Now more than ever, with parents still dealing with the effects of a pandemic, it’s important to remember that no one expects anybody to be the world’s greatest parent. Not yesterday, not tomorrow, and especially, most definitely, not now.
If you find yourself constantly battling with your child—or yourself—about everything from what they eat to where they sleep, there’s good news: It’s OK to let it go. In fact, experts say there are several things parents can let go of right now because when it comes down to it, they either aren’t that big a deal or aren’t nearly as essential as parents might feel like they are. With so much taking a toll on our mental health these days, here are a few times when experts say it’s OK to give up, at least for now:
It’s OK to …. Let your kids sneak into your bed.
“Children, like adults, have gone through so much upheaval in the past year,” says Bailey Gaddis, author of the new book Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask about Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood. These massive changes can lead to fears and doubts, especially in the middle of the night. This could be a good time to bend the rules a bit. “If your child seeks you out in the wee hours, give them an extra dose of comfort by letting them snuggle up with you for a while, or lying down with them in their bed until they’re asleep.” When things calm down again, you can take up the issue of sleeping in their own beds all night, but for now, a few extra cuddles may do everyone good.
At the same time, it’s totally OK to need your space too, so many parents might be looking to set bedtime boundaries so that kids aren’t slipping into their beds at night. If that sounds like you, there are specific things you can say to kids to help make bedtime go more smoothly. There are also simple ways to deal with sleep disruptions of all kinds that are really common right now because of the pandemic.
It’s OK to … Loosen up about screen time.
Now that families are having a lot more togetherness than they did pre-Covid, it can feel really tedious to regularly come up with ways to entertain the kids that don’t involve screens, says Gaddis. “While we don’t want them to veg in front of the TV 24/7, it can be beneficial for the mental health of both parents and kids to loosen up screen time rules. For example, if mom desperately needs to nap, or has a pressing work deadline, she shouldn’t feel guilty about popping on a show for the kids.”
It’s OK to … Accept it if your child’s chores aren’t done right, on time, or at all.
Making beds, cleaning rooms, doing dishes and the other tasks involved in home life can trigger major discord between parents and children. And because families have been spending a lot more time in the house together than they used to, this discord can blossom into full-on battles. “To bring some harmony back into the house, you can do the unthinkable and let your kids (and even yourself!) slide every now and then on making the bed, cleaning rooms, and accomplishing other to-dos that are usually top priority,” Gaddis says. If you really think about why you want to enforce this rule (to teach them a life lesson or because the clutter bugs you, for example) consider if the battle is worth it considering what everyone is going through right now. When it comes down to it, what’s most important for you?
It’s OK to… Let go of pressure to entertain your child 24/7.
Kids need to learn independence, and you need a break. It may be hard to believe, but even young children find something to do if you’re not around—and it’s not always trouble. “The idea that parents are responsible for entertaining a child or ‘keeping them busy’ is not present in the vast majority of cultures around the world, and definitely not throughout human history,” says Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR journalist and author of the new book, Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans, recently told The Atlantic. Boredom isn’t always such a bad thing. It can help kids be more present and aware, and it often prompts creativity, too. “If we never let them get bored, they never discover how interesting the world really is,” says psychologist Suzanne Bouffard.
It’s easy to feel like you have to make the most of all this time together. While it’s fantastic to bond with your kids over a family board game, no one can be present and perfect all the time, constantly creating treasured memories or teaching important life lessons. Give yourself permission to be a real human being.
It’s OK to … Forget food fights.
Parents spend a lot of time planning meals, preparing food, and worrying that our kids won’t get enough to eat or get the right nutrition. But trying to convince your child to eat “two more bites” or to try a new food can not only be frustrating, it can strain your relationship with your child. It can also lead to unhealthy eating habits; bribing or nagging kids to eat teaches them to look for external cues to tell them whether or not to eat, instead of listening to their own bodies. Remember the famous Satter Feeding Dynamics Model from feeding expert Ellyn Satter, which says that when it comes to meals and snacks, “The parent is responsible for what, when and where. The child is responsible for how much and whether” they’ll eat the food provided. If you trust your child to eat the amount that’s right for them, they will—which is great news, because it makes mealtime way less stressful.
Letting go of the little things can be harder than it sounds.
Yes, these are uncertain times. But worrying about the future (like obsessing that your child’s inability to clean up after himself means they’ll grow up to be a slob, or that their messed up sleep schedules mean you’ll never be able to get them out of bed at 8am again) isn’t going to make things any more certain—and are often based on unfounded fears in the first place. When those moments hit, try to recognize your motivations. Once you figure out why you’re enforcing a rule or doing things a certain way, you might find that it’s not as critical as you thought.
All that said, “letting go” can be easier said than done. If you have trouble relaxing long-standing rules, turning off the worry-wart in your head, or going against traditional parenting advice (even in these non-traditional times), you’re not alone. Here are a few strategies that can help.
- Identify and eliminate “Should”s. These are things that you tell yourself you “should” do, or you feel like you’re “supposed to.” Often, these tasks not only aren’t things we actually want to do, they’re also usually not as necessary as they might feel. If you find yourself using those words, take a look at your priorities again and see if it’s really something you want to have in your mental load.
- Have self-compassion. No one can do everything, all the time, so go easy on yourself. Think about what advice you’d give to your best friend if they were stressed about something that felt urgent. Then, take that advice yourself.
- Focus on gratitude for the things you have and the things that are going right, even if it’s something small like noticing that your child rinsed their breakfast dish (never mind that their breakfast was leftover pizza). This can help you remember what’s most important—and help you let go of things that aren’t.