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The Early Years: Be easy on yourself

Having a family is a lot of work! There are meals to be made, unending laundry, a home to be cleaned, bills to be paid, diapers to change, kids to feed, and on an on. How can parents get all these things done without loosing their sanity?

One of my favorite books, "Becoming the Parent You Want to Be", by Keyes and Davis, has some great tips. The first bit of advice is this: go easy on yourself. As parents we have many competing needs and can easily hold unrealistic expectations of ourselves. When we have young kids at home it's unrealistic to always have our house "company ready". This might be hard to give up. Especially if your pre-children house was usually very clean. As a young parent I didn't want to invite any friends over unless my house was spotless. However, I soon realized that getting together with friends for "play dates" with our kids was so much more important for my sanity than a spotless house. I discovered my friends didn't care if the house was cluttered with scattered toys and unwashed dishes in the kitchen, especially when their homes looked the same. At ECFE we recently discussed more realistic expectations. Some parents feel the need to have the kitchen counters cleaned. Some need to have the dishes done and others want a presentable living room. These are much more achievable goals than an entirely clean house.

Second tip, in order to balance family needs we need to decide what is most important. Do we want our children to be independent and creative or do we want them out of the way when we are busy. Hopefully we want creative and independent children. If so, we need to provide them with toys that encourage these traits. This means things might get messy and noisy. There may be lots of questions and it may tire you out, but putting a child in front of a television or computer screen too often runs counter to your big goals. It's important not to loose sight of the bigger goals and aspirations you have for your child in these busy years.

Lastly, prioritize. You are only one person. The phone is ringing, the laundry is waiting, the toddler wants you, and the baby is crying because she needs to be fed. Being part of a family means that some people's needs must wait until others' needs are met. Maybe everything else waits until the baby is fed. A sick child will require more time than a healthy one. Remember that in a family it isn't about balancing everyone's needs evenly at every moment. Strive to keep things in balanced over time.

Being a parent is a challenging job. Work toward realistic expectations and focus on the greatest need at the moment. There will be a day, sooner than you think, when your kids will be grown and your house will be quiet and clean. Then you will miss those little voices and the sound of little feet running in the house. You might even miss some of the mess. Don't waste this precious time and these memorable years stressing over the things that don't really matter in the long run.