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10 Parenting "Musts" That I Skipped

Why follow steps when you can skip?


This smart-ass slacker attitude served me well in school, so I'm rocking it as a mom!

Also still going strong is the voice of my daughter's Queen Elsa doll, which--thanks to the magic of whatever they put in batteries these days--has not stopped reminding me to "Let it go, let it goooooo!"

We live in a culture that is obsessed with telling parents what to do--what to buy, what to eat, what to say, what to think, what to feel, what to fear. Because of this, Elsa's anthem has spoken to many of us on a deep level for the past couple of years, forcing us to recall our youth, all its pressure and those thrills of breaking free from other people's well-intentioned but stifling expectations.

From the moment we get pregnant, our hands are stuffed with videos about what kinds of "birth experiences" we should try to have, what plans to follow, what CHOICES to make. How to not screw up our kids, how to keep them pure and sparkling and optimized, how not to fail at this most important of all tests.

Oh, that word, "choices." It reminds me of crustached middle school teachers with pleated-front, highwater pants giving awkward lectures about puberty and daring not to do drugs. It reminds me of McDonald's commercials for imitation healthy foods. It reminds me of that trick we all pull on our own toddlers when we give them "choices" to create the thin illusion of empowerment.

I'm not really in a position to give parenting advice, mostly because I am the expert on exactly one child, and I am fully aware that no two children or mothers are alike. What's good for the gosling is not necessarily good for the duckling or the hippie chick. So I'm not going to tell you what choices you should make. I'm just here to confess to you that I have derived great joy and relief from completely skipping a whole lot of parenting "choices," methods, tips, fads, customs, struggles, battles, and so-called rites of passage so that I can do more of all the things that are important to me--like catching up on The Mindy Project while my kid dumps out all the Legos.

Today, I will share with you a list of 10 mom things I have skipped with no regrets. I hope you'll share with me some of the things that you have had the pleasure of skipping, too.

1. the birth plan

I was lucky enough to find an ob-gyn and a hospital that I could trust to take the best possible care of me and my child, end of story. I still felt like I had to write a birth plan, because there was this documentary so highly recommended by the chiropractor's wife and I trusted everyone during pregnancy. Everyone! It must have been the hormones. Later, I discovered that writing up a birth plan is like writing a wish list to Santa and mailing it to the North Pole. I have never, ever heard a mother say, "I am so glad I wrote that birth plan! What would I have done without it?" As if your uterus is going to give any f***s about what you just wrote.

2. classes by La Leche League, Babywearers, etc.

It is very cool that there are so many resources available to new mothers nowadays. It can also get obnoxious to attend classes that turn basic tasks into extreme sports. I took several first-and-last extra-credit-mommy-skill classes out of curiosity. I never even started with the baby sign language. It sounded good while I was pregnant, but once I had the little person outside my body who was totally clear with me about all of her preferences... classes seemed redundant.

3. buying all the things

I bought a top-notch car seat, a high chair, and an umbrella stroller. I skipped other "essentials" like that removable infant-car-seat-basket thing that weighs a million pounds and ends up balanced precariously on top of shopping carts and restaurant tables everywhere. And changing tables. And toddler beds. And magic crystals designed to distract parents from the pain of listening to teething babies cry. Just no thanks.

4. food battles

I have never forced my daughter to eat anything, ever. I figure, a kid won't starve herself. When she's hungry, she'll eat. It's normal for toddlers to go through phases of adventurous and picky eating. There has been a solid week of nothing but mac 'n cheese. Fine with me. Instead of fighting at the table, my husband and I prepare and enjoy delicious healthy foods in front of our daughter, and she can have some if she wants. If not, more for us.

5. potty training

In line with our level of dietary strictness, we gave our daughter a spiffy potty chair when she was one or two and said, "Here you go! Use it if you want!" She figured out quickly enough that it was more awesome to go in the potty than in her pants. Hooray!

6. sleep training

I'm pretty sure this can be done. I've heard the success stories. But with a husband who has to get up for work at 4:00 a.m., it was honestly easier for us to put a queen size bed in our daughter's room and just have me sleep in there. I still do. My daughter is four. She's a great snuggler. I've traded the ability to go out in the evening--like, ever--for a quiet life of family dinners at home followed by bedtime at dusk. Sorry, adult friends. I'm not fun anymore. While you are changing from your 9-5 to your 5-9 clothes, I'm getting in my fuzzy Julius Junior jammies. I admit, I kind of love it.

7. formal instruction in reading or anything else

At this age? Why? My husband and I were both reading at three; our daughter is more into numbers and Legos and, at four, has only a tenuous grasp on the alphabet. That's fabulous. Maybe she won't need glasses by first grade like I did.

8. "discipline" (and by that I mean "punishment")

Of course we discipline our child--meaning, we set a good example, show her how to do things, encourage her efforts, and set limits. We've never, ever doled out a punishment. No time-out, nothing. As Nonna says, "When a child or an adult is out of sorts, they usually need one of three things: a nap, a snack, or a hug." Wise words, Nonna.

9. trademarked parenting books, methods, or styles

I read too much as it is. I'd rather spend more time paying attention to my daughter and what works for her. There's always the danger of reading terrible advice, and then there's the danger of reading great advice and interpreting or implementing it disastrously wrong, Amelia-Bedelia-style. Why bother? I find it more satisfying to seek out only the expert advice that backs up what you're already doing, so you can throw it at people who try to offer unwelcome advice.

10. weaning

This might freak you out, but I have tried to wean my daughter as we've approached every one of her four birthdays and broken down into hormonal tears each time, asking, "Why?" It's mostly just at bedtime anyway, and it gives her so much comfort and happiness. I'm sure she'll quit by elementary school or thereabouts, like she figured out the potty on her own (see #5) and is now teaching herself to sound out a few words (#7). It allows me to not worry about how many servings of vegetables she's eaten in a day (#4), makes us both sleepy at bedtime (#6), and will probably transform her into a superhero with magical strength powers. That is, according to the lore of Mongolia (where they nurse kids well past kindergarten) and some old fairy tales I just read that involve magic breast milk.

So I have no advice to give on any of the above topics, because I skipped them. And guess what! My child has not yet turned into a serial killer or (God help us) Lena Dunham. Her day care gives me awesome reports about her behavior. She's bright, healthy, and fun. And her mom is a slacker. There, I admitted it. I humble-bragged it. It's true.

Parents of other lovely and adorable children, your turn! What "parenting essentials" or oh-so-important tasks or rituals have you skipped?

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