I'm four and a half years into this parenting thing, and while I certainly don't have all the answers (except if you're looking for your lost lovey, then I'm your girl), I have learned a few things while keeping my 4- and 2-year-old sons alive up to this point. And the impending arrival of their baby sister has me thinking (read: freaking out) about starting all over again and somehow sticking to my guns with three little ones in the house.
So I figure I'd better write down some of my personal "wisdom" as an easy reference for when I'm knee-deep in diapers and ready to relinquish all parenting responsibility to Netflix. Maybe these wise words can help you, too, if, like me, you're in the parenting preschoolers and toddlers phase of your journey as an underpaid referee who moonlights as a housekeeper.
1. Never turn down a free meal
It doesn't matter if you have a newborn or your kid is 5, if someone — anyone — offers to bring you food at any time, accept. Don't hesitate, don't question it, don't wonder whether the person offering really has the time. There's nothing better than not having to think about what you or your family will put in their mouth for any one of the thousands of meals you are constantly eating. So when someone offers, just say yes.
People want to help, and food really is the easiest way for friends and family to do that. So let them! Enjoy that meal that you didn't have to think about, shop for, or prepare. And allow this exercise to make it even easier for you to accept other offers of assistance (laundry, anyone?!), too. Then pay it forward when you're out of the weeds yourself.
2. Sleep is a nonnegotiable
Once you're out of the newborn phase, it's time to get real about sleep. However you make it happen (cry it out or whatever method you choose), make it your first priority to get your kids to fall asleep on their own and stay asleep all night without your help. And then keep reinforcing it when they inevitably regress, or grow molars, or have nightmares.
You're already stretched thin enough during the day as a parent, you can't afford to not sleep at night! Honestly, I don't even like myself when I'm sleep-deprived, so I can't imagine I'm a great wife or mom either. This is even more important if you have any chance of surviving more than one child.
3. Once you figure it out, it changes
This is especially true in the first year of life when you're dealing with constant transitions like naps, solid foods, and developmental milestones, but it also continues into the toddler and preschool years (and I can only assume beyond that as well). Just when you think you're in a good spot with your 2-year-old, they start having epic meltdowns about the color of their sippy cup. A few weeks after you've figured out how to manage your 4-year-old's attitude, they come up with a new method of getting under your skin. Hang in there, because it won't last.
Just telling myself this helped get me through the "grunting because they can't yet talk" phase and the "screaming at the top of their lungs when you cut the apple wrong" phase. It's also a good reminder to savor the smooth times. You know, those weeks when your family seems to be in a nice rhythm with more harmony and calm than chaos? Enjoy that, because it also won't last.
4. Don't poke the bear
Of course you're curious about what they're up to and you want to see what they're playing with. You want to give them praise for figuring out how to build the Lego set themselves or ask them questions about the kind of doctor their stuffed bunny is visiting. But if your kid(s) are playing quietly by themselves, resist the urge to get involved.
Savor the sweet silence or imaginary talk from afar and do not, I repeat, do not walk into the room, pass the doorway, or go remotely close enough that they might possibly hear you moving. And definitely do not comment. Let them be for as long as they'll keep it up and enjoy those precious minutes to yourself.
5. Stop talking so much
This goes hand in hand with the above, but sometimes the best thing you can do as a parent is to talk less. They're eating their vegetables without being coerced by dessert? Don't say a word. They won't stop asking the same question that you've already answered three times? Stay silent. They're not complaining about the jeans that are usually "too itchy"? Don't ask. They're fighting with their sibling? Give them a chance to work it out before jumping in.
Less really can be more, especially when you're fed up and prone to start spewing ridiculous threats that you'll never follow through on.
6. Saying yes is fun
Kids ask for a lot of things — mostly hideous plastic toys you don't want in your house and treats with too much sugar — but sometimes they make a simple request to push the button for the automatic door at Nordstrom or to stop and see if there are coins in a fountain.
The knee-jerk response to these random asks is often "no" because, obviously, you have somewhere to be or you're already halfway into the store, and why the hell does it matter?! But, ask yourself, why the hell does it matter?! When you can, say yes because first of all, it makes them disproportionately happy. Second, if you say yes to that request, they'll maybe be a little less pissed when you say no to everything else they want to do that day.