I have friends whose daughter slept in a tiny bed at the foot of their own bed until she was five years old. Today that little girl is eight years old and is finally sleeping in her own room, but it took a long time to get there. Probably not the best way to raise a child (by my friend’s own admission), but more common than you might think.
When my friend and his wife used to talk about this odd sleeping arrangement, they would say things like, “We know that we’re crazy for putting her bed in our bedroom,” and “This is not the best example of parenting in the world.”
His wife was fond of saying, “I’m a great Mom, but I’m also a terrible Mom.”
I have another friend who is hell-bent of keeping his daughter away from television and movies for as long as possible. When his daughter attended a birthday party recently and he learned that a movie was shown as part of the entertainment, he was upset for not being warned about it beforehand by the parents of the birthday girl. When I suggested that the parents probably and rightfully assumed that all nine-year old kids are cleared for watching movies like Shrek and Toy Story, he acknowledged this fact and his own extremism. When he talks about his desire to keep his daughter away from all forms of media, he says things like, “I know that we’re super over-protective about TV and movies, but we can’t help it,” and “I realize that we're on the farthest end of the bell curve when it comes to keeping media away from our kids.”
How wonderful it is to hear from parents who are willing to acknowledge that they are a little crazy when it comes to their kids.
There are many, many parents in this world who could learn from these bits of parental wisdom. We all know that the birth of a baby and the subsequent eighteen years or more of parenthood can make some people crazy.
Most people, in fact.
For some parents, they lose their minds immediately, becoming obsessed with their child’s safety and terrified of every possible danger lurking in their child’s path.
Others are so nervous that they suddenly find the prospect of leaving their child with a babysitter impossible until the kid has entered puberty.
Others attempt to relive their youth through the lives of their children, often in tacky and embarrassing ways.
Others adhere to feeding and napping schedules as rigorous and inflexible as US Army standards.
Still others ignore many commonly accepted notions of parenting and place their little one in front of a television before the kid is six-months old.
Some despise daycare. Some become health food nuts. Some become obsessed with every food item that enters the kid’s mouth. Some allow their children to wreck the house on a daily basis, and others send their toddler outside unsupervised. Some wipe their kids down with antimicrobial wipes four times an hour and other only dress their children in organic cotton. Some stick a pitching wedge in the hands of their two-year old in hopes of nurturing a future golf prodigy.
My point is that we all know that parenthood can make a perfectly rationale person act completely irrational. For one of my friends, this has meant sleeping in the same room with his daughter for longer than most would consider normal or even advisable. For another, it means that he may be highly overprotective of his daughter, particularly in terms of the media that she consumes.
Are they completely irrational? No, but they are closer to irrationality than others.
But that is their right. And who knows? These methods might prove to be the absolute best means of parenting ever.
But both sets of parents do something that few parents ever manage to do:
They acknowledges the possibility that their style of parenting is at least outside of the norm.
Wouldn’t it be nice if every possibly irrational parent would do the same?
Wouldn’t it be a hell of a lot easier to accept and embrace the parent who says:
Look. I know it’s crazy, but I will not allow my 12-year old to cross the street without me. It’s just the way it’s going to be.
Or how about:
Yes. The research says that a child should not watch television before the age of two, and I know that large-scale consumption of television is detrimental to learning, but I am putting a television in my kid’s bedroom anyway, because that’s the way I was raised and it worked for me. I know it sounds a little crazy, but it’s what I’m going to do.
I drive my kid to school every day because I don’t allow my child to be in a vehicle with anyone but me driving. I know it’s a little nuts, but it’s what I need to do to feel that my child is safe.
These are the people who I understand. These are the parents who I can embrace wholeheartedly.
Parenting can make you crazy. I understand.
It’s the parents that pretend that their irrational style of parenting is normal, mainstream, and beyond question who make me insane. The ones who are instantly offended by the furrowing eyebrow, the doubting look or the helpful suggestion of friends or family upon learning that their thirteen year old is only permitted to listen to gospel music, and only on Sundays.
It's the ones who think it’s normal to scream at the soccer coach for not starting their son in the big game.
The ones who pretend that their decision to home school their children in order to keep them away from bullies and other worldly contamination is beyond reproach.
If these parents would just acknowledge that they are outside the norm when it comes to parenting, I am willing to venture that most people would be willing to accept their differences with little complaint or judgment.
But pretending that it’s normal for your toddler to watch Judge Judy reruns in the afternoons or for your daughter to wear a hairnet everyday in order to avoid lice is simply insane. There’s nothing worse than having to tiptoe around people who insist that their behavior is normal and their decisions are universally accepted and unfailingly correct.
I love my slightly-insane friends for acknowledging their insanity, and I wish that everyone would do the same.
At this point, you may find yourself wondering what parenting decisions my wife and I have made that are outside the norm.
Fair enough. In the spirit of full disclosure, and as far as I can tell, our rules surrounding television fall into this category thus far. Our daughter did not watch any television until she was two except for fifteen minutes of the Today Show every morning while my wife caught up on the news, several innings of several Yankees game over the course of this baseball season, 30 minutes of the US Open final round, a two-minute technology podcast each night at dinner, and random portions of random children’s show while her nails were being trimmed. She also watched one movie (Coralline) when we were both too sick to get off the couch (though she slept during most of the movie) as well as an Apple press conference on the iPhone 4.
There may have been other random moments of television viewing, moments that I have forgotten and television viewing while visiting friends and such, but that’s about it. Nothing scheduled or consistent, and no programming designed specifically for children. While we’re comfortable about our decision, it is clearly outside the norm. Most of Clara’s friends watch at least a little bit of television on a regular basis, and most are watching some type of children’s programming from time to time.
Technology podcasts, Apple press conferences, the UP Open and the morning news are not their standard fare.
We also prefer to serve our daughter certain organic products like milk and strawberries, but if they’re not available, we’re more than willing to use the non-organic versions. And instead of purchasing baby food, my wife made all of Clara’s baby food from fresh ingredients, but I’m not sure if this is outside the norm or not.
I am also slightly insane about the size of food items that I am willing to give to my daughter. I cut fruit up into squares so small that she has a hard time picking them up. I am terrified of the prospect of her choking on food.
Even Elysha thinks I'm a little crazy in this regard.
I’m certain that there will be other, less-than-normal acts of parenting in our future, and maybe some that I am not even aware of at this moment. And when these situations occur, I will try my best to think back upon my two friends and their willingness to do things differently, and I will remember their willingness to acknowledge the parental insanity that infects most of us.
If I fail to do so, feel free to call me out. I’m a big boy, and I can handle it.