For those who do not know me, my wife and I have 5 children, all boys, ranging from ages 4 to 15, including a set of twins. At one point, although I have little memory of it, we had 4 children ages 4 and under. There are people who have more children than we do, and I respect them greatly, but people already call me crazy, so what does that make those who have more?
But I shall not throw hatchets, I mean stones.
As my wife and I have progressed from parenting an only child to raising a small village (or at least a basketball team), there is one word of advice that I would give to new parents, which I’m sure someone gave to me and I disregarded just as new parents will rightly disregard this post, and that’s simply to RELAX.
There’s a catchy acronym, “igbok,” that was started by a group in Nashville, which stands for “It’s gonna be o.k.”
Taking that out of its intended context and applying it to parenthood, it has a nice ring to it. Yes, it’s going to be okay, BUT (yeah, that pesky, hairy animal) . . .
. . . that doesn’t mean there will be no scrapes or bruises along the way. There will always be safer or more responsible ways to do things, there will always be something you could have done to have avoided some injury or harm, there are always more things to provide to our children, and there will always be something that we could have protected our children from, but where does that train of analysis stop?
My oldest son once argued with me . . .
Hmmm . . . since argue is the default mode for teenage boys, maybe I should start saying “My oldest son once didn’t argue with me,” as the exception, and just say “My son and I chatted,” when I mean that, as normal, we argued.
. . . in order to gain an advantage for himself over his brothers, that something I was allowing his brothers to do was not “recommended” for their age and he alone should be allowed to do it.
Sure, that seems reasonable, doesn’t it? If something is “recommended” then we should always follow that “recommendation,” right? And he said if something bad happened as a result of not following that “recommendation,” then I would feel horrible. Good point there.
Disclaimer: I’m an attorney and have trained my minions to be legalistic and opportunistic.
And my response? Well, I asked him a list of questions:
- That video game you love to play is rated for older users; should I allow you to continue playing it when you are younger than the recommended user?
- That movie you want to see so badly is rated “R”; should I prohibit you from going since you are only 15?
- 4 out of 5 dentists recommend that patients chew Trident. Should we all chew Trident?
- It’s recommended that no one get on a skateboard or bicycle without a helmet and other safety gear. Do you wear a helmet and other safety gear every time you ride a skateboard or bicycle?
- The medical community is becoming united in their recommendation that children not play football. Should I stop you from playing football? (My son LOVES football almost more than anything).
- “Mom always says, ‘Don’t play ball in the house.'” Do you guys play ball in the house?
- Experts recommend not eating beef unless all the redness and flavor are cooked out of it. Do you want to eat burned steak or hamburgers?
- It is recommended not to talk on cell phones while driving. How many people do it?
- It is recommended not to practice lacrosse without a helmet. Do you wear a helmet every time you go out into the yard with your brothers to practice lacrosse?
- It is recommended that you get at least 8-9 hours of sleep every night. Do you do it?
Okay, I kept going for a long time with these examples, but you get the point, I hope. There are always “recommendations” and safer ways to do things, but we could take these “recommendations” to an extreme, to the point where life is not enjoyable or activities become impractical.
So, back to my topic after that LONG stroll around the block . . . .
The following are examples of areas where new parents should relax:
MOVIES AND TV
Our first born was 7 or 8-years-old before he watched anything other than The Wiggles, Bob the Builder, and Dora the Explorer. Yes, we tortured ourselves with The Wiggles for YEARS, to the point where we began to convulse when we heard the theme music.
And if I heard Dora sing about her “backpack” one more time, well, I might have packed my own backpack and headed out into the wilderness.
Many thanks to my wonderful sister who showed my oldest Star Wars before our parental filter had approved. And, of course, he loved it. And we never had to watch The Wiggles again. I mean, I love you Greg and Jeff, but guys you just can’t compete with R2-D2.
And did that make my son a serial killer? Nope.
And here’s the even bigger picture . . . by the time we got to my youngest son, he was watching Lord of the Rings on the SUV Entertainment System while he was still in diapers.
Parents of multiple children almost always relax their rules for the next child, with the poor oldest child being the Guinea Pig. And when there are a lot of children, the youngest has almost no rules because the parents have simply given up.
But guess what? They all turn out just fine.
We were also very careful about what music we played around our first child, careful not to play anything with questionable content or explicit lyrics. We listened to LOTS of baby music and annoying children’s music. There is no more obnoxious music than when adults try to sing like children or those classical lullaby CDs played on a loop.
And what does my preschooler sing at school? “Drunk on a Plane,” “Red Solo Cup,” “Wiggle” (before giving us too much credit, the one by Jason Derulo, not the above-mentioned Australian kids show), “Dude Looks Like a Lady,” and “Iron Man” (by Black Sabbath). Yeah, we were proud parents (I’m being sarcastic, we actually cringed, and not just a little bit). And I can feel people judging me as I type this.
But guess what? Our youngest is AMAZING! He has the best personality and loves to have fun.
Ozzy didn’t turn him into a monster. And our youngest singing those songs at church preschool are some of the favorite stories we and his teachers have to tell.
With our fist few, we had locks on cabinet doors, and locks on toilets, and pads on table edges, and drawer latches, and baby gates everywhere, and nailed shut windows, and TVs secured to the wall, and on and on.
With our youngest? You probably guessed it by now. None. Not one safety device other than a baby gate at the top of the stairs (and he still managed to fall down those when an older child left it open).
We don’t even hide toys from him–you know the ones–the toys for ages 5 and up that only ages 4 and under want to play with–the “recommended” ages placed on the box at the urging of annoying lawyers (yeah, I just caught myself) to protect the business’ behind. We never once had a swallowing or choking incident.
We were so paranoid as new parents about our baby bothering other people. Well, you know what? Who the heck cares? That judgmental person was probably the biggest whiner as a baby, and he can just get over it. We were all babies once, and we should all support parents struggling through a meal with a baby or toddler crying and throwing food. Sure, if they get out of hand, parents should take them out until they calm down, but typical baby and toddler noises? Come on people! Relax!
So, go out to restaurants with your children. Have fun and give your children the opportunity to learn how to behave in public. They need to be socialized just like a puppy. The world is a better place with well-adjusted parents who don’t have cabin fever.
TIP: Until our children were socialized, we frequented restaurants that were “kid friendly,” in that they were loud, or we could eat outside, or the spaces were wide open so the acoustics didn’t amplify the decibel level of our family. Lots of pizzerias, and Chick-fil-A was a standard. And the best thing we did when we had really young ones was one parent go inside and get a table and order all the food while the other parent stayed in the car while the kids watched Lord of the Rings or some other violent and mind-destroying movie. When the food arrived, the parent blessed with alone time in the restaurant would call the other, and we would all come to the table. Eat and dash–it’s a lot about the speed–the more you wait, the worse your kids behave.
PARTIES AND PRESENTS
Fancy parties and presents for toddlers and babies are for the adults, not the children. All the toddlers and babies care about are the boxes and ripping off wrapping paper. Do you notice that they rarely even play with the toys at the party? Yep, they don’t care. They won’t even remember it. And they don’t care whether or not Joe Bob and Juliette down the street come to the party. And they don’t care how fancy the cake is. They just want sugar.
So, don’t stress out about how your party is not as “cute” and “over the top” as your friend’s party for their 1 -year-old. If it’s not, you might be the sharper knife in the drawer (or someone gave you really solid advice).
TOYS AND BABY THINGIES
Baby thingies . . . you know what I’m talking about right? The door frame jumpy things, the walker thingies that babies sit in (which kids used to actually walk around in, but now lawyers put bottoms on them so the baby can’t move–boo lawyers), obnoxious music playing thingies (gotta give me a break here; I’m a Daddy blogger not a Mommy blogger), automatic swing thingies, etc. All the things that cost a fortune and we trip over in the night because there is never enough floor space to have a baby?
Guess what? Our last baby had none of it. NONE. He only played with his brother’s toys, and he was happier because of it.
You don’t have to have all the bells and whistles or the latest and greatest baby device. Remember, this age kid is just as happy (if not happier) playing with an empty box or banging a pot with a wooden spoon as he is playing in an ExerSaucer (dang, just gave myself away) that doesn’t even move.
This reminds me of fishing with my Dad, who always told me that all the fancy and expensive artificial bait caught more fishermen than fish (my Dad had a Trumpian “HUGE” tackle box). All that baby stuff does little more than spend parents’ money, make parents scream in pain in the middle of the night, and make parents feel like better parents. The babies don’t care. Honestly, they don’t. If they never had an automatic swing to swing in, they would never know the difference.
So, RELAX, and buy your kid a box. You can even cut it up and make tunnels for him to crawl through if you feel guilty (just don’t let your baby crawl with the scissors!). He will love you for it instead of getting frustrated that he can’t move sitting in an ExerSaucer with a bottom that won’t let him, well, exercise. And, be warned, he can get a paper cut on a box–I guess you could pad all the sharp edges of the box?
It makes you wonder how we survived as kids with all the “recommendations” we have now. We didn’t ride in car seats or wear seat belts (not that I’m recommending the contrary). We didn’t wear bike helmets. We roamed all over neighborhoods unsupervised. We watched what our parents watched on TV for the most part. We didn’t have childproofing. We played with Legos as soon as we could sit up. Heck, we played with Matchbox cars with lead paint! We didn’t have fancy parties when we were babies and toddlers. We didn’t have mountains of baby play thingies that our parents tripped over in the night. We had the kind of walkers where you could get a really fast start and fly off the top step. We had cribs with slats wide enough apart we could easily stick our heads through and look down at the toy we wanted on the floor. We played with pots and pans and wooden spoons. We crawled into cabinets with medicine bottles.
And yet my generation and earlier ones not only survived but thrived.
By writing this post, I’m not encouraging anyone to forego any safety recommendations. My point here is that the perspective of a first time parent is vastly different from that same parent multiple years and kids later. Recommendations, baby thingies, and social pressure that seem so important at the time are often tossed off the parenting train on down the line. Parents must decide what risks are acceptable to them and determine the level of helicoptering they want to participate in. Each parent has their own tolerance level.
But, as a dad of 5 kids, I can easily say that much of the anxiety of being a first time parent is unnecessary. Every table corner does not have to be padded. Kids aren’t going to turn into Charles Manson due to watching Star Wars too early. You aren’t going to injure your toddler’s personality by not throwing him a Ringling Brothers birthday party with a five layer cake. Your toddler won’t care if he has 1 or 30 presents; he likely will fixate on the first one he opens, and even then, likely just the box or the wrapping paper. In fact, giving him 30 presents may have the opposite effect and make him a brat as he gets older.
Even with all the precautions you put in place, your child will still get injured somehow. One of our children falls down almost daily. As stated above, our youngest fell down the stairs even with a baby gate at the top. One of our kids had to get stitches because he flopped down on our bed and hit his head on a dumbbell lying there. Another smashed his toe open by dropping a rock on it. Children are going to get injured no matter what you do. You try to protect them from the big and obvious things, like baby gates at the top of stairs, child seats, and making sure they can’t pull TVs over on themselves. But every drawer does not have to be locked. Every corner does not have to be padded.
So, RELAX! Enjoy your time as new parents. And know that much of what you stress over you will likely laugh at years and multiple kids later.