When I had my firstborn I started to pick up on the tendency to compete with other parents, usually over stuff that I had nothing to do with. “Jack has six teeth now. I know, right? Best. Parent. Ever.” Also he slept through the night more quickly than one of my friend’s babies, who was born around the same time. See what I’m saying? Pure parenting awesomeness. I even tried competitive potty training. My kid was going to be potty trained the minute he started walking, because THAT’S what The Babywhisperer (the only parenting book I actually read) said was possible. He was just about potty trained before he turned three. Not through lack of trying, mind you. I literally cleaned pee up from everywhere for almost two years. My third born, Caleb, had to potty train himself. I was way checked out by that time!
A friend of mine who works at a camp and lives on property told me about a mommy group she’s a part of that asked her what they were going to do for her daughter’s birthday. She thought about what they had out at camp and said they would probably bring up some ponies and hang out by the pool. It’s a camp. All that stuff is free for them. Her friends launched into a verbal sparring match about what they planned to do for their kid’s birthday parties and how many hundreds of dollars were at their disposal to do so. My friend finally threw her hands in the air and said, “we’re not doing anything!” They stayed home and had one friend over.
Competitive parenting is the one thing I try really hard not to engage in any more. This isn’t because I’m a super-Christian, or extra humble or just so sure of myself I don’t care what anyone else thinks. It’s because I’m no good at it. Friends, I’m just trying to survive here with enough clean clothes to get through the week! I’m pretty sure my husband went to work this morning with no clean socks, so you can judge for yourself how well I’m doing with my goal.
The other reason is … sometimes our kids just need us to stop. I recently read an article about parents of kids in sports. One parent mentioned in the article stood at the window during her five-year-old daughter’s gymnastics class. Periodically she would tap the glass and glare at her daughter while mouthing the words, “stop having fun!” Wow. I also saw an ad for a “Netflix for toys” program that stated the average parent spends $1,400 a year on toys for their children. I’m bringing those numbers way down. I think I spent $50 last year on all their Christmas presents combined. (My kids are still little and easy. They don’t care if all their stocking stuffers have the Easter Bunny on them because I bought them on clearance the previous Spring.)
The birthday party thing is still so shocking to me. It is unbelievable the amount of money spent on birthday parties for babies who aren’t even old enough to realize it’s their birthday! My friend went to the birthday party of a one-year-old and there was valet parking, catering … ice sculptures … who knows? Crazy right! I’m so glad I’m in the family I’m in! We decorate our own cupcakes and the really ambitious ones rent bouncy houses. I took my mother for her first pedicure (when she was 55 years old) and we sat next to a ten-year-old who was getting a mani-pedi in preparation for her tenth birthday party. The girl’s mother bragged to us about the jillion dollar venue they had rented because the girl wanted a ball for her birthday … so the party was in a ballroom. She had a date taking her. They bought her a floor length gown. How do you even find a ballgown that fits a ten-year-old? How will they top that? Sweet sixteen is right around the corner. Maybe they’ll fly her to Europe and rent an actual castle. Who knows with this level of crazy?
Homework is a whole post all it’s own! Anyone who’s ever been to an elementary Science Fair knows exactly what I’m talking about, so I’ll just say to those special people who clearly cannot allow their child to make a mistake, “Stop doing your kid’s homework! They are learning NOTHING when you do that!” Okay, all done with that.
I look at my kids sometimes and think, “What do they actually need? What do I really need to do for them?” Most of the things they need don’t cost much money. I spend money on good, healthy food for them. I give them lots of hugs, kisses and tickles. I read them books … that I buy for 98 cents at Goodwill. We fight cybugs in our living room with pop guns and build forts in the bedroom with sheets and pillows. They are not in organized sports yet. I know! My oldest is five and his chances are now ruined for ever playing professional football, but oh well. Maybe he’ll be a missionary instead.
I know that some birthdays are more special and it’s so fun to make a big deal of things sometimes. I’m certainly not opposed to a little excess if someone can afford it. My kids love the birthday parties where there are hired actors to play characters. Turning ten is big. Sometimes homework is overwhelming and your kids could use a boost … just a little one. Teachers can, in fact, tell the difference between work done by a seven-year-old and work done by a college graduate. Just sayin’. But we have to keep a bit of a grip on reality. There are still people in third world countries starving. There are some financial years that are better than others. Occasionally remind them that they don’t NEED it. They WANT it. There’s a big difference. I really loved one parent’s idea this year who felt she had bought too many things for her kids for Christmas. So she told them ahead of time that they were going to pick one toy out and take it to a kid who didn’t have much for Christmas that year. They were very excited about it too! Kids like to be generous if you raise them to be.
And here’s to us mothers who still have Oscar Meyer cater our children’s birthday parties and the thought of hiring an adult dressed in a pirate costume only crosses our mind long enough to elicit hysterical laughter! Here’s to kids who still play outside … with sticks and rocks because we don’t spend $1,400 on toys that will just get broken, ruined and ignored. Here’s to the babies who don’t even think about potty training until they’re 4 and parents who just let it ride. If you’re still in the competitive parenting ring, come join us! Get out while you still can! Life is too short to clean up pee for two years. You can just take my word on that one.