When I had kids at home, the back-to-school season was the hardest time of year for me. Changing from the summer schedule to the structure of the school year was hard for all of us. In addition, I had to field all sorts of well-meaning advice from education experts about how to get my kids ready for school, set up a learning-friendly environment, help them keep up with their assignments, schedule extracurricular activities, encourage them to work on school . . . the list seemed endless. This new advice came on top of the general parenting advice that I already was trying to follow. It was all, quite frankly, overwhelming.
At some point, I had an epiphany. I didn’t have to follow all of the advice that I was getting. Not everything worked for our family and, even if it did, we simply didn’t have the capacity to follow up on even the good recommendations. Once I gave myself permission to pick and choose, I (and by extension, the whole family) was much calmer and happier. Over the course of the following years, I learned some important lessons by trial and error.
• We cannot do everything that everyone recommends. The business world has long recognized that one of the biggest hurdles to accomplishing anything is information overload. Just managing all of the information that we receive every day is a challenging task, much less following up on any of it. Even the good advice can be overwhelming when you add it all up. Yes, I need to find 15 minutes every day to talk to my kids … and 15 minutes to train my dogs, and 30 minutes to exercise, and 15 minutes to organize my things for the next day, and 30 minutes to get the kids to organize their things, and 45 minutes to help them with their homework and . . . and . . . and. The list of important things to do seems endless.
We have to admit that we are bound by the laws of physics and have only 24 hours in a day. We also have to recognize that people giving advice, particularly experts, often don’t know much about our lives and how many things we have to balance. More important, they rarely tell us which of their good ideas we can ignore. We have to figure that out for ourselves. But the inescapable fact is that we have to ignore some (or most) advice because we simply cannot do everything.
• We can only do what we can do. We are not superheroes, and we cannot bend the laws of time and space. It may be hard to admit that we have limits, especially when it comes to something as important as taking care of our children. Nevertheless, we can’t ignore that fact. Sometimes, all we can do is all that we can do. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up for having human limits.
• We can get the big pieces in place. I love the story about filling a jar with rocks, pebbles and sand. The best way to fit all of those things into a confined space is to start with the rocks, then add pebbles, then add sand. It’s a perfect analogy for how to raise kids. We need to get the big pieces, such as love, nurture, and unconditional acceptance, in place first. Then we can fill in the space that’s left with schoolwork (yes, that is less important than other things) and life lessons. Figure out how to rank your family’s needs, and work on first things first.
• We can ask for help. Asking for help is not easy. For me, it’s downright hard. I want to pretend, and believe, that I can do it all. But even a lawyer’s ego has to accept reality sometimes. If you are having to leave important things undone, find people to help. Find a therapist who can help you and your child make progress on long-standing problems. Ask family members or friends to help with transportation. Ask your foster care caseworker to find a respite home so you can attend a work conference or just have a weekend to yourself. Work with other parents to share tutoring costs or simply support each other. Parenting other people’s kids is a challenge, but don’t make it harder than it needs to be.
• We can accept our imperfections. We will not be perfect parents. No one ever has been, regardless of what they say on social media. All we should aim for is a good average. More important, when we do make mistakes, we can show our children how to handle failure with grace and determination. Even Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds had more strike-outs than home runs in their careers. We may not be sports stars, but we, too, can move past the times that we strike out with our kids.
We are all inundated with good advice (this blog included) that can make our jobs as parents seem overwhelming. One of the best things we can learn is how to ignore good advice (this blog included) and set the priorities that work for our families. More important, we can recognize that we won’t always get it right, and show our kids how to accept ourselves, imperfections and all. In the end, it’s the total picture that matters, not whether we got everything right every time.