As a woman who birthed later than the national average, I had plenty of opportunities to be an armchair parent. By observing an array of friends – some of whom should have used birth control – I saw a range of parenting styles. I witnessed well-meaning parents make not only single goof-ups, but legions of snafus. When the time came, I vowed, I would do it right.
Then I had my own alpha and omega: twins. In the time it took nurses to wipe the mucus off Thing One and Thing Two, my adherence to my parenting commandments began to wane.
Commandment I: Thou shalt not send thy newborn to the nursery.
All good mothers know that when you’re in the hospital you don’t send your newborn to the nursery. Someone could unwittingly take your baby, since they are all alien look-alikes, or a nurse could sneak “evil” formula into your breast-milk-only child. Worse yet, a professional could realize you have no idea what you’re doing. By the time my twins were 18 hours old though, the first commandment was history. I hadn’t slept for 24 hours and couldn’t walk because of the gash in my abdomen. “Can you take these babies away?” I pleaded.
Commandment II: Thou shalt not establish bad patterns by rocking thy child to sleep.
I read the parenting books: Don’t start a routine if it’s one you’ll have to break. Obviously that was written by some childless upstart. My son, at four weeks, would not sleep. We soon realized that if we strapped him into his car seat he would settle, providing someone rocked it non-stop. “Screw the experts,” I told my husband. Goodbye commandment, hello repetitive strain injury.
Commandment III: Thou shalt not feed thy child processed food.
This rule was easy to adhere to during the pre-solid and mush-it-up phases. After the one-year mark, however, we learned that kids love processed food. My daughter, barely walking, discovered the Christmas party snacks and gorged herself on chips. I believe I was helping myself to more eggnog at the time. Once on that slippery slope, Kraft Dinner followed.
Commandment IV: Thou shalt not give thy child a soother.
The Brits never bought into the euphemisms for these plugs: They call them dummies or silencers. These lifesavers were my kids’ first addiction. I even thought of duct-taping them onto their mouths, and I know I’m not alone on that one. Once, in a classic guilty-mother move, I apologized for the fact that my children used soothers. My British friend said, “Easier to take away dummies than to cut off fingers.” Indeed.
Commandment V: Thou shalt not expose thy child to germs.
The main reason I breastfed my kids was not for cost or health – it was for convenience. Who wants to sterilize baby bottles at 3 a.m.? During flights between Canada and Asia, we spent a lot of time in transit juggling our nine-month-olds. In a Thai airport, I chatted with strangers about the joys of travelling with children. Meanwhile, my son crawled over and began sucking on the stroller wheel. Yup, no more sterilizing.
Commandment VI: Thou shalt not raise a child who throws tantrums.
Clearly, my own children would never act like that, which is why I think they were switched in the nursery. The library is their favourite place to melt down. It’s happened so often that I now look around innocently, like someone who’s farted and doesn’t want to claim responsibility. Just whose kid is that?
Commandment VII: Thou shalt not drive a minivan, and certainly not one with its own DVD player.
When I critiqued my brother’s purchase – he was, after all, the university professor granola-type – he said, “Just wait. Your turn will come.” Sure enough, before my kids could speak two-word sentences, a minivan stood in our driveway, outfitted with a DVD player. Nothing says hip like a loser cruiser with Costco-sized boxes of Pampers strapped to the roof rack.
Commandment VIII: Thou shalt not swear in front of thy children.
My husband likes to claim he’s educating incompetent drivers one person at a time. That may be, but when my daughter asked, “Daddy, what does bucking slow down mean?” I was thankful he had ruined her hearing with the minivan’s subwoofer.
Commandment IX: Thou shalt not give consequences with which thou canst not follow through.
This rule makes sense until you’re deep in the bunker and dangerously low on ammo. What can you launch next? An empty threat, of course. “Clean up your toys or I’ll throw them all out.”
Commandment X: Thou shalt not tell cute kid stories.
We all know them – parents who have scrapbooked every bowel movement of their child’s life. I swore I would never do this, but the best-laid plans and all that. I don’t tell many cute stories. I just tell embarrassing ones, usually in writing, usually while my kids are watching a DVD on repeat play and eating individually wrapped snacks loaded with chemicals.
What parenting commandments have I missed?
Any confessions to make?
*I wrote this essay two years ago and it appeared in The Globe and Mail. Because I’m lazy, I chose to repost it on my blog.