Three rules to ignore

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I’m almost 21 years into this motherhood gig, and time is a great teacher. Here are three “rules” I’d ditch if I were a new parent.

Make your bed: I always liked the idea behind it, and many people swear by it. They say making your bed first thing in the morning puts you in the right frame of mind for an orderly, productive day.

But I also know that most things parents do get undone nearly as fast as we do them – dishes, diapers, clearing clutter. Do we need to add one more thing to the already long list?

When the kids were little, I thought we should make the beds in case someone dropped by. I wanted to prove we were super organized, super clean people without a hint of chaos in sight. (We weren’t.) But the reality is, people rarely drop by unannounced, and if they do, they don’t ask for a tour of your bedrooms. That would be like the mail carrier asking to inspect your back molars. It’s weird and intrusive.

Eventually, we stopped making beds and I shifted that effort into the kitchen sink, which is more visible and more stress-inducing when it’s a mess. So, make your bed if it helps your sense of satisfaction and order. Otherwise, those rumpled sheets are happy to wait right there until you’re ready to wreck them again later tonight.

Clean your plate: In a nation of growing waistlines, we’ve got to rethink the “clean plate” club. Insisting that a kid eats everything on their plate teaches them to ignore their own sense of Dirty plate with food leftovers and fork on marble background, top view. Space for texthaving had enough to eat. It teaches them to only stop eating when there’s nothing left. That’s a habit that can easily get carried over to food like chips and ice cream, too.

As the youngest of eight siblings, my husband Tom struggled with this the whole time our kids were little. He couldn’t stand the thought of wasting food. Many people feel the same.

But think about it this way: If you force down food you don’t want in an effort not to “waste” it, what happens to that food in the next 24 to 48 hours? It gets flushed as waste. The only thing that happens along the way is that some of it turns into extra body fat (often on your waist, ironically), but it’s not going to make you grow an inch taller. Waste will happen, one way or the other.

A better possibility might be to say, “Put a smaller amount on your plate and only take more if you’re still hungry.” That way, food can be saved as leftovers and eaten when we need it – not just because we’re clearing a plate.

Don’t be afraid: I hate it when my kids feel afraid. I feel it right along with them. I wish I could dismiss uncomfortable emotions with those three little words: “Don’t be scared.” But the truth is it doesn’t work. It never has. It’s not even possible.

When someone tells you not to feel an emotion you can’t stop yourself from feeling, it teaches you that feeling fear equals failure. That it’s a character flaw you should hide instead of a normal emotion that comes with the territory of being alive. Often, feeling afraid happens when we’re learning something new that’s outside our comfort zone, which is exactly what we want kids (and adults) to do.

These days when my kids say they’re nervous or afraid, I say, “Oh, so you’re normal, huh? Because it would be weird if you didn’t feel nervous in this situation.” Then I remind them for the hundredth time that slow, deep breathing is scientifically proven to help calm down the human body and mind. And sometimes we talk through different ideas for navigating waves of fear instead of denying you’re in the ocean.

Whether you’re talking to your kid or yourself, don’t put a layer of shame over the normal feeling of fear. Accept that fear will be a passenger throughout your life. Sometimes it helps you avoid danger, and sometimes it’s irrational or whiny. Learn to tell the difference, but don’t deny or demean what it is to be a fully alive, complex human creation in a complicated, scary yet beautiful world.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at Her book is available on Amazon.

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