On the last day before winter break, my husband called me from the school car line. "Do you know anything about pajama day? At drop off, they asked Brenna why she wasn't wearing her pajamas?" I was instantly terrified. How had I missed that on the calendar? Now my little girl was the only one in regular clothes while all of her friends were giggling in their nightgowns and slippers.
It was downright astonishing the level of frustration and guilt I felt over a missed dress-up day at school. I immediately packed up some pajamas and headed over to school, hoping that my daughter's teacher wouldn't mind the interruption. I furiously sent a text to my mother, who works at the school, lamenting that I somehow missed the notice about pajama day. Before I could even reach the school, my mom called and said, "Brenna's class isn't doing pajamas today! Mine is!"
I was frantic over a dress-up day that didn't exist. I was already chastising myself for not paying more attention to the newsletters. I was flipping through my day planner, seeing if I missed the day or wrote it down somewhere else. I was promising to use my day planner with more regularity. All over a pajama day at school.
The fact is, these parenting freak-outs happen more often than I would like to admit. One day over winter break, I asked my daughter if she wanted to get out her new train track to play with me. She responded, "No, I just want to watch a movie." I couldn't believe it. My child was turning down playtime for a movie? For television? This had never happened before.
Before I could help myself, I started worrying about the amount of screen time my daughter was getting. Two half-hour television shows a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. We throw in the occasional movie as well. Was it too much? Was I lulling my daughter into couch potato status? Maybe we should institute screen-free weekends to make sure that we weren't overdoing it.
I completely ignored the fact that our family had been go-go-go for days. There were dozens of new toys. We were getting over the flu. It was all a little crazy. My daughter's request for downtime probably wasn't more than a simple need for a little relaxation. That's what winter break is supposed to be, after all. And yet, I turned this one incident into a huge concern, an indictment on my parenting.
The past year, and every year since I had my daughter, is riddled with examples of the ways I over-analyze my parenting choices. There are countless examples of me blowing individual occurrences out of proportion and stressing out over minor details. All of that worry and pressure doesn't actually help me be a better parent. For all that self-reflection aids us in evaluating our performance, sometimes there's just too much of it. There's too much analysis, not enough enjoying the process.
When I think about it, my greatest moments of parenting normally come when I'm not worrying about being a good parent at all. When I'm not stressing over spoiling my little girl or teaching her a lesson, that's when we enjoy each other's company the most. And it's what brings out the best in my daughter.
When my grandmother was sick, I was so concerned with explaining the illness and shielding my daughter from all the concern and sadness. Finally, after a week of stress and constant questions, I decided to give in and allow Brenna to visit the hospital. It felt wrong, exposing my little girl to so much heartache and worry. I was positive that she'd get upset or scared or that she'd be too overwhelming for her grandmother. Instead, she walked up to her Gigi and gave her a small stuffed animal to cuddle with in the hospital. Then, she kissed her grandmother's hand and told her that everything would be okay.
All my concern and stress was unwarranted. My daughter knew how to help her grandmother. And she was mature enough to handle the fact that someone she loved was sick. Without any of my help, this beautiful little girl knew what to do. And I need to trust her to make those choices more often.
This year, I want to stop worrying so much about every parenting choice. I want to take a step back appreciate the gorgeous, intelligent little girl we've created. I want to trust her more and protect her a little less. And I want to trust myself and my motherhood instincts, instead of assuming that research and reports are relevant for every family, in every situation. We know our kids best. Listening to them will make us better parents than any parenting how-to book could hope to.
My New Year's resolution is to spend less time worrying about my parenting and more time enjoying the privilege of parenting.
(Photo: Milleflore Images/Shutterstock)