My 12 Lazy Rules of Parenting
The idea of parenting is a relatively new phenomenon.
If you were born before 1960, your parents didn’t care if you rode in the car without a seat belt, played with plastic bags over your head (looking at you Betty Draper), or wandered your neighborhood without adult supervision.
If you fell and scraped your knee, the only consolation you’d hear from your parents was: “Ah, rub some dirt in it!”
That was okay as the standard of parenting back then.
Sure, we’ve gotten smarter since the 60s — maybe second-hand smoke isn’t the best idea for little lungs, and seat belts do work — but being a parent in today’s modern world is a daunting task.
That’s why I stick to one truth: parenting is an instinct, not a skill.
Even though parenting remains a guessing game, I’ve stuck with 12 simple rules to keep the guessing to a minimum.
1. Be honest.
This is a new rule I’ve made for myself.
I’m the type of person who avoids conflict and arguments at all costs. I keep my opinions and feelings bottled up until it festers into resentment.
Recently, my actions hurt a family member. It could have all been avoided if I was open and honest in the first place.
Be honest with your kids. Be honest with your partner. Like Daniel Tiger sings, “Use your words and say how you feel.”
2. Put your spouse/partner first.
I make it a point to show my kids how much I love their mother.
When she comes home from work, my wife gives me the first kiss before the boys.
We are open and affectionate around the apartment.
Don’t neglect your children, of course, but make sure your spouse/partner’s needs are met.
Prioritizing your spouse/partner over your children reinforces a sense of security and stability.
It sets the example of what unconditional love looks like.
And in 18 years, when the kids are out of the house, who else are you going to hang out with?
3. Keep your mind and body healthy.
Prioritize your well-being.
I neglected mine after my second son was born. We all paid the price.
Your kids need a healthy you. Your spouse/partner needs a healthy you. You need a healthy you.
Putting your mental and physical health first doesn’t mean putting your kids on the back burner. It means setting boundaries.
I work out in the evenings after 7 pm. My son knows this. He’s more than welcome to exercise with me, but it’s not playtime. I make that point clear.
It also means setting aside time for yourself.
Don’t burn yourself out, you’re needed for the long haul.
4. Kids are still humans.
Kids aren’t a separate species from our own. They are human.
They feel human emotions.
When they are mad, they cry. When they are happy, they laugh.
Adults have the same feelings and emotions, but we’ve been programmed to control them.
Kids don’t know this yet. So let them be kids… sorry, let them be humans.
We all have bad days sometimes.
5. Before your kid is even born, 50% of their personality has already been determined.
The other 50% is determined by random, uncontrollable events in our environment.
In other words, there’s nothing you can do to change your kid’s personality.
They are who they are.
Listening to Mozart as a baby won’t make them a musical genius.
Enrolling in mommy-and-me swimming classes won’t create the next Michael Phelps.
Take what you have and roll with it.
6. Don’t fuss over the silly stuff.
Almost everyone’s milestones normalize eventually.
Your kid’s reading skills seem may impressive compared to their peers now, but come back in 15 years and tell me if there’s still much of a difference.
As parents, we enjoy bragging about the cool things our kids can do. But we also panic over trivial nothings.
My son has trouble pronouncing “th-” sounds. Worried he might have a tongue tie or speech impediment, my wife and I took him to an ENT doctor.
“Practice some speech exercises and come back in 3 months,” he told us.
That advice cost us $500.
We should have been patient.
Whatever your kid is going through, there is a chance they may grow out of it.
Use your best judgment, but be careful not to go overboard.
7. Adapt to your kid.
One trap parents fall into is defining their kid’s identity in absolutes.
Adapt to your kid, don’t fit them into a pre-defined box.
Four and a half years ago my son was born. Now he can read, do math, and remember I promised him ice cream last week.
It’s amazing to see how much he’s grown.
90% of brain development happens before the age of 5. Kids change, fast.
Don’t be disappointed if they don’t like their new bike for Christmas, even though a month ago they were gung-ho about bikes.
8. Never lie to your kids. (Only lie when “necessary”.)
This one’s different than the honesty rule above.
When you are standing in line at Target, and your kid wants all the snacks on display, “Those are the spicy ones” gets the job done every time.
- “Soda pop is beer.”
- “Everything is closed.”
- “Daniel Tiger is sleeping.”
9. Screen time is a free babysitter.
I can already hear the groans.
By screen time, of course, I mean watching programs which are educational in nature:
- Story Bots
- Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
- Tumble Leaf
- Sesame Street
- Wild Kratts
My four-year-old also plays education iPad games that involve music development, coding, and problem-solving.
Studies show kids don’t use TV as a distraction. Kids become distracted when they don’t understand what’s presented. (Kirkorian, Heather & Anderson, Daniel. (2008). Television and learning.)
In other words, a simple show with age-appropriate themes and learning principles engages kids and helps them learn.
Anecdotally, my wife grew up on Nickelodeon. I grew up on PBS. Now she’s the one with the doctorate degree.
Give yourself a break from time to time and let your kids have some screen time.
Screens aren’t going away any time soon and we need to be the ones to teach our kids their value and limits.
10. Don’t buy everything for your kids.
When my son was 15 months old and beginning to eat with utensils, my wife really wanted to buy a special fork for kids.
“It’ll help him learn how to hold a fork and feed himself,” she told me.
“Honey,” I replied, “he’s going to figure it out eventually. He’s not going to be on a date in 20 years and say, ‘Excuse my manners, my mom never bought me a special fork to teach me how to feed myself.’”
Kids only need a few things to be happy. But marketers tell us differently.
Most children’s products are marketed from a position of fear: fear that you aren’t a good parent.
A $70 tested and approved crib from Walmart is just as good as the $500 one from Pottery Barn.
The only difference is Pottery Barn knows how to make you feel like a bad parent.
Again, use your best judgment.
11. Give your kids a sense of independence.
One day your kids will be independent adults.
In the meantime, give them space to try things on their own.
- When they fail, teach them why.
- When they make poor decisions, help them understand the consequences.
Don’t always make the decisions for your kids, let them have a say from time to time.
My son checks out his own books at the library. He loves it. He makes me stand off to the side. It’s his way of interacting with the world without his dad’s help.
Your children will spend the vast majority of their lives without you as their caregiver. Prepare them well.
12. There’s no such thing as over-loving.
Let your kids know they are loved. Let them know your partner is loved. Let them know you are loved.
We all show our love in different ways and in different amounts.
Love in a way that feels natural to you.
You got this.
I hope by now you understand one thing:
There are no hard and fast rules to parenting.
Every family faces their own unique set of challenges. Every household is different. Every kid is different.
My rules above work well for me, but they aren’t for everyone.
If you are ever worried about being a “good” parent, at the very least, stick to rule #12 and you’ll do fine.
And if it makes you feel any better, no one’s keeping tabs.