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Moms need to `worry less, wing it more'

POSITIVE PARENTING BY DEBBIE GLASSER

I have a confession to make: Last week, our 4-year-old son ate a cupcake for dinner.

OK, he ate two.

We were attending Family Night at our older son's school. It was billed as an opportunity to meet other families, get to know the teachers and enjoy a meal together. There was a nice turnout, and an impressive spread of chicken, pasta and desserts.

After perusing the buffet table, our youngest son made it clear this food just wasn't for him -- at least not the main meal. I think Sam's exact words were: "I only want chicken nuggets and ketchup. Or the cupcakes!''

We were sitting at a table filled with other parents and children. All eyes were on us, and the big "buffet standoff.''

It was a classic ''mom moment.'' I had to make a split-second (yet, responsible and reasonable) parenting decision in front of an audience of other parents and grandparents.

''What's most important this evening?'' I asked myself. "Laying down the law about food and spending the majority of the evening explaining why dinner has to be roasted chicken or nothing? Or letting Sam skip right to dessert and enjoying an evening with family and friends?''

I reached for the cupcake.

But then another string of questions quickly flashed in my mind: ''Am I sending the wrong message?'' ''Will this prevent Sam from trying new foods in the future?'' "Did I remember to give him a multivitamin this morning?''

The funny thing about parenting is it's not an exact science. And there's no rule book to call the shots for us all the time. Mostly, we have to trust our instincts and make the best decisions we can at the moment.

So I put the cupcake on the plate and said to Sam, ``Go ahead and eat dessert first tonight. You can eat a cheese sandwich when we get home if you're still hungry.''

Sam ate his cupcake, then another. I went back to the buffet and brought a big bowl of fresh fruit to the table and watched, with pleasure, as Sam grazed on cantaloupe and grapes. No power struggles about food. No lines drawn in the sand. Sam sat with us, ate fruit and dessert and even met a new friend.

We had a fun family outing. And I made a mental note to spend more time with Sam in the kitchen so we can experiment with new recipes and work on expanding his culinary horizons.

But the nagging questions still lingered. Maybe I botched a key opportunity to teach Sam a lesson about eating healthy foods? Maybe I gave in too quickly?

Not so, according to Paula Spencer, mother of four and author of Momfidence! An Oreo Never Killed Anybody and Other Secrets of Happier Parenting (Three Rivers Press, 2006).

A columnist for Woman's Day and contributing editor of Parenting magazine, Spencer "spent 10 years interviewing anyone who's anyone in the parenting world and writing articles about what to do and what not to do.

''Along the way,'' she said, "I had four kids of my own, and I realized there was a gap between what I was supposed to do and what was actually happening in my kitchen.''

She noted there seem to be two popular (and detrimental) visions of motherhood in our culture.

''On one extreme, we see the hapless moms from the Super Nanny episodes,'' she said. 'On the other, we have the 'perfecta-moms' who seem to follow all the tips to the letter.

''The reality is that most parents are in the middle of these extremes,'' Spencer said. "The majority of us parent with Momfidence.''

Momfidence?

''Momfidence is the confidence that comes from common sense, trusting your instincts, relaxing and enjoying your kids,'' Spencer said in a telephone interview from her home in North Carolina. "It's about worrying less, winging it more, and knowing that your kids are still all right.''

Spencer is quick to point out that she's not knocking expert advice.

''Experts are important, especially when parents are addressing a specific problem or concern,'' she said. "But there seems to be an over-reliance on experts and a desire to try and figure out the one right way to do things. Most of the time, there are many right ways.''

In fact, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for all families all the time. The key, according to Spencer, is to strive for moderation. ''Grandma was right,'' she said.

''Setting appropriate limits is critical,'' Spencer said. "But so is being flexible.

''I'm not suggesting that parents feed their child cookies for dinner every night,'' she said. "But sometimes, giving dessert in the middle of a crowded, late-night family banquet might be the best way to go.''

Spencer acknowledges that it can be tough to make split-second parenting decisions, especially when it feels like all eyes are on you.

''The only audience that really matters is the one you tuck in at night,'' she said, 'The most important question to ask yourself is: 'How well am I doing by my children?' ''

Spencer hopes her book will help families feel happier and less stressed. Her goal is to remind parents to enjoy the ride and know that it's OK to "worry about the next 10 minutes, not 10 years down the road.''

With humor, wisdom and plenty of Momfidence, Spencer gives parents permission to relax and remember that an Oreo (and a couple of cupcakes) never killed anyone.

For more information, visit www.momfidence.com.

Debbie Glasser, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of NewsForParents.org, an online newsletter for parents. E-mail her at debbie@NewsForParents.org.

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