Breaking These Parenting Rules Helped Set Me Free

I remember the moment I experienced my first eyeroll on the playground. As an adult, I mean. I had bought my 3-year-old son an ice cream treat — too much sugar before bedtime, I can only guess. I wanted to blow it off, that eyeroll, but I caught it, and it stung. As was the case a lot during those early years with my first kid, I found myself wishing for a parenting manual — some rules to follow that would put all of us parents on an even playing field.

As my son grew from infanthood to babyhood to toddlerhood (and then when I did it all again with my daughter), I realized that there were, in fact, rules all around me. I was absorbing these rules from magazines, from mom friends, from the OG of the playground. And yet, instead of these rules putting us in a neutral place, they created stress and competition.

Then one day, I was with a friend of mine and her kids at an outdoor festival, and I said “yes” when my kid asked for some Cheetos. Are Cheetos an organic, wholesome food filled with nutrients? They are not. But it was a treat, and being the chill mom I am, I agreed. My friend, on the other hand, muttered something along the lines of “This will be the one and only time that my kid will ever eat these.” Seriously, screw that. I said enough was enough (to myself, because I hate confrontation, obvs) and decided I was done.

Here are just a few of the many parenting rules I decided I’m more than fine with breaking so that I can breathe a little:

  • We must feed our kids organic everything. This is such an unnecessary stress on so many households. It’s expensive, and while in a perfect world we would all have a fully organic diet, we do not, and yet we are alive and OK. I’m eliminating that pressure – taking it right off my (bamboo) plate. I buy organic what I can and what makes sense (ahem, you’ll never find an organic avocado in my cart because we don’t eat the skin). This gives me peace of mind – not a label.
  • Kids must eat everything on their plate before leaving the table. My son is the pickiest eater of them all, so you can imagine how hard-headed he is during dinner time at home. But still, I hate this rule about “cleaning your plate.” I figure that if I enforce it, my kids will grow up not knowing their limits when it comes to food. As long as they’re eating balanced meals and getting nutrients, then they can be finished with their meal whenever their bodies tell them that they’re full.
  • Every child should only get one hour of screen time per week. Truth: sometimes Netflix is the babysitter in our home. I’ll be totally transparent here because I’m a WAHM (work-at-home-mom) with lots of deadlines, client calls and, well… Netflix is my BFF. My kids have watched Zootopia so many times that I know some parts by heart and it scares me just a little bit that my daughter waits in anticipation for when the “Godfather Mouse” says “Ice him!” and then goes crazy. As long as she doesn’t have a future in organized crime, then we’re good.
  • We must rush our kids to the doctor at every sign of a sickness. My son complains about being sick at least once a week. Most of the time it’s because he wants to skip school. I refuse to spend my effing life sitting in the waiting room at the germy pediatrician’s on account of a fake illness. If there’s an emergency, we’ll know. Meanwhile, the litmus test in our home is if he doesn’t have a fever, then he’s probably just fishing for a personal day.
  • Kids must be enrolled in every extracurricular activity they express interest in. We live in NYC, one of the most over-scheduled places in the world, and I watch kids get off the bus everyday after school with glazed looks on their faces as their nannies whisk them off to cello practice, then soccer, then their tutor for homework time. My crew and I don’t fit into that scheme, as I’m the one doing the pickups myself and I refuse for my son to be stressed out going from activity to activity. Instead, he chooses one or two activities during the school year, and we opt for day passes to places like indoor rock climbing on weekends as a family.
  • My toddler should be nice to every kid at the park. Toddlers are emotional wildcards, as we all know well. Everything upsets them. Or doesn’t upset them. But might upset them. So if we think for one second that they should get along with every kid at the park we are so wrong. My daughter is 15 months and definitely a bit of a rascal around other kids and has been known to occasionally hit them if they’re in her path (lightly! Like a swat! She’s 1, come on!). This is all part of being a toddler, though, and I can’t always intervene every time she grabs a toy from someone else. They will work that shiz out.
  • My kids must always share. My kids are allowed to have a special toy that is just theirs and theirs only. Yes, sharing skills are important, but there is a line to be drawn. Not everything needs to be passed around playgroup and shared equally by everyone. And TBH, how much do we really apply this skill in adulthood? No one is borrowing my iPhone 8, so why do I have make my kid give up her favoritie Moana doll?

Moral of the story: listen to that inner mom voice of yours. You know what’s best.

Allison Cooper lives in New York City with her husband and two kids. Read her at Romper, Fit Pregnancy, Reader's Digest and more, and catch her daily parenting musings over at Project Motherhood