Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ditch the parenting magazines.

One of my favorite gifts to give at baby showers is a big, thick beach towel. One with vivid colors and a busy design. It’s not traditional but it’s really quite practical. Aside from its obvious purpose, it has several other uses for new parents:

1. Babies love bold designs and bright colors. Beach towels are fun to look at.
2. They’re perfect for wrapping up wet, wiggly babies.
3. They make really warm blankets that are easy to wash.
4. They can stand in for mattress pads on those nights when the baby is sick.
5. They last a long time. As the child grows older the towel can take its normal place as a beach or pool accessory.

I also tell new parents not to read any of the parent magazines. Seriously. Don’t even look at them. Throw them away in between the mailbox and the house. No peeking. Send them to the guy who heats his house with junk mail. Pass right by them at the grocery store. Check out the tabloids with stories about the movie star's love child by Sasquatch or alien house cats in Peoria instead. Your time will be better spent.

Parent magazines are not designed to help us be better parents. They’re designed to make us feel inadequate. They chip away at any confidence we might have so we’re more prone to buy the many products advertised in between the articles detailing the hidden dangers posed by Velcro on bibs or the glue used in books made before 1981. (Fear sells. Just ask a politician.)

Being a parent is stressful enough. How can something that makes you even more stressed be helpful? How did parents manage to raise children without being informed of the danger posed to a child’s self esteem non-gender-neutral toys? How did any children ever survive to adulthood without the plethora of safety devices every toddler’s parent is supposed to install in their home or places said toddler might explore? How else would a parent know that everything they think and do is absolutely wrong? Parent magazines to the rescue! They’ll show you how to be the perfect parent!

Phooey!! Perfect is not an option.

Making sure you have all the newest-and-most-correct toys, tools, and devices won’t help you be a better, saner parent. Trying to keep up with the latest fads in child-rearing techniques won’t produce a problem-free child. Neither you nor your child will be perfect. You’re human beings. Perfect is not on the table.

Opt for happy instead.

Even if you’re one of those super-organized, highly energetic people, you’re not going to be able to do everything. Focus on you and your children, not whether the house looks like the set of Leave It to Beaver. Remember: Trying to live up to false standards set by people who have no skin in the game is a losing proposition. It just distracts us from what really matters.

I will confess that I’m no housekeeper. My place was always a mess (and still is). My kids were always clean and they wore clean clothes. They ate off clean plates and slept in clean beds. I figure that covers what’s really important. The rest you catch when you can.

So stock up on beach towels and throw out the parent magazines (or delete the bookmarks to the their sites). The towels are more useful and way more fun.

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