How to Be a Pretend Parent

It’s a long-standing joke that before you have kids, you know it all.  You will be the “perfect” parent.  You hold ridiculously high standards that you figure any self-respecting adult should be able to meet, such as always finding matching shoes for your toddler, and cleaning the tomato sauce from their faces before taking family pictures.

Then you have a child, and you realize, “If I don’t lighten up a little bit, neither of us is going to get out of this alive.”

I am Mama to two young sons, ages 4 and 2, and we are expecting our third child in April.  (And before you ask, is it a boy or a girl?  Yes.  Yes it is.)

Even after being at this for over four years, there are still many things that I tell myself I will “always” or “never” do as a parent.  Always serve them healthy meals and snacks.  Never spank or physically punish my children.  Always show them love, support, and understanding.  Never lose my temper and yell to break my child’s will.  These are my ideals, and I hold them up before myself each new day as my goal.

Some days are better than others.  Some things I let up on (don’t tell Daddy about that mac-n-cheese for lunch).  Others require a daily reminder of my important goals and to keep my patience.

It can be so frustrating when you see all the other parents out there, not just on Facebook and the blogs, but at church, daycare, and in real life, being the perfect parent you wish you could be.  The kids are always polite and would never dare refuse to wear mittens when it’s -19 degrees.  The mom and dad only have to ask once, calmly, with a smile even, and the chitlins are picking up their toys, ready to wash hands and set the table for family dinner.

It’s easy to roll our eyes and have a little giggle about how this idyllic scenario is so far-fetched, we’ll just stick with keeping little Johnny off the shed roof this week and Suzy, I have told you for the eighth time, STOP YELLING AT YOUR SISTER!

We all have an idea in our minds of how our perfect family and discipline tactics would play out.  Sometimes we see this in other families we admire, wishing we could be more like them.  Sadly, we just think it’s out of our realm and that we must resign ourselves to a lower standard than we would like.

I believe I have found a better way.  I think of it as my “pretend parenting” option.  When I find myself wishing things could be different somehow, I start pretending like they are.  Instead of just behaving with a knee-jerk reaction, I take on the role of the ideal mom I want to be.  How would the mommy in the Smith family handle this crisis?  I’ll pretend I’m her!

The beauty of the pretend parenting approach is that the kids suspect nothing.  From their 3-foot vantage point, I really AM an ideal parent.  They experience the situation exactly as if it’s the real thing, never knowing that my calm reaction to their tantrum is really a scripted role.

The bigger benefit is that after pretending to be a good parent for long enough, it becomes reality.  The “role” and the real thing start to blend together, and in small progressive steps, I no longer have to contemplate what my super-parent alter ego would do; it just comes naturally.

As they say, fake it ‘til you make it.

This column was originally featured in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

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