I am neither a free-range nor a helicopter parent. I need too much personal space to be a full-on attachment parent. I don’t have the desire to harvest superstars – nor the fierceness – to be categorized as a tiger mom. I want to nurture like elephant moms but I’m certain that my son won’t learn to dress himself unless I crack a little mama whip.
I strive to be a Goldilocks parent: not too hard, not too soft. Just right.
Not putting a leash on my child, but not letting my four-year old cross a busy street without adult supervision.
Not so much screen time that my children’s eyes melt out of their sockets, but not a ban on all screens. Mama sometimes needs an uninterrupted hot shower. Plus, Master Chef Jr. is a really good show.
Not a cookie and gummy worm diet, but not a ban on all sugar, lest your child eat the entire bowl of chocolates at a birthday party.
Yes, you have to make your bed. No, it doesn’t need to meet Mommie-Dearest standards.
No, my child may not participate in soccer, swimming, skiing, piano, boy scouts, and Mandarin class each week. He may do one activity, or maybe two, if its location and timing are convenient for all of us. He needs to learn to fill his own time. He also needs to learn how to set the table for dinner, take out the trash, and hang up his own jacket. Teaching and practicing such life skills proves difficult when we stuff our children’s days with activities.
Yes, I will gift you that monster truck for your birthday. No, I will not buy that LEGO set for you on this random Saturday. Use your allowance money if you’d like.
You want to practice your back kicks on your stuffed bear? Cool. You want to practice your back kicks on your sister’s rib cage. Not cool. Go to your room for a bit. Maybe next time you’ll keep your feet to yourself.
In Momma Zen, one of the most helpful books I’ve ever read on the role of being a mother, author and Zen Buddhist priest Karen Maezen Miller includes a chapter on Goldilocks parenting, or what the Zen Buddhists call the middle way.
In finding the middle way with regards to turning on the television for your child, she writes:
“It’s so easy to be lazy about how much TV your child sees, but that creates addiction. It’s also easy to be rigidly prohibitive, but that creates craving. It’s much easier to hold an opinion either way than to hold a remote control, take responsibility for pushing ‘on’ and ‘off,’ and fess up to the consequences.”
It’s much simpler to adhere to rigid, extreme rules – we don’t watch any TV, we don’t eat any sweets, my child only participates in one activity, I don’t believe in punishments for children – than it is to parent in the middle, to approach these matters on a case-by-case, moment-by-moment basis.
Rigid rules give us parents the feeling of control. Control, at least for me, feels safe and predictable, but control hinders living fully, productively, and joyfully. Does anyone look like they’re having any fun in Mommie Dearest?
To be a messy, alive, in-the-middle parent, you need to first let go of rigid ideals. Your children won’t always be kind or brilliant or green or impeccably healthy eaters. Neither will you. Let these extreme, promoted-by Pinterest-boards ideals go. Stop chasing them. Break up with control.
Then get deeply present. Your child is throwing a stomping-feet tantrum? Only with presence can you know which way is the just-right, in-the-middle way to respond. If you are present, you will know if he’s feeling overtired and needs you to contain his body as you carry him to bed or if he’s just fuming because he’s not allowed to wear flip flops in the snow, in which case you will close the door to his room and get back to your cup of coffee while you wait for your son to accept the reasonable limit.
With presence you will know that just because your child is whining now doesn’t mean he will be a lifetime complainer. Of course, you may want to scream at this whining creature standing in your kitchen, but try to pause. Realize that’s an extreme response and try to bring yourself back to the middle. Calmly deal with this whining and then let it go. Or, if you do go all Joan Crawford on your child, apologize for slipping into a state of rage and get yourself back to the present. This will give your child space to be something other than a whiner in the next moment.
I remember once reading an essay by a woman whose mother had been a hoarder. In response, the writer lived an extremely neat, minimalist lifestyle. The writer understood that her mother’s extreme lifestyle made the pendulum swing to her own extreme lifestyle. Unable to find balance, neither woman lived with presence.
Don’t commit your energy to the extremes. Not only is it exhausting to do so, but you also are setting your children up to echo an extreme, non-present life — to coin some new, rigid parenting approach where they’ll never make time to grab some dinner alone with their spouses. Commit to presence and the middle and commit to teaching your children that there is peace and contentment in balanced relationships, careers, diets, and lifestyles.
With presence and Goldilocks parenting there is room for imperfect moments and perfect moments, for lazing about and hiking up, for joy and sadness, for As and Ds, for tantrums and kisses … for tangled, beautiful, blooming life.
****Read hilarious and dramatically illustrated Sofa Boy (written by Scott Langteau; illustrated by Rion Vernon) so your children can understand that extreme screen time can have consequences. The ending is fun enough to keep children interested, but dark enough to propel them off the couch and into the outdoors.