One of the smartest decisions I have made as a parent is to not read parenting magazines. They will make you crazy. Instead of models whose every imperfection has been airbrushed away, they feature immaculate kitchens with happy children and parents either making a life-size castle out of rice crispy treats or fixing a salad from their kitchen container garden. Who are these people? Are they real? I secretly hope not. If they are then I am even more pathetic than I already thought.
Part of the problem with parenting magazines is that they are based on “theory” rather than “practice.” In theory, one should be able to grow a salad in the kitchen window. In practice it never works. The kids try to water it by aiming the sink hose at it or the cat thinks it wants to try salad and eats the green carrot and radish tops down to the dirt. (For the record, carrots and radishes don’t grow without their green leafy tops.) Before you know it the family is gathered in a kitchen with mud on the walls while mom yells about the water everywhere and the kids chase the cat with a whiffle bat.
Theoretical parenting looks good on the pages of a magazine and in our minds as we drift off to sleep. Parenting in practice looks good years later (it may take years to calm down) when we have forgotten the work and can laugh at the absurdity.
So let’s look at how these two methods of parenting can play out in an average family’s life. For the sake of brevity, we will call theoretical parenting, TP, and parenting in practice, PP.
TP: You buy the expensive “must-have” toy for your child which will delight them for years to come until they hand it down to their own child.
PP: The child only wants to play with the box.
TP: On Easter, the darlings will be dressed in their finest and happy to be going to grandma’s house.
PP: On Easter, you are stopped on the side of the road trying to beat flour off your son’s suit coat and fan the rest out of the van because his homemade stress ball burst.
TP: You carry a designer diaper bag that is so cute people without kids ask where they can get one.
PP: You are just happy when you can leave the house without spit-up or breast milk stains on your clothes.
TP: Over the course of three weeks your child creates a science project out of recycled items and a power point to go with it.
PP: Ten minutes before bedtime, your child announces a science project due the next day. You have the child scribble something about the solar system on an index card. You then spend the next 3 1/2 hours making a solar system model out of a hanger, thread, and old marshmallows.
TP: After carting your child to a wide variety of play dates, practices, and buying lunch for all their friends, the child entertains themselves quietly for the rest of the day so you can take a nap.
PP: The child asks, “What’s next?”
TP: Your child’s backpack and important school papers are all nicely organized and easy to find.
PP: You are digging through your slightly sticky recycling bin looking for the permission slip that was due yesterday.
TP: You create beautiful cupcake masterpieces for your child’s school party.
PP: You have to make a few substitutions in your cupcake decorating and they end up looking slightly obscene. You send them anyway hoping that since the kids are pre-schoolers they won’t notice.
TP: You don’t own a TV.
PP: You limit TV to only the times when you must get chores done or you are afraid that further contact with your child will lead to child abuse.
TP: Your child gets many awards for academic excellence.
PP: The teacher says, after a dramatic pause, “Well, C. isn’t the worst in the class.”
Ah, we could just go on and on, couldn’t we?
So friends, start calling them like you see them. The great ideas that beckon you in your dreams, which shine out of magazines, and that take a prominent spot in your friends’ Christmas updates are probably just TP. And that crazy, messy, sticky reality you face every day? Well, when the going gets tough remember it is just PP. And PP generally cleans up and becomes funny… in a few years.