If there's one thing I hate more than clichés in general, it's clichés about parenting. Do I "enjoy every moment" of my parenting life? Haha -- no. Does it "go by so fast"? With my first son, who didn't sleep past 4 a.m. for the first 18 months of his life, absolutely not. I had a smirk, a rude response or an eyeroll for every parenting cliché I heard. But over the past few years, as I've relaxed into motherhood, I've learned that many parenting clichés actually have the power to be incredibly transforming. And I've learned that from an unexpected source: my mother-in-law.
Since becoming a mother myself, I, like many women, have relied on my own mother for the inspiration behind my parenting style. When it comes to how children should be raised, I agree with nearly all of her ideas and methods. So much so, in fact, that I didn't think I had much to learn from other parents, let alone my mother-in-law.
At first glance, my mother and my mother-in-law have diametrically opposed parenting styles. My sister and I grew up with rules. We had assigned chores and curfews. We brought our own healthy snacks on trips and outings. We weren't allowed to have sugared cereal. We all ate dinner together as a family. Dessert? Fruit.
My husband and his brothers grew up ruling the house. While they helped out, they didn't have chores or curfews. Breakfast was cereal with chocolate milk. They ate dinner in front of the TV in the living room. Dessert, snacks or treats were cakes, cookies and ice cream.
This is not to say my mom was incredibly strict and never allowed us to have treats, or that my mother-in-law never saved or made her kids do homework. But, overall, my mother is a planner (like I am); my mother-in-law, Rita, lives more in the moment.
However, I've realized that while they had fundamentally different ideas about how to achieve it, they both did what they thought was best for their children and their families.
My sister and I ate fruit for dessert because my mom wanted to impart knowledge about food choices. The idea was that with healthy eating habits, we would be more well-rounded eaters, be healthier and, subsequently, be happy about that. Rita let her boys eat cake because, well, it made them happy. Simple as that.
It took me a while to understand Rita's parenting style, and even longer to appreciate it. But now, I like to think about her style as an important balance to my mother's -- a yin to her yang, if you will.
Unlike Rita, "going with the flow" or "living in the moment" is not in my nature as a person or as a parent. You know the phrase, "Don't sweat the small stuff"? Well, I'm the kind of person who does. Or I was.
As a new parent, I was an anxious, nervous wreck. But I learned that worrying about everything is exhausting. It's annoying. And most of all, it's not enjoyable. For the first two years of my son's life, I tried valiantly to be a good parent, but nothing about that made me a happy parent.
So, after listening to Rita and watching her with my children, I have finally understood the importance of "enjoying the now." What good is having children or a husband or a life, really, if you're not going to enjoy it? If eating a cookie is enjoyable, eat a damn cookie. If letting your kid stay up late to watch fireworks makes them smile, ignore bedtime that night. There's always going to be some reason to say no -- why not say yes sometimes?
Rita's take on the phrase "it won't last forever" or "it's just a phase" is "he won't do it in college." What does that mean? Initially, I was worried about my older son doing things on the "right" timetable. I felt demoralized when he would only drink milk out of a bottle even at the age of 3, and when he peed in the potty but waited to poop in his diaper at 3. He won't use a bottle in college, Rita assured me. He won't use a diaper in college, she laughed. And you know what? We don't have to wait for college -- he's 4 now, and it's been a long time since he used either.
She has taught me to "let it go." OK, maybe my mother-in-law wasn't on the Frozen bandwagon before everyone else, but she has always encouraged me to let go of my preconceived notions about who I think my children should be and what they should be doing. There is no right time or way for all children to do things -- the way that your child does things is their right way.
I also try to remember to "let it go" during the day-to-day parenting challenges. I just can't get upset or worried about everything anymore. When my older son would wake up early from a nap, I would be frustrated at being off-schedule and let it ruin my day. How ridiculous! Now, when my younger son wakes up early, I just let the schedule go and follow his lead.
Rita has taught me that the new-agey, positive clichés that I used to write off are not just true, but important parental advice.
And you know what? With my second son, time has actually gone by incredibly fast. (Not waking up at 4 a.m. helps...)
So, as we approach Mother's Day, I want to wish a wonderful day to the two loving, dedicated, amazing mothers who have influenced me the most. To my mom, who taught me how to be a mother, and to my mother-in-law, who taught me how to enjoy being a mother.
This post is part of HuffPost Parents' Mother's Day series, exploring the lessons our moms taught us about parenting.
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