‘Never’ is overrated, anyway

Last week I had one of those days when I was forced to reassess my goals as a parent. It was one of those days where all of the good parenting axioms and platitudes went right out the window, and I was in basic, primal parenting survival mode.

I arrived at my daughter’s school a few minutes late, which is not as unusual an occurrence as I would like. Overwhelmed by all the work I had done that day and, perhaps more important and ominous, the work I still had pending, I was not remotely prepared for my 6-year-old’s rapid-fire rant about what she did during lunch, what she needed to get done that night for school the next day and, “Oh by the way, why were you late again, Papi?”

As I calculated the amount of hours between the time I was pulling out of the school and my daughter’s bed time, I realized that the notion of finishing all the tasks at hand were futile. That’s when the tough prioritizing process begins — my deadlines are suddenly not as pressing as Ms. Tidrow’s demand that my daughter bring a box full of home-baked, star-shaped cookies to school tomorrow for their special Easter celebration.

As we headed to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for the cookies (mind you, I’ve never baked a thing in my life) I came upon the realization that my child had to eat. And so I once again broke with one of my strictest rules as a parent — no junk food. Fortunately, the drive-through window was not very full, so I dashed through and picked up a bag of great-smelling, yet not very healthy, food that I asked my daughter to scarf down while we drove to the grocery store. Not only was I disregarding her diet and digestion, but I had now violated another solemn rule: “Thy children shall not eat in the car.”

After we arrived at the supermarket and I waded through aisles that were as foreign to me as the capital of Bulgaria, I think my daughter sensed weakness in my parenting will and thus she approached me with a collection of knick-knacks — cheap toys that break after your kids play with them one time. After she saw my look of disbelief and horror, she uttered the words no single parent wants to hear: “But my mom gets these for me all the time.” Predictably, that led to parent code violation No. 4: Don’t buy your kids anything out of guilt, especially when they are being manipulative.

That night was an absolute fiasco. The cookies were overbaked, the homework was a mess and my daughter went to sleep an hour past her bedtime.

A few days later, as I reviewed that horrible night, I begrudgingly accepted how accurately the adage “Never say never” depicts my journey as a single father.

Before the birth of my daughter, I would discreetly, yet intently, scrutinize friends’ and families’ parenting styles. I spent years compiling a list of dos and don’ts — all in preparation for the moment when I would be facing the daunting duties of parenthood. Quickly into the parenting process, however, I realized that my accrued data was useless.

I have learned most things “on the job,” and today I am a more malleable thinker. I have grown into a patient person whose notions and concepts have become more pliable than I ever suspected. Every child and family nucleus is different. We no longer look like the families on 1970s sitcoms.

Many parents who wrestle with the experience of raising kids in today’s stressful, demanding, high-tech, high-speed society land on the same Zen-like realization that I have adopted. Rules can and will be broken here and there, but what can never wane is your commitment and love as a parent.

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