Bad Parenting

Sometimes your choices seem wrong, but you make them anyway.

Originally published February 3, 2012

Bad Parenting

Last week, we took Muffin and Squeaker to their pediatrician’s office for their two-and-a-half-year checkup. As usual, the appointment included a discussion of what the kids have been up to and what we’ve been doing with them. We have many reasons to be proud of how our girls are developing; they’re much taller than average, they speak a lot of complex sentences, and they love learning their letters and numbers.

There were some things, however, that we were less proud to disclose. We talked about some of the things we’re doing with the kids that are generally advised against. It got me wondering about the bad decisions we sometimes make on purpose, and whether or not they are really “bad” decisions.

For example, between the ages of 1 and 1.5 Squeaker would wake up after having been in her crib for only an hour and start to wail. We didn’t want her to wake Muffin, who usually managed to sleep through the night at that point, so we would bring Squeaker into our bed with us to sleep. People had told us not to do this, but frankly it was the only way to guarantee a full night’s sleep for all of the family. As it was, we spent a few months weaning her off of this custom, and we thought we were done with it for good. For most of the time she’s been 2, Squeaker has slept through the night in her own bed.

Then, a few months ago, it started happening again. Squeaker would wake up at around two or three in the morning wailing. It was much easier to bring her into our bed than to try to get her to stay in her crib. After all, with just another few wails, we’d have two screaming toddlers instead of only one to deal with in the middle of the night.

People warned us that if we did this we’d never get Squeaker out of our bed, but that turned out not to be the case at all. It’s true that the next night Squeaker asked to go directly to “Mommy-Daddy bed” instead of into her crib, but from the look on her face and the tone of her voice it was clear that she knew the answer would be no. She slept through that night in her crib. In fact, she has done so most nights since then. I’d say we only end up with her in our bed one or two nights a week, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with that.

(As an aside, when Muffin wakes up wailing from a bad dream, she insists that either Mommy or Daddy sit in a chair and hold her for a few hours. She refuses our offer to take her to our bed with us. Frankly, I’d rather get some sleep than none at all, even if it means bringing the kid to our bed for the night.)

I suspect that many more parents do these things, or similar things, than will ever admit.

Take television and videos, something I plan to write about at some point in more detail. We were very careful to keep the kids from having any “screen time” up until they were 2, as advised by the American Association of Pediatrics. But not long after the kids turned 2, we started to expose them to TV shows such as “Sesame Street” and “Dora the Explorer.” We don’t just plop them in front of a television set and walk away; they get their video through a tablet computer, and generally I sit with them and engage them as we watch. (“Dora” is especially good for that.)

But there are times when the video screen is too seductive, such as on a Sunday when the kids are restless and we’re exhausted from lack of sleep. I don’t mind the kids watching “Dora,” but sometimes I will sit with them while they watch three or four episodes in a row. I don’t really want them to do that, but if I’m too exhausted to try something else, it happens. (I ameliorate my worry by turning on the captioning so they can see the words being spoken, and I fool myself into thinking that maybe it’s helping them learn to read.)

Another example of “bad” parenting: food. In general, we feed the girls a healthy diet, including lots of fruits and vegetables. Squeaker and Muffin have come to love tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, and blueberries, which pleases us immensely. But they also love cookies, and there are times when it is easier to give them a cookie or two than to fight them. Some nights, dinner consists of cheese sticks and cookies; on those nights, we console ourselves by remembering that they had a good, healthy lunch.

The final example of “bad” parenting that comes to mind concerns our plans for when the kids turn 3. We put the kids in an excellent playgroup for age 2 because we wanted them to become more socialized, and it has worked quite well for them. But after they turn 3 we plan to keep them at home for the year with the babysitter, because we simply can’t find a program as good as the one they are in now. Fortunately, we have some close friends who home-school their children and will help us acquire curricular materials appropriate for our kids. But a voice in the back of my head keeps nagging me about pre-school and suggesting to me that by keeping them at home during the next academic year I’ll be stunting their mental development for the rest of their life.

Ah, well. At least we’re not like the mother we saw a few months ago, shouting curses and invectives into her cell phone while dragging her toddler along Tremont Street near Downtown Crossing.

This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2012 by Brookline Patch.

About Michael A. Burstein
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