I remember the day my two young sons were in the back seat eating chips from a bag. We had just gone to the grocery store and they begged me for a few chips. I gave in, partly because I was tired and mostly because it kept them quiet in the back seat.
After enjoying a free moment to think, I suddenly realized it was lunchtime. Could the potato chips suffice for lunch? It wasn’t the most nutritious meal, but then I wouldn’t have to go home and make lunch, and actually we didn’t have much time to stop. We had to meet a friend at the pool …
I point out this occurrence because the event made me stop and think that I never imagined allowing my children to eat potato chips for lunch before I became pregnant. The dogmatic ideas on how I would handle motherhood included believing that I would serve well-balanced meals every single day, following the baby book completely, starting their chore list at an early age and, of course, cleaning my house on a daily basis.
Later that week, I shared my potato-chip episode with a close friend with some trepidation; I worried she would judge me negatively. She quickly laughed and told me parents have to set the bar high when their children are infants because if they don’t, their kids will be smoking at age 5. We then laughed about the things we had done as parents so far-we let our kids eat Cheerios off the floor, we had occasionally allowed the kids to watch hours of television so we could get housework done, and shamefully, I accidentally put my son down one afternoon for a nap without a diaper. Oooops.
Her soothing words helped me immensely. I began to speculate that it might be permissible to be a less-than-perfect parent. Perfectionism runs deep through my blood and was somewhat manageable when I only had to worry about myself. However, expecting my kids and I to do everything perfectly wasn’t advantageous anymore. I had to lower my expectations.
Of course, this doesn’t mean allowing your children to smoke or run in front of a truck. But it does mean learning to let go of the little things that really don’t matter. I now pick my battles, which may include offering my kids an occasional meal without any fruits and vegetables. Homework might not get done right after school, and their teeth might miss a brushing or two.
I believe it is important to release the minutia in order to have more energy to fight the battle on bigger issues. There are many expectations of parents today, and we each have to decide what is important to us and what isn’t so we can begin to fully enjoy our role as parents.
Being a mother has taught me a great number of lessons. I have learned to be more flexible, more tolerant and most importantly, I have begun to live within gray areas as opposed to only black and white.
It was a turning point for me to allow my sons to eat potato chips for lunch that afternoon and I am grateful for it. That day I chose to live more flexibly, and I have continued to let go and make decisions for myself and my children that allow spontaneity and peace of mind for all of us.
An occasional meal of potato chips for lunch just may be the perfect cure for you and your kids, too.
Annemarie Husser is a freelance writer, family therapist and mom living in Carpentersville.