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9 Rookie Parenting Moves

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If you’re on your second or third (or fourth) child, you know what a rookie move is. It’s when you make a plan for a playdate with another mother (and her first child) four days in the future, and she turns to her 5-year-old and says, “Do you want to play with Jane on Thursday?”

There are so many problems with this.

  1. This mother giving her daughter the opportunity, in front of you, to make a frowny-face and spit on the ground at the mention of your child.
  2. She’s 5. When the hell’s Thursday? She’ll just ask when it is every day until it happens, and hopefully—fingers crossed—she’ll be OK with every response that’s not “today.”
  3. What happens when the other girl gets sick, or the other mother decides to cancel? Who’s going to break the news to her then?

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You get the point. The meltdown over the canceled playdate only needs to happen once before you learn not to inform your child of any exciting event until you are actually in the car, driving there. This has just been my personal experience. It’s quite possible that your child is more ... even-tempered.

Here are nine other rookie moves I’ve discovered the hard way.

Rookie Move No. 1: Giving the treat on the condition your child will do something AFTER. This happens all the time, as in, “OK, you can have ice cream, but you have to go to bed nicely.” Conversely, an equally grievous misstep is, “If you’re good, we can have ice cream later.” Going to bed “nicely” and being “good” are amorphous and relative at best.

Rookie Move No. 2: Letting your children eat from the grocery store shelves while shopping. This is definitely tempting, and if you bring your toddler shopping with you, almost unavoidable. So the real rookie move here is bringing your children to the grocery store, especially if she's hungry. That’s impossible for some people, however. Still, I would refrain from ripping open the bag of pretzels and having at ‘em. First of all, there will be crumbs everywhere and people will end up not only thinking your child is disgusting, but that all children are disgusting. But most importantly, you’ve now triggered the expectation that food shopping means grazing on whatever, whenever. Children make no distinction between healthy or unhealthy food; nor do they weigh their hunger against the proximity to dinner time. It’s gimme, gimme, gimme. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs, he will start to salivate the minute he is placed in the cart. And while I'm least bothered by your consumption of a product you have yet to purchase—I know you’ll buy it—store personnel may feel differently.

Think about Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was psyched if she got 3 inches of ribbon “from town” on her birthday!

Rookie Move No. 3: Putting the kids to bed early at a sleepover. We all know that first sleepover party is a modern emergency. How on earth are you going to get them to bed on time, and are you going to sleep at all, yourself? What if someone wants to go home? What if someone is afraid of the dark? What if someone pees the bed? It’s natural that the instinct would be to get everyone to bed extra early since it’s going to be a late night. Getting them in their sleeping bags and settled early means you’re getting ahead of the problem, right? Wrong. In my experience, if kids go to bed when they’re not tired, they whip themselves up with chit-chat and various other antics and end up staying awake later than if you’d just put them to bed at 9 o’clock in the first place. Of course, this depends on the age. If you’re talking about 5th graders, nothing will get them to sleep if they don’t want to go to sleep.

Rookie Move No. 4: Celebrating half birthdays. I think I celebrated my baby’s age every week after he was born. When the 6-month milestone hit, it was like the Macy’s parade. As he got older, we downgraded the festivities, so by the time he turned 4 1/2, I think we stopped by a bakery on the way home from preschool and got a black-and-white cookie. Not a huge deal, but DON'T DO IT. They’ll come to expect it, and really, what’s the point? Think about Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was psyched if she got 3 inches of ribbon “from town” on her birthday!

Rookie Move No. 5: Lying down with your child at night until he falls asleep. OK, I’ve never done this one, but I see people who do this, and I’m so glad I never went down this road (purely for my own sanity, not my child’s). I don’t think it messes up your kid or anything, but I would SHOOT myself if, at the end of every soul-crushing day, I couldn’t just read a quick story, slap down the light switch and shut the door. If I had to wait until my child lost consciousness? Don’t start the trend unless you are one of those saintly types with endless patience. In that case don’t listen to me, because you’ve got a head start on my parenting in every way.

Rookie Move No. 6: Offering a snack when your child says, “I’m hungry.”

It took me ages before I learned to ignore the hunger plea, and it’s hard. It goes against every primal, maternal instinct in your body to feed your offspring. For years, I toted around Cheerios, string cheese, tubes of yogurt, gummies, pretzels. Anything to stave off the meltdown. It wasn’t until I got my car detailed in order to expunge five years of ground-in Goldfish that I decided to never again feed my kids between meals. Now I say, “It’s OK to be hungry,” or “That’s good, you’ll be hungry for dinner,” or “It doesn’t hurt your body to be hungry.” Michael Pollan says that you should reach at least an “8” or “9” on the one-to-ten hunger spectrum before eating. And most Americans start snacking when they hit a “6.” Don’t do it!

Rookie Move No. 7: Always making sure treats are “equal.”

Because I capitulated whenever one of my children squawked about the injustice of treat distribution, that became my inadvertent go-to—until they could understand reason. It wasn’t until then that I started saying, “It’s not equal, but it’s fair.” A 10-year-old should be able to wrap his brain around that concept, but it’s extra-hard when he’s been conditioned to strive for pure equality at every turn. How many times did I say, “Well, he got that cookie earlier, so I guess you can have a peanut butter cup.” Madness! I can’t believe how long I went on like that. Resist at all costs!

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Rookie Move No. 8: Letting your child use your iPhone. For any reason. This is still ongoing in my household, where the can-I-or-can’t-I-use-your-phone quandary is as unclear as ever. Can I tell my children, “It depends on my mood, really. Sometimes I don’t care if you get your grubby little hands all over my fancy phone, and sometimes I can’t believe you would even ask.” It’s so unfair to them, really. It would be much better if it were one way or the other. Like, “Sure, if I’m not using it,” or “No, it’s mine and I don’t want anyone touching it, ever.” My husband recently got his first smartphone and made it off-limits from the get-go. His life is so much easier; the kids don’t even think about it. But mine? There’s always the tantalizing possibility they could play a game, take a photo, text someone. It’s a mess.

Rookie Move No. 9: Cursing. If you choose not to curse—or use swear words—in front of your children, it eliminates awkward moments, Like when your child shouts one out at the post office, or teaches her new little friend in preschool “motherfucker.” Don’t you want to avoid those situations? Children understand pretty quickly what passes for normal in what situations, but not when they’re young and have no idea what year it is, let alone that they can’t burp around grandma. When it happens, when they let that four-letter expletive rip, you might be there to diffuse it. Or, mysteriously, you might never get invited back to Lily’s house again.

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