The teeter-totter of parenting

Managing the ups and downs and striking a balance is easier said than done
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The other day my family of four had been in the car for a couple of hours when the three-year-old started screaming. I’m talking about an ear-splitting shriek that made my teeth itch and almost caused my husband to drive into another car.

We tried ignoring it, talking in whispers to her, asking her what she wanted, and offering hugs. Nothing worked. After almost an hour of nearly non-stop hysteria, even though we had no time to spare having already used up the emergency bathroom break, we pulled over at a department store.

Daddy checked her diaper as I took our seven-year-old to potty. As I came out of the bathroom, I could hear that she was still screaming. I squatted down in the middle of the store’s entrance and put my arms around her and held her close. Finally, she stopped, holding my head and smushing her cheek against my cheek and trying to catch her breath.

Here’s the thing: I have no idea how to parent. I have instincts, and sometimes they’re wrong. I have instincts, and sometimes they’re right, but there’s not enough time to implement them.

Does that make me a bad mother? I knew in the back of my mind that her screams meant she wanted Mommy to engulf her. But I didn’t want to be late for an appointment that was both far away and traffic-dependent. Where does the happy balance lie? Am I helping my kids grow into healthy adults or am I damaging them?

One psychologist claimed that parents only need to be 80 percent good enough. That means that 80 percent of the time, mom (or dad) is doing what her kid needs, and the other 20 percent of the time, she’s ‘wrong.’

The problem is, how do I know what is right and what is wrong for my kids in every situation? Add to that my level of stress, if I’m hungry, if I’m tired, and a number of other factors and I’ve got the perfect equation for disaster. Honestly, I wonder if I am a good parent 20 percent of the time.

And what about me? I know, isn’t that selfish? When I’m not working, sleeping, or doing chores, I have many diverse hobbies. Most days I would much rather spend two hours writing or painting rather than putting together a Legos fort or styling My Little Ponies’ hair.

I have heard that it’s good for children to see their parents exercising and doing other things for themselves. But what’s the formula for the right combination of parenting and pursing your own interests? My seven-year-old has been known to say, “Mommy, you care more about your art and your books than you do about me!”

So how do I fill my kids’ “love cups?” Here’s my guide to keeping the love cups from being empty and balancing life in general:

  1. Keep my husband happy so that he can watch the kids and give me time. (I’m still working on that one; we are both very complex individuals — but isn’t everyone?)
  2. If either kid creeps into my bed when I’m sleeping, I don’t shoo them out — well, most of the time. I leave the door open to cuddling at all hours of the night, and sometimes day, too.
  3. When I’m cooking, I try to involve them. My three-year-old mixes a mean batch of pancakes.
  4. When my introverted seven-year-old actually does talk about his day, I try to drop everything and have a conversation with him.
  5. I try to give each kid a kiss or head-pat whenever I walk by them. (Note: The seven-year-old is getting sick of this.)
  6. If I’m writing and the three-year-old demands to sit on my lap, I’ll usually let her.
  7. We plan family night for every Sunday, taking turns who selects the activity. (The seven-year-old is really into this.)
  8. When they’re sick, I try to baby and pamper them.
  9. I take karate lessons with my seven-year-old.
  10. If either of them wants to start a project or activity, especially one that I have at least a little interest in — coloring, writing, reading, watching movies, chasing, wrestling, baking cookies, going to the beach, etc. — I try to plan it into the day or week.
  11. I read parenting publications.
  12. This may be controversial but I schedule in as much writing and art time for me as the week may allow.

I don’t have the recipe for successful parenting. I do what I can do. But I hope that they’ll cherish the moments when we were at the top of the teeter-totter together.

Sarah Hetu-Radny lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two children. She is an optometrist and works with about 25 nursing homes.  Her dream is to write and publish children’s books.  For more of her writing, go to

Categories: My Turn