Open up

By: Julie Gamberg

I have carefully structured our lives so that I rarely have to rush my daughter, and I work hard to anticipate areas of difficulty for her, and arrange our days so that I will have the time and space to coach her through them so that she might learn how to overcome obstacles. Great, right? Let’s look at that first sentence again. “Carefully structured.” Lately I’ve been thinking that there might be a problem there.

I work hard (including making complex decisions about what kind of work I will do and when I will do it) so that my daughter and I are not racing around and so that we’re not one of those families who seem to prioritize what they do over how they do it. I leave plenty of room for deviation during those times when we have to get out the door, and have a nice overlap of time between when a caretaker arrives for her and I have to leave for work. I try to keep plans flexible. I try to follow my daughter’s lead and pacing when it is possible. This has helped my very spirited toddler circumvent many a meltdown. But, I have to admit, I overly obsess over this structure, which leads to its own form of stress.

I sometimes think about our days like chess games. I try to plan multiple moves ahead, and anticipate every possible variation. What if she misses her nap or cuts it short? What if she wants to push the mini-stroller all the way to the car, increasing the time it takes to get there by well over 100%? Should I scramble eggs for breakfast? If I don’t have time to wash the pan before we leave, will I have time to wash it tonight? Is it too over-stimulating to go straight from a hike to a music class? Did I leave enough time in case she is feeling severe separation anxiety when I’m about to leave for work?

I’ve been thinking lately about how to let go of some of this. It’s tricky, as I want to keep my daughter safe, well rested, well fed, well loved, and I want to be able to gently, compassionately support her in adhering to the limits and boundaries I set. I want to be a great parent, and that requires a lot of planning. And a lot of flexibility. And planned flexibility! You get the idea. So when do I just chuck it all out the window and “go with the flow”?

Well, I worry that often “go with the flow” is a euphemism for “don’t care” or “it’s not worth it,” or “I won’t be able to effect change anyway”. I believe it’s overused and not always the best advice. However, it’s opposite … treating each day like a series of chess maneuvers, and the stress and work that entails doesn’t seem to be entirely right either. I’d like things to be easier, while continuing to show just as much care. So I turn to readers for advice. What do you do when you want to be diligent, careful, caring and thorough, but also relaxed, easygoing, joyful, and open?

Tips? Tricks? Proud moments?



  1. says

    Julie, everyone struggles with these thoughts. Find your own balance first like they say on the airplane, put your mask on first then your child’s. A wise pediatrician told me years ago that you come first and your kids come into your life not the other way around. It worked well for me as I thought about that for all the years of child rearing. I know you will get rid of those things that make you stressed out and your baby will survive it all. Nobody is perfect and no one sticks to a rigid schedule in the end.

  2. Tashia says

    I’m kind of the exact opposite of you in this sense. I rarely plan or structure anything with my daughter, although on weekends I do always make sure that we’re home at lunchtime for her nap, which she never misses, but varies as to length. Five days a week I work 8:30-5:30 and she goes to daycare 8-6, and there’s only about an hour between the time we wake up and are out the door in the AM and about 2 hours between the time we get home and get ready for bed in the PM, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for anything else, when you factor in meals and bathtime.

    For the most part, our weekends are not planned in advance, partly because the weather is so dicey here most of the year that it’s pointless to plan outdoor activities ahead of time except in the summer, but mostly because it’s just how I operate. While I’m very much a planner when it comes to certain things – e.g., I planned all four years of college classes my freshman year, and pretty much stuck to it! – when it comes to daily activities besides work, planning is rare. We spend a lot of our time hanging out with family, although as she gets older I imagine we will be doing more and more activities outside of that realm. I’ve signed her up for a Parent & Tot class that starts the end of this month. But I won’t be doing any other structured activity with her at the same time.

    I don’t really see how “go with the flow” can be equated with “don’t care” or “it’s not worth it”. It’s just a different way of being, not better or worse. If we’re up early enough and the pace is more relaxed, we eat scrambled eggs for breakfast. If we’re up later and in a hurry, we eat cereal, it doesn’t really matter that much.

    I may not be able to circumvent my daughter’s tantrums as well as you do yours by being this way but I think you yourself are now realizing that trying to plan so much to avoid them isn’t worth it. I think our daughters have similar temperaments (fussy baby/spirited toddler), and while I know I could do a better job of handling certain situations, I think it’s inevitable that a child with this temperament *will* get frustrated easily and there’s no easy way to avoid it. As they get older, I think they will get better and more patient and less frustrated, but I think trying to avoid every single meltdown won’t work in the long run.

    Just my .02.

  3. says

    Tashia, as long as you feel balanced I say whatever works go for it. My schedule changed when I worked and the kids got older. Schedules changed daily and we all just adjusted as well as we each could. Some days were better than others. I am sure you and Julie will have healthy, wonderful kids regardless of the difference in approach.

  4. Tashia says

    I was thinking about this blog post again, and it occurred to me that I’m actually quite surprised at the extent to which you plan/structure everything so much for your daughter. Not because I agree or disagree with this approach (I do applaud at how committed you are to the hard work involved in doing so for the sake of your child), but rather because in previous posts you have described your parenting philosophy as child-led and about teaching/learning through play, not teaching/learning the traditional old school way. In my mind, it seems that someone with this parenting/educational philosophy would naturally lean toward a more “go with the flow” kind of approach to child-rearing and life in general. It almost seems paradoxical to spend so much time carefully planning every day when you emphasize that letting your child learn in her own way and at her own pace is so important to you. I was just thinking that perhaps if you look at it this way, you will feel less guilty about relaxing a bit. Teach by example!

    I was equally surprised when you mentioned in a previous blog about finding it hard to focus on your daughter for more than a few minutes at a time when you want to interact with her. I had sort of assumed that because of your child-rearing philosophy that you spent all your free time with her and would not be distracted in the way that you describe. I admit that this is one of my weaknesses as well (focusing on things besides my daughter when she isn’t actively looking for my attention).

    I think that sometimes our personalities get in the way of our best intentions. You like to plan everything out, but find that trying to anticipate everything in advance and make contingency plans stresses you out. I like to go with the flow, but find that too often I miss opportunities to teach and interact with my child.

    But as Madge said, I’m sure both our kids will turn out just fine!

  5. says

    Good points Tashia. My “kids” are 37 and 39 and I have seen it all. And believe me all styles work to produce functioning adults. We can’t always do for our children or they will never have a sense of internal reward if they don’t believe they learned and took responsibility for their actions (grades, anything). In the end they are individuals and they will strive and fall like the rest of us but they will always know we love them and we did the best job, not perfect but good enough to let them grow and spread their own wings and fly.

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