The car was quiet. We were driving in uncharacteristic silence. So I called to the back of the car.
“Is everything ok?”
There was no answer.
“Are you reading?”
“Hey!” I said with a little more force.
I got his attention.
“Sorry, Mom. I was imagining.”
Oh, to be inside the imagination of a six-year-old boy.
“Sorry for interrupting, Sweetie. Go back to what you were thinking about.”
I hoped I hadn’t taken him too far off his imaginative journey and settled back into our silent ride. I smiled and gave myself a little internal high-five.
No permanent damage. Despite going against all the advice and recommendations against screen time, my little child—a child of the second decade of the second millennium, a child for whom we have set relatively few screen time limits–has managed to maintain a connection with his imaginative mind and uses that mind just fine.
“When we get home I’m going to write a story about me and a dragon,” I hear from the back before he disappears into what I can only assume is a magical dragon filled world.
Parents spend an awful lot of time worrying if we’re doing it right–‘IT’ being this whole raising kids thing. On any given day one can find hundreds of articles about how to do it better, faster, stronger. Each article presents their best arguments for why their way is the right way. They throw out studies, statistics, and how to lists.
We sift through the words and adopt and discard pieces of advice. We grab hold of labels and concepts and theories about raising kids. We make choices. In the same day we can read something about the best apps for your child in this tech savvy world to lists of things to do with felt and wood with your organically raised earth child. Every article written with the same intentions: raising kids who will thrive and succeed (“success”, of course, meaning a great many different things to a great many different people).
Sometimes we cling to our parenting choices with a firmness that leaves our hands blistered and our bodies tired. I will PROVE my way is right even if it kills us all.
Sometimes we turn on a dime. We read something new. We copy someone else. We twist and turn in the information storm. New statistics, new studies, new recommendations can’t be ignored, after all.
Sometimes we throw our hands up in the air and resort to “if it was good enough for me when I was a kid then…” kind of approach.
And so, the parenting pendulum swings back and forth in perpetuity, never really landing on the perfect parenting technique.
There is, as it turns out, no such thing.
With more than twenty years of parenting behind me (and many years to go) I have the benefit of my experiences to guide me in my choices and the only thing I can truly be sure of is that the longer you are a parent the more profoundly aware you are of how imperfect parenting is. The longer you are a parent the easier it is for you to understand how that pendulum works.
Back and forth it goes. This is right. That is right. This is best. That is best. This works. That works.
It’s not quite clockwork but it is almost comical as you see parenting trends come and go and come and go.
I see young parents today making choices that they think are unconventional, innovative, progressive, or pioneering and it makes me laugh. Not at them, but at myself. I am sure I was just the same when I started out with my first child. I was full of quiet judgment and polite arrogance because *I* was going to forge a new way. I read all the books and the studies. I had a modern philosophy and a style and a plan.
Over time the plan morphed to fit a growing family, a changing world, and an understanding that despite emerging theories about child development, the day-to-day life of a family has not changed all that much over the years. And while I’m the first to argue that anecdotes do not a sound argument make, I know our life is defined in simple terms: what works for my family in this moment and time is all I need care about.
I’ve been a mother for almost twenty-two years and I won’t pretend that I’ve got this parenting thing down–I make as many mistakes now as any new parent–but I don’t dwell on my mistakes or worry my children will be left to suffer a life of mediocrity because of them. Time is on my side. Statistically the pendulum and I will match at some point.
The how-to-parent pendulum that swings back and forth is a reminder that the rules, the advice, the recommendations, the choices, and the positions we take are just a starting point. What makes us good parents is our ability and willingness to sway along and accept the full spectrum of the arc of the pendulum’s path.
In our home we’re not particularly rigid about screens. We are, if I’m being honest, not particularly big on rules at all, outside of the simple idea of being respectful to yourself and to those around you. I could worry about this, but I don’t. I know better. I know what works for us. My six-year-old boy sits in front of a screen more than the experts recommend but right now he’s daydreaming about dragons.
Parent in your moment. The pendulum swings for thee.