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The Simple Trick That Made Me a Better Parent

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The other night, a typical scene presented itself in my house: The baby was screaming, the big kids were fighting, dinner was burning, I had a deadline looming, and my husband was pacing the kitchen with the look of a caged animal.

“Why?!” he roared. “Why did we do this to ourselves? Why is this so hard?”

I chuckled as I shifted the baby to my other shoulder and continued my rounds of the bounce-step-bounce dance known to parents around the world in a vain attempt to get her to calm down.

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“Haven’t you learned the secret yet?” I asked him. Bounce-step-bounce.

He just stared at me blankly.

My husband may not be in the know, but I am privy to the one vital secret that every parent with young children needs to know, the one simple trick that helped make me a better, more patient parent. The trick that kept me sane just this morning — when I tried to be spontaneous and take the kids to get donuts, but instead my son dumped his entire milk carton down the wall and we hit the car next to us with a door flung open too vigorously.

What is this great secret?

It’s actually incredibly easy.

And it’s called acceptance.

Allow me to illustrate. Say, hypothetically speaking, of course, you realize one morning that you are out of printer ink and you need some paperwork printed. "No problem," you may think to yourself. "Surely the kids can handle popping into the store for a literal two minutes while I pick a new one up." Except when you load them up and walk into the store and in the span of those two minutes they have actually managed to knock every ink cartridge off of the wall and somehow dislodge a stapler and upset a display case and alienate every customer in the store, you may be tempted to burst into tears at the cash register and wonder, "Why? I should be able to run a quick errand without all hell breaking loose! I must be a terrible mother and my kids are being ruined for life!"

And then the rest of your day would be ruined as well as you became lost in that grumpy, overwhelmed fog that every mother knows so well.

Instead of fighting it, stressing over it or complaining over it, the trick to surviving it is accepting that this is parenting.

Now, say that the aforementioned scenario went down, and instead of despairing and wondering why things couldn’t just be different, you simply employed my secret trick of acceptance. Instead of wondering if all hope was lost, you would accept that this is the way parenting always goes. If you think an errand will be quick, it won’t be. If you absolutely must get out of the door on time, someone will inevitably poop his or her pants on the way out. If you are facing a critical day at work in the morning, you can sure as heck bet that the kids will be up all night.

Instead of fighting it, stressing over it or complaining over it, the trick to surviving it — with your sanity intact and maybe even a smile on your face — is accepting that this is parenting.

Parenting is not what happens only when our kids are well-behaved or when our day goes smoothly or when the baby finally sleeps through the night.

Parenting is realizing that for the first few months of your baby’s life, you will not be able to sit down and eat dinner with two hands — and that’s OK, because guess what? It’s not forever.

Parenting is realizing that potty training just might be your worst nightmare — but guess what? Your son will eventually get the hang of it.

Parenting is realizing that yes, grocery shopping seems like one phone call away from the Social Services because you accidentally ran your kid over with the cart again — but guess what? Before you know it, that kid will be helping you unload groceries.

Maybe it’s just me, but so much of the stress of parenting for me has been the frustration over what I think should be a simple task. It feels like the baby should just be able to be happy being held, not also bounced on my hip. It feels like we should be able to have a nice, civil dinner conversation without 10,000 forks flying off the table and 800 cups of milk being spilled. But it never, ever goes that way.

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So what happened when I finally learned to stop expecting that things will always go swimmingly or that my kids will always be perfect angels or that I will be the world’s most Pinteresty of mothers and accepted that this — this life of messes and tantrums and young kids — is my imperfect life right now?

Well, parenting suddenly got a whole lot less stressful. Because it’s not always me or my kids or proof that I’m doing a horrible job.

Sometimes, parenting is just hard.

And that’s OK. Now, who wants to buy me a new ink cartridge?

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