Parenting in the Modern Age Got You Down?
Here are a few ways I manage the struggle
Every year on December 31, we all live with this momentary magical thinking that the world is somehow going to be less like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in the coming year. At midnight, the nightmare spell of the previous year will evaporate and a new dawn of human wokeness will descend upon all of humanity.
We’ll wake up every morning, turn on the news or check our Facebook feeds, and there will be nothing but stories of people doing nice things for each other and not caring about their differences. There will be no Tide Pod challenges, no human suffering, no clickbait media drama to suck all of our attention and get us all hyped up for about two weeks until the next thing comes along.
But alas, we live in a world of people, complicated beings who are each, in turn, struggling to create their own reality and reconcile that reality with all of the other realities of all of the other complicated humans around them. Another year goes by and we’re all still struggling to find our footing in this big existential mess, and raising kids in this mess is not unlike being bolted into a high-speed roller coaster. Every day, we’re wondering how we can raise good people when the whole world is cranked up to eleven.
Of course, you can always unplug for a little while, but short of going off the grid, it’s kind of a temporary solution.
I’m not here to offer you any soothing essential oils or Lularoe leggings to ease your troubles. No, nothing quite that helpful. Instead, I’ve put together my own list of what gets me through to possibly help you keep a brave parent face as we slog through another week of the good old existential mire.
1. If you’re not going into the office, it’s perfectly fine to dress down.
Raising quality humans is no small feat, and the pressure to put on pants and rake a brush through your hair can sometimes be just a little too much. Fortunately, the dawn of social media means everyone is too self-absorbed to care about your hair. And no matter what, no matter where you go or what you do, there will always be someone who looks rougher than you. It’s physics, man.
2. A little screen time won’t kill your kids, but it may just save your sanity.
Whether you’ve put in a fifty-hour week at the office or your day’s work includes chasing down kids and addressing that mountain of laundry no one seems to see but you, there’s a decent chance you haven’t had twenty minutes to yourself in a good while if you have literally any children.
That’s exactly why the good Lord made Google family accounts. You’ll get notifications on all your kids’ downloads and you can check their browsing and YouTube history. Remember, though, I said a little screen time. There’s a bell curve where the whole thing boomerangs right back at you if you let them have too much screen time. And good luck pulling yourself out of that bedtime debacle.
3. A hot bath and change of clothing can be transformative.
One thing I’ve learned from working at home is how easy it is to get wrapped up in your own head in the worst possible ways. Self-doubt and negativity can creep in when you least suspect, especially on the days when you’ve exchanged strong words with your spouse and you can’t seem to get your children to put on their clothing and get out the door for school on time no matter how early you put them to bed. It’s not about the bath; it’s about the principle of stepping away from the situation and getting a fresh perspective.
4. Be kind to each other.
The one thing I’ve learned in my four-plus decades is that everyone on this planet is varying degrees of trying to keep their heads on straight. I don’t care how together someone appears; we’re all just doing the best we can. That yoga pants mom with the special coffee mug and the perfect shellac? Trust me, there’s something weighing on her heart right now that she’s doing her best to put on a brave face about, and just like you, she’s on her own journey.
5. When people are cruel to you, it’s not always about you.
Being a mom to three toddlers at various points taught me something very crucial about human nature. I always knew that my kids loved me. Not only did they love me, but they loved me perhaps more unconditionally than any other human ever could or would. And yet, each of them at one point or another looked me dead in the face and told me either that they did not want me or hated me at some point in their toddlerhood. But I always knew they didn’t mean it. What they meant was, “My heart hurts. I’m sad. I’m hungry. I can’t think straight.”
In this, they taught me one of the most important lessons I could learn; they taught me that when people are cruel to you, it’s not always about you. It’s about something inside them that they need, and to ease their suffering is the greatest gift you can give. Sometimes that thing is space. Sometimes it’s forgiveness. Other times it’s something no one can give them. But the most important thing to remember is that when someone is unkind to you, it’s not always about you.
6. You can’t fix everything, and sometimes you just have to focus on what you can.
Being a parent is a crash course in feeling helpless to solve other people’s problems. Whether your heart is hurting because your quiet child comes home talking about how they don’t really have any friends at school or you’re overwhelmed with heartache over global suffering, there are just lots of things in the universe we can’t do much about. But what we can do is focus on the present time and space we’re in and try to bring some goodness to it.
I believe that all of our acts can ripple out into the universe like a stone in a pond. Say you unwittingly slam a door in someone’s face because you’re upset. Maybe they blow it off. But maybe they feel frustrated and are in turn short with the person they’re with, and thus the chain continues. Now let’s say you stop to hold the door and smile. That small act could be the beginning of a pay-it-forward chain no one realizes they’re in. TLDR if you can’t fix everything, do one good thing.
7. Forgiving yourself your mistakes is the only way to move on.
Living with anxiety means you sometimes love to wallow in your errors. We anxiety sufferers can’t help ourselves. There’s nothing like a nice soak in a hot stew of our own imperfections. But I also know you don’t have to be an anxiety sufferer to carry around the weight of your mistakes. They can be good because they teach us lessons, but they can also be burdensome. Don’t be afraid to Konmari your guilt, regrets, and mistakes. Thank it and then give it back to the universe.
8. Spending one-on-one time with your kids is good for all of you.
This is one of the best, most life-affirming things I do. Every day, I spend at least a few minutes talking to each kid individually. Noah goes to school early in the morning and comes home at a different time from everyone else, so I always spend some time talking with him in that quiet space, which is how I learned that he tried in vain to introduce his class to David Bowie’s genius but is still committed to the cause.
Arthur and I have serious conversations about which Kubrick film is a better metaphor for the human condition--he says 2001: A Space Odyssey--and he fills me in on what’s lurking in the weird corners of the Internet, like the surrealist horror web series Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared. Lucy and I play with Barbies and bedazzle things that probably shouldn’t be bedazzled.
9. Simple routines and rituals give you something to look forward to.
For our family, it’s Wednesday sushi nights and Thursday night Star Trek episodes. For you, it might be football or church. But having something you do together at a set time gives your family something to look forward to on the hardest days of their week, and it offers a set time dedicated to being together as a team.
10. Compassion is one of the most important things we can teach the kids.
If you’re worried about how the next generation is going to turn out, you’re not alone. Just remember, people have had this same worry since time eternal and for the most part, the human race has improved over time. But you really can’t go wrong if you’re teaching your kids compassion and empathy.
It’s what allows us to see the world from others’ point of views, and it’s our best hope for a future where people are more kind than cruel. I’m not saying they should abide awful people, but it can’t hurt to see the human race through an empathy filter.
What do you do to mitigate the chaos of living in the modern age? Hit me up with your advice in the comments, and have a beautiful week.