I was always a great sleeper -- a champion, really. I was never plagued by any type of insomnia and I enjoyed solid hours of unbroken sleep throughout my life only for it to come to an abrupt halt while pregnant with my first child. In those last months of nearly unbearable discomfort, I would lie awake and worry.
I would of course worry about big things, like what the hell giving birth to a baby was actually going to be like (which turned out to be completely different from what I expected, anyway), but mainly I worried about little things. Stupid things, things I shouldn't have put that much thought into, like if I should have gotten the organic cotton mattress pad for the crib versus the regular cotton one. Was there a better visually stimulating mobile design that would help build his brain than the one I registered for? Did I forget to take my prenatal vitamin?! OMG I FORGOT TO TAKE MY VITAMIN! I'll admit, I was a little on edge as a first-time mom, and things like forgetting a vitamin would put me into a mild and completely unnecessary panic.
Sometimes being a new mom felt overwhelming, especially when I was second-guessing everything I was doing. It wasn't so much that I didn't have confidence as a parent; I felt capable of taking care of my baby, but I felt like there were always new, "better" ways to do it popping up all the time. Get the BPA free bottles (this was over eight years ago, mind you, when that stuff first started), should I skip a crib bumper, let him cry it out or not? With all the Internet information and message boards, I felt like I could find entire articles explaining why I was doing it WRONG. I remember actually Googling what kind of shoes to get for my first time walker, down to what kind of soles the shoes should have. Did my grandmother worry about what kind of shoes she put on my father? No, most likely she found a pair that was appealing and a good price at the store and bought them, put them on his feet and never gave it a second thought. And he walks just fine and is an accomplished scientist to boot, so maybe not the most important thing to spend an afternoon researching?
And the baby food, oh, the baby food. This was also when organic food became a major thing and a few brands first started doing organic baby food, which I of course jumped on right away. It had to be organic, organic everything. We were going on over a year of only organic food and liquid passing through my sweet, dear child's lips and I couldn't have been more smug and happy about it. Was I little obsessive about it? Yes. I realize that now, but at the time, these little safeguards helped me keep a toehold on what felt like a giant, nearly insurmountable mountain of parenting guilt. Then one day, while we were sitting having dinner, after I had been giving him little sips of water through a straw, my son's grandfather decided to give him a few sips of his Diet Coke through a straw too. "See! He likes it!"
Diet Coke. Fed to my pristinely exclusively organic baby. I had two choices: I could freak out and make a complete jerk of myself to someone who clearly had zero ill intentions toward my child, or I could let it go.
What I did do is sit there with a possibly psychotic fake smile on my face while I weighed my options quickly. (Should I slap the straw out of his hand while shrieking facts about aspartame and caffeine consumption for children and rage about how expensive organic baby food is? No, no that would be crazy...) I decided to let it go. Because while my plan to feed my child healthy food was of course a great one, worrying about it needlessly or thinking that any missteps would result in failure would only wind up making everyone unhappy. And the chances that I would have kept him 100% organic far past the baby food only stage were pretty slim. He would have birthday cake, full of refined sugar; french fries and cotton candy at the fair and Peeps at Easter. It would get in. And it would be OK.
See, the thing is, it all balances out. Maybe not all at once and maybe not exactly equally (OK, I might be using the term "balance" here a little loosely, but stay with me), but in the grand scheme of the melting pot of parenting, it all gets thrown in, and that's OK. You might not want it to all get thrown in, but it will. Birthday parties and goodie bags and other children will clue your kids in to whatever it is you think you can get away with avoiding. At some point, they will become aware of McDonald's and fruit roll ups and soda and X-Box (and those are just the innocent little things, let's not get into the teenager years stuff yet, K? My brain isn't ready for that). It's how you handle the thrown-in stuff that will be the true test of parenting. Will you freak and slap the straw out of the Diet Coke feeding hand? Or will you let it slide and make sure you balance it out?
Sure, I have days where I feel like I owe Nick Jr. a check and unlimited ice pops for babysitting my kids, but when we get those outside all day full family time weekends, I mentally check that box off in my head as being balanced out and I let it go. Maybe my 3-year-old knows more about playing an iPad than I knew about anything when I was 3, but I balance that out with craft days and playground runs. Do I end each month with a perfectly balanced sheet? HAHAHAHAHA no. I don't. But that's OK, because there is a new month coming right up. And you know what? Sometimes I do wind up balancing it. Sometimes it even comes out with all the good stuff in excess! Sometimes.
Now, as the parent of four, I realize you aren't going to screw them up nearly as much as you think you are. Especially with little things. I have taken letting it go to a whole new level and I might even say I am downright relaxed with parenting now. Scheduled, but relaxed. I mean, I do have four kids, there needs to be some sort of scheduling or we would all be wearing garbage bags as clothing and eating Dunkin Donuts munchkins for breakfast lunch and dinner. But I decided to take the spotlight focus off the little things that worried me and focus it instead on little happy details. Lunchbox notes, cooking together, making time for stories. Sitting in the grass. I'm not going to miss worrying about which brand of organic turkey slices to buy when I am older, I am going to miss holding little hands on walks and if I made enough opportunities to let them know they are loved. And a Peep or two never killed anyone.