On Being the Perfect Parent

It's easy to know what to do when you don't have kids

Filed Underparenting styles
Photograph by Getty Images

I was the perfect parent before I had kids. I mean, it’s so easy to pontificate on how you will be with your children when you don’t actually have any of your own.

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You whisper judgmentally about the woman whose toddler is still drinking a bottle at 3 years old, which now happens to be me.

Oh, I had the perfect formula of limit setting and consistency, coupled with tough love and boundaries that would ensure my babies would never, ever be spoiled brats.

I didn’t go so far as to share it with any actual parents, perhaps tucking it away in my back pocket to save for my own lucky children who would have me as their mother one day. I'd be the one mother who actually got it and didn’t fall for all that kid crap and lame excuses about how you just love them so much and you want to do anything to see them happy.

But then I had kids, lots of them actually, and I realized that there is no such thing as a “perfect formula” when it comes to parenting.

And I also learned that all the things I thought would be so easy, the “good parenting techniques,” were harder to keep up with than I thought they would be.

When your child is throwing a ridiculous tantrum in the store, it’s so much easier for your other kids, the other shoppers, and your ears to just give him what he wants to make it stop instead of leaving your cart and the store like everyone says you should.

I am cool. And fun. Or at least I think I am. And I want her to know that.

There are candy bribes and toy payoffs. You let them get away with certain things just so you can get a chance to breathe. Shower. Sleep.

But now that my oldest is 9, I’m finding a different set of parenting challenges that aren’t as easily solved by lollipops and baby dolls.

Welcome to the “I’m your parent not your friend” dilemma that most parents, usually of little children, have lots to say about until their little children become big children and suddenly they realize their kids don’t really like them very much.

There are grudges now. Huffs, sighs and rolled eyes. You become less cool. Less fun.

I’m not going to lie. The siren call of being the mom who’s a friend, who gives into the whining and begging of a tween who wants to watch some ridiculous show on television (with whining and begging tweens) or get her own iPod Touch is mesmerizing.

I am cool. And fun. Or at least I think I am. And I want her to know that.

I desperately want her to be able to talk to me about everything and anything, to feel comfortable just being herself and not feeling as though she needs to edit or filter because she might get in trouble.

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But she’s 9. She needs guidance and support. Boundaries and rules. Consequences for her choices.

She needs a parent, not a friend. And I’m just now starting to really understand the difference.

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