids, she’s going to turn into a chicken-nugget-obsessed cupcake monster anyway.
7. Enrolling in baby programs
Let’s be honest, these activities are more for the parents than the babies. An infant who is regularly and easily transfixed by the ceiling fan probably doesn’t need sing-a-long circle sessions with tiny maracas they can’t even hold in their own hands yet. And most toddlers I know hated tot soccer and tot ballet because there was too much structure—they’d rather jump and play and bop around freely (fair enough). While I enrolled my eldest in every conceivable class when she was two, our youngest didn’t start a single activity until she was nearly four. Now they both ski, swim and skate with the same amount of skill. So, go ahead, join that pre-walkers gymnastics class. Or, save the $120 for a babysitter and a really nice dinner out with your partner.
8. Preventing germs
Kids become big balls of germs as soon as they start putting things in their mouths. And once they are in daycare or school, they will enter what is scientifically referred to as “The Decade of Endless Illness.” You will learn to differentiate the stage of their cold by the shade of green of their runny nose. Gross? Yes. But also true. I know it’s inconvenient to have a constantly sick kid in your house, but exposure to some germs can actually be healthy for them, because it helps build their immune systems. So, ease off on the hand sanitizer, buy a bunch of Kleenex, and save some vacation days for the inevitable sick days coming your way.
9. Your baby’s percentile
Parents tend to fret endlessly over where their kids fall on the percentile charts, and compare and contrast these numbers like they’re SAT scores. I had one petite baby, and one robust baby. I raised them the same, fed them the same, and now that they are kids, none of it has proven to matter in any way. Your child’s place on the percentile charts (usually) doesn’t say anything about your parenting, or what kind of person he is going to grow up to be. Big babies aren’t better than smaller babies, and vice versa. It means nothing! So ask yourself: Is she following her curve? Yes? Then leave it at that.
10. Researching the best toys
I used to carefully curate a list of incredible, expensive kids’ toys to send to family ahead of birthdays and Christmases. I had this vision of my girls playing endlessly (and quietly, and without fighting) with enriching STEM sets. The reality is a little different. Toys older than six hours old are inevitably pronounced “boring” and “I’m tired of that one,” so why even bother? My children would rather circle me like a satellite as I make dinner (or fold laundry, or go to the bathroom), than actually play with a toy—award-winning or otherwise. That’s why God invented second-hand toy stores… and Netflix.