Enough with the self-judgement and guilt trips! Take these 17 vows to make parenting easier on yourself and your kids this year.
Guilt is the most pervasive and treacherous side effect of urban parenting. If you work outside of the house, you feel guilty for not being there with a big smile and a hot meal for your kids when they come back from school. If you work at home (and housework is work), you feel guilty for not using your amazing talents and going out there and making money when your growing brood’s expenses are growing faster than them. Guilt if you don’t buy an iPhone for your offspring’s birthday. Guilt if you go out on a date night with your spouse without the kids. Guilt if you go on a work trip abroad and have to leave them with your mom. We collect guilt like air miles every year – and it’s just as useless because they expire before you can do anything with them.
Well, it’s the year to let go. Guilt is a drain on your energy and has no proven benefit. Take these 17 vows in 2017.
- Thou shall prioritize
Avoid guilt by being clear about your priorities. Work, children, spouse, parents, housework, friends, relatives, bills, fitness, relaxation, entertainment – write down all things that demand your attention, and then prioritize them according to their importance to you. The same list won’t work for everyone; we must all make our own choices. A coffee with an old friend who is in town after years, or your kid’s school play? A tantrum-throwing kid yelling on the phone, or your boss glaring at you during a board meeting in office? Old parents who demand you visit them, or a cranky spouse who wants to go out for a movie? A well-deserved spa appointment, or lunch with the family? Life is full of difficult decisions but we make it easier by knowing our priorities and then sticking to them.
- Thou shall plan in advance
This is a simple way to avoid last-minute rush and never-ending guilt. Lay out the ironed school uniforms and check if all the ingredients for the tiffin box are ready the night before. Synchronise a calendar of school events and social evenings with your spouse on Google. Let your boss know you have a parent-teacher meeting the coming week. Think of parenting like a free time-management workshop – well, alright, it’s actually more expensive. So make it count.
- Thou shall not compare
We suffer when reality does not match up to our high expectations. Setting high standards of yourself is fine (sometimes) but it’s a recipe for disaster if you constantly compare your loved ones and life situation with others. Do everyone a favour and lower the bar. Who says your son must be the top scorer in class, or your spouse be the best-looking at a party? Who says your home must be spanking clean 24 hours a day like your neighbour’s, or your nailpolish be perfectly unchipped at all times like Mrs Kumar? Your life is beautiful exactly the way it is.
- Thou shall delegate and outsource
This isn’t just meant for the HR department at office; it’s also sound logic for overworked and unpaid parents. If you’re struggling to cope with parenthood, ask for help. Rope in helpers, parents, relatives, friends, in-laws – anyone you trust your kids with. Use phone apps to keep track of stuff, and use your bank’s electronic-clearing system to pay all bills automatically when they are due. Our to-do lists are long but the days are short. There’s no need to manage everything manually.
- Thou shall keep in touch with your friends
Friends take a backseat in your life once you have kids. But a lunch or drink out with the buddies once in a while is a great way to de-stress, unwind and release all that pent-up frustration you can’t share with anyone else. Plan in advance and keep in touch. Your family will appreciate your good mood when you return.
- Thou shall invest in thyself
Eating leftovers instead of cooking fresh meals; self-medicating instead of visiting a doctor; taking the car instead of walking to the market; staying up late watching TV even when you have to rise early. Avoid. New-age parenting should come with safety instructions like airplanes: Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Your mental and physical health is important: you can’t care effectively for others if you don’t care for yourself first. Besides, your kids won’t learn from what you say but what you do. Be a healthy role model.
- Thou shall not play passive-aggressive games
Admit it, you do this all the time with your kids, spouse and parents – basically, the people who are most important to you. Saying, “Of course I’m fine,” when you’re actually not. Giving the silent treatment and refusing to engage. Doing something badly so that you aren’t asked to do it again. Pushing things to the last minute so that the other person does it in exasperation. Stop it – it’s only making things worse. Speak up about your needs, be honest about your feelings, and nip issues in the bud.
- Thou shall love
Japanese Buddhist leader Daisaku Ikeda was once asked by a concerned mother: “How do I deal with my difficult teenager?” His answer was: “Three ways: love, love, love.” This is actually the essence of guilt-free parenting. Think with love, speak with love, and act with love. As long as you have those basics right, trust the universe to take care of the rest.
- Thou shall not complain
Speaking of Buddhist wisdom, they say every time we complain, we dig a hole in our bucket of good fortune. Mother-in-law woes? Teething child? Low bank balance? Look around you and say thanks for what you have instead of grumbling about what you don’t. Things will begin to look up instantly, and you can spare your loved ones your grumpy face at the same time.
- Thou shall cuddle more often
Hugs boost oxytocin levels, which help heal feelings of loneliness and anger. They also boost serotonin, which elevates our mood and relaxes tense muscles. Hugging and kissing your children builds trust, communication and strengthens everyone’s immune system. It’s the best and healthiest perk of parenting – why not make the most of it?
- Thou shall not blame your spouse
Yes, we heard you screaming cusswords at your husband during childbirth. You probably continue to curse one another 12 years down the line. But it’s no use because one of you still has to wake up at 5.30am and walk groggily to drop the kid at the bus stop. You’re in it together, for better or worse. The blame games don’t make it any easier.
- Thou shall not stop having sex
Sex lowers your blood pressure, improves heart health, strengthens your pelvic muscles, counts as exercise, helps you bond, relieves pain, improves sleep, eases stress, and makes you feel better about life. In fact, parents of growing kids probably need more sex than the rest of the world. Just do it.
- Thou shall draw the line
Draw up a list of non-negotiable personal rules for yourself and your kids. Bedtime at 9pm. No work calls at home. Homework before playtime. Me-time every Sunday afternoon. Date night on the first Friday of every month. Only one spouse can be angry at any given time. Rules aren’t meant just for kids in school; they can also be used to keep your sanity intact and guilt at bay.
- Thou shall talk to your own mom
We begin to appreciate our parents when we become parents ourselves. And we need them more than ever when one kid has fever and the other has board exams at the same time. It pays to keep your parents happy – they are the best babysitters you could ask for. They deserve random gestures of affection every now and then.
- Thou shall have at least one belly laugh a day
Nothing diffuses a heated argument than a burst of shared laughter. Humour helps us put our problems in perspective and leave bitterness behind. A good ol’ belly laugh also triggers the release of endorphins, which heightens our sense of wellbeing and, some studies say, even helps us live longer. So the next time your son sprays ketchup all over the newly painted walls, or your teenage daughter steals your kajal pencil, grin and bear it. It’s good for you.
- Thou shall pat yourself on the back
Learn to savour the little achievements in life and you’ll ease your parenting guilt. There’s always something to celebrate. The look in your child’s eye when she sees you in the audience during a dance on stage, or when your preschooler manages to tie his own shoelace. You may not be the perfect parent but you’re doing the best you can, and that counts for much. It counts for everything, actually.
- Thou shall breathe
You are more than your role as a parent or a child or a spouse. You are also a spiritual being on a human journey. Follow the principle of ‘Sat-chit-ananda’, or ‘truth-consciousness-bliss’. Live your truth, live in awareness, and above all, follow your bliss. Even if it’s tempting to blame your spouse, parents, in-laws or kids for all your miseries in life, the fact is, your happiness is your own responsibility. Take a moment to breathe and focus on yourself. There’s no guilt in being you.