I hear or read a version of these every day:  mothers who say things like “I don’t feel like I’m doing this right”, “I’m sure I’m not doing this as well as [insert random person/group]”, and “I’m afraid I’ll ruin him/her by [insert random parenting decision]”

Ruin? How do you ruin a child?

You ruin a child by not loving them, not giving them compassion and support. You ruin them by ignoring them when they need you, or treating them badly.  You ruin them by neglecting their physical and mental health.

Note:  This article is not referring to diseases, vaccines, car seat usage, or anything that is potentially life-or-death.  I am talking specifically about the mundane everyday parenting decisions that do not require stress, guilt, or a village’s opinion.

You do not ruin a child by letting them sleep a half hour longer/shorter than other kids their age. You do not ruin a child by letting them use the iPad while you clean up after dinner. You do not ruin a child by giving them an 8:00 bedtime instead of 7:30. Giving your child Infant/Children’s Tylenol to relieve their teething pain instead of using an amber teething necklace does not negate your “good parent” status.

I know exactly how it feels though, I really do. I won’t even bother listing the innumerable sources that lectured me about all those things (and more!) For the first few years of K’s life, I researched, read, discussed, second-guessed, and generally fretted my way through motherhood. All the countless articles and studies and American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations did nothing except create the illusion that stuff like that actually MATTERS.

So do you know what I have found to be the absolute best guide for being a good parent?

Are you ready?

There isn’t one.

Seriously, there really is not.  There is not a book, or a study, or an “authority” on how to be a good parent.

But but….

How much screen time should my baby/toddler/kid have per day?

How long should my baby nap?

Good Parent

Kids? Playing marbles? Unsupervised? *gasp* I must research immediately to see if this is okay for a good parent to allow!

How old should my kid be before I stop them from taking a nap?

Should I stop my kid from taking a nap?

How much tummy time does the baby need?

What time of day is the best for us to have dinner?

Should I let my child have a night light?

How soon before/after a meal should I give my child a snack?

How often should I bathe my child?

What is the right number of gifts to give my child for their birthday?

Take. A. Breath.

None of this stuff is necessary to research. None of it is a big deal enough to make you second-guess your mothering skills or feel like you’re being judged. All of these types of things can be winged, learned-as-you-go, tweaked for your specific child/family/schedule. If people are judging you because you let your six-year-old take a 2-hour nap on weekends, well, that’s their problem, not yours.

It all comes down to this:  Are you a human being?  Do you know how to keep a human being alive?  Do you know how to love another human being?  Are you willing to do your absolute best to make sure that little human being you created is safe, healthy, and happy?

If you said yes to all of those things, then congratulations – you have all the tools you need to be a good parent.

There is nothing wrong with seeking advice on dealing with certain everyday situations, like tips for stopping your toddler from biting. There is nothing wrong with a discussion about what children’s books are favorites, or comparing notes on how to hide vegetables in foods. But the parenting information world has strayed ridiculously far beyond just a chat between moms.

I mean, let’s take a deeper look at a few of the studies I have read recently.

Put That Baby on Her Belly or You Are Not a Good Parent!

Let’s begin with “tummy time”. Try searching for that term and you will find hundreds of studies, doctor recommendations, anecdotal data, opinions, criticism…you name it, it is out there. Oh, yes. For tummy time. For how much time per day, per month of age, you should put your baby on their tummy.  Studies, folks.

Listen, you cannot ruin your baby by not giving them a certain daily allotment of ‘tummy time’. My daughter hated being on her tummy, just hated it. She didn’t crawl until almost 11 months because she refused to be on her tummy long enough to learn to scoot around. So she did a lot of just sitting there and rolling to get where she wanted to go. Is she ruined? Not in the least. She crawled at 11 months and walked less than 2 months later.  She runs and jumps and climbs and does gymnastics.

Think of it this way:  for centuries, babies have never had scheduled tummy time and somehow they still managed to develop normal spines and muscles and even walk around just fine. They are not still sitting in place or rolling around at age 35, cursing their mother for never putting them on their tummy when she had the chance.

A Good Parent Must Only Allow X Amount of Screen Time!

Okay, how about the controversial “screen time”? My daughter’s screen time is monitored by us, her parents, and that is all anyone should need to know. We decide how much is appropriate, if it’s affecting her learning/personality, and we are the ones who choose how much time she gets. It varies by day/week/month/year. Novel idea, huh?  Well, the same goes for your own children. Only you can decide if their social interaction, ability to learn or focus, temperament, etc. are being affected by their screen time, and only you are the one who should decide what is too much.

It is ridiculous to perform a “study” on a random sampling of kids and blame screen time for any issues they have. I don’t believe for a second that there are behavioral issues or learning deficiencies that are caused by nothing other than how early the kid watched TV.  I have yet to hear of a kid-gone-criminal who attributes their law-breaking to watching that extra hour of Caillou before bed when they were in kindergarten. There will always be other contributing factors (disposition, character, parenting styles, lifestyles, physical/mental challenges) that skew those “studies”; one simple thing like “too much screen time” cannot be held solely responsible.

A Good Parent Feeds Their Child Only Healthy Foods!

This last example is just awesome.

“A new statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents and schools to consider a child’s whole diet pattern … rather than the nutrients in specific foods.… it’s OK for kids to dip fresh vegetables in ranch dressing — or have a sprinkle of brown sugar on their oatmeal …” (source)

Does that finding just shatter your earth?  Yeah, mine either.

I mean, was it really necessary to fund a special study just to tell parents that it is completely fine to put whipped cream on little Suzy’s organic gluten-free pancakes or let small Johnny have a powdered doughnut hole along with his cage-free eggs and fresh fruit?

“The statement also recommends providing kids a variety of foods from the five food groups, offering appropriate portions, and avoiding highly processed foods.” (source)

Wow. Brilliant.

To be fair, I suppose this could be very useful information if I suddenly drew a blank and did an Internet search for “what should I feed my child?”  So, thank you, scientists and doctors. I feel so much better knowing that information has been officially published to confirm that feeding my child a logical, well-balanced diet is backed up by the researchers at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In Conclusion…

Free yourself. Throw away the books. Delete the bookmarks in your browser. Unsubscribe from those emailing lists.

Don’t spend so much time worrying.  Stop all the endless research and second-guessing.

All of the time you spend stressing out, Internet advice-hunting, and second-guessing the “trick” to being a good parent is time that you are missing out on just being one.


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