If I have learned anything in my 9+ years of parenting it’s this:
It’s not the big decisions that are going to finally send me over the edge. It’s the barrage of seemingly innocuous decisions that are anything but… they are constant shades of gray.
And the truth is, I like black and white. I have the yoga pants and a drawer full of Target long and lean tank tops to prove it.
No, you may not have candy for breakfast.
Yes, you can absolutely buy a new book with your allowance.
No, you may not hit your brother.
See? Easy questions with obvious correct answers. Beautiful black and wonderful white. Even the so-called “biggies” often have a clear “right answer” for us.
Public school or private school?
Private school or homeschool… Bwahahaha! I kid. That was never a question for us.
Will they attend church?
Will we allow sleepovers?
Will they play sports?
Again, these are questions I can manage. I am confident in my answers.
In the early days of parenting the decisions certainly weren’t this easy- I remember that much at least. Every decision felt monumental and I had a constant fear of “getting it right” because I just knew that if I didn’t get it right, I’d ruin my kid. Each choice had to be well-thought, well-educated and well-agonized over.
Breastfeed or Formula?
Schedule or no schedule?
Will we let them cry it out?
I certainly do NOT miss those days. While I loved holding my little babies, smelling their sweet baby heads and nuzzling their soft baby bellies, the stress of “doing it right” and “finding the right answer” eliminated any possibility of going for #3.
But those days passed. I gained confidence and I got enough things “right” and corrected enough things that were “wrong” that I felt more and more comfortable as the years went by. And the fact that everyone was still alive and relatively happy at the end of the day (I am referring to the children here as I often end the day in tears) meant I was at least passing. As I’ve said before, I set the bar low: ending the day with the same amount of people I began with is considered success.
So I’ve survived the Big Questions with Easy Answers (Private School). I lived to tell about the Important Questions with Difficult Answers phase (Sleep Train and Cry It Out). But now, I am living in a new phase and I’m not quite sure I am going to come out the other side with my sanity in tact. I am living in the Stupid Unimportant Questions with No Right Answer phase. I am living in:
50 Shades of Gray Parenting.
What is 50 Shades of Gray Parenting? It’s the moments when something seems like a simple question but is anything but a simple question because behind each one of these seemingly benign inquiries are follow up questions, multiple layers and a thousand possible outcomes. Let me give you an example.
Can I have dessert?
Here are the facts:
1. Stupid question that has no impact on the long term happiness or health of my child or the world at large
2. Question easily answered with one word: yes or no
3. Question that might be the cause of my demise
Let’s take a closer look at the long and winding road of this silly little question…
Can he have dessert? Hmmmm…. What has he eaten today? Has he had any treats? Did someone have a birthday and bring donuts today at school? Did he eat all his dinner? Did he have dessert last night? Will we be celebrating any event tomorrow night that will include dessert? What do we even have for dessert? I think we only have chocolate. Chocolate has dairy. We should be limiting his dairy. Has he had dairy today? Did he have dairy yesterday? Will he have dairy tomorrow? But more importantly than any of these health questions is this one: If I say yes this time will he continue to ask me every day for dessert for the rest of his life?
I repeat, stupid question with no long term or life altering value, but one that is actually not as simple as it appears at first glance. Know why? Because as a mom nothing is simple and nothing is isolated. Unless you’re talking about me hiding in the bathroom checking Facebook on my iPhone. Then I’m isolated for approximately 47 seconds before someone knocks. But that’s not the kind of isolation I’m talking about here.
The influx of these types of questions steeped in 50 shades of gray is mind-boggling. Yet, even when I occasionally stand firm in my black and white answer: “No, you may not have dessert” I am still left swimming up the gray stream.
It’s only dessert. Who gives a rip? Why am I making such a big deal about it? Why am I such a control freak? Should I just lighten the hell up? Give him the freaking dessert. Who cares? But it’s not that simple, is it? Tonight it’s a lollipop. Tomorrow it’s a lollipop and a piece of gum. The next night it will be a Popsicle and a piece of gum. Soon they’ll be asking for 5 pieces of candy and a piece of gum! Nothing is as simple as it seems. And why am I having so many conversations in my head? Great, now I’m crazy too!?
The truth is, from whether or not they can have dessert to what movies they should be allowed to watch and what music they can download there seem to be more and more decisions that have no “right” answers. They only have the solutions we decide to make and more often than not even those decisions will need to be visited and revisited and visited yet again.
And it is this reality that has me standing on the precipice of my sanity, toes curled over the edge, looking down at my happy black and white that has been splattered into gray in the canyon below.
So what can I do about it? Can I change who I am and submit to the gray? Or do I take charge of it and whip that gray into shape so it resembles the black and white I know and love? (See what I did there? That was for you 50 lovers out there;)
I guess the answer is yes… to both questions. I have to yield some of my need for “right” and submit to the fact that the best answer is often “right enough for right now;” while simultaneously restraining the gray so it behaves like the obedient black and white it came from. I guess you can say it isn’t black or white or gray… it’s more.
That’s just my normal.