The Importance of Being Less Earnest

Welcome to the January Carnival of Natural Parenting: Learning from children

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared the many lessons their children have taught them. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Boy, have I been having trouble with this topic. I’ve done something like five complete rewrites. It’s not that I don’t learn from my children. It’s that without them, I would be a completely different person. When I consider the work I have done to become a better parent, I tend to become very earnest. At the same time, I find myself thinking that I wouldn’t be having as much fun without them. It’s like two competing posts, but without the benefit of two authors!

I guess I’ll go with that, then. It is the paradox, that parenting demands both more effort and more joy. I read that I would be “happier” if I hadn’t had my children, but I can’t believe it. I might be less tired and less stressed without these kids. I would certainly have more money. But I wouldn’t be ME, and I’m pretty satisfied with the way that’s turning out.

As I thought about which way to go with this, it occurred to me to simply split up ideas into two categories for this post. One of them is Things I have Learned from Parenting (very earnest). The other is Things My Children Know that I have forgotten (Stop being so Earnest!), so I will split them up, just so. Also, most uncharacteristically… bullet points!

Things I Have Learned from Parenting

In no particular order

  • You can love somebody so much that you would sacrifice your life for them, but you might still find yourself begging them to please, please, PLEASE go to sleep so that you can have two hours to yourself before you have to fall into bed to do it all over again.
  • Kids are terribly strict about right and wrong, leading to such things as living Christmas trees, vegetarian diets, and learning to watch your tongue.
  • I don’t need to make my children learn. It is what small animals do, especially human beings. If I provide them with a rich environment, a loving home, and the opportunities to engage in the world, they will play, learn, and become fully fledged human beings without my interference.
  • I do not own my children. They have relationships with other adults in our lives independent from my own, and although I may have responsibilities to surround them with healthy relationships, they have the right to negotiate those relationships separately.
  • Children are not human beings in the making; they are wholly formed human beings who need assistance to get things off top shelves and to keep themselves fed, clothed, and bathed.
  • Nobody wins when the kids do something just to get me to stop yelling. My goal is that they do things because they need doing. The room needs to be tidy so that we can find things, so that it is safe to walk across, and so that toys don’t get broken, NOT so that Mummy won’t yell.
  • Adult self-care is the foundation on which a healthy family is built. If I find myself on edge, tired, and feeling unappreciated, I need to take steps to fix that.
  • The ego has to go. Lots of people get to this one without bearing children, but I think that the need to be sane and healthy for my kids has been the main driving force here. It is not reasonable to expect the world to conform to my expectations to reassure my ego of its health, dominion, or power. This is most obvious in intimate relationships, and there is no more intimate relationship than taking responsibility for making a whole other person. Having made them, however, I need to let them go to find their own ways in the world. They are not little extensions of me, and when the I find the ego making such claims, I need to hush it.

Things My Children Know

My children know things that I, in my pursuit of responsibility, stability and Grown-up-ness, have forgotten. I recently found myself on the couch waving all four limbs in the air in excitement over finding a Power Star on Super Mario Galaxy. Caught up in earnestness, I forget about that kind of silliness. Also, Hotwheels track (with loops!), Lego starfighters, and the fun of blowing raspberries. Here are some other things that I probably used to know, that my children have had to remind me.

  • Food tastes better when it is shaped like letters, numbers, or small animals (even if you wouldn’t really eat a rhino.)
  • Don’t forget the value of bling. Tiaras are particularly good for cheering you up. Even if you are a boy.
  • Wearing purple and pink doesn’t have to undermine your feminist leanings. You can play Barbies, princess and dinosaurs all on the same day. If you are creative enough, you can play them all at the same time.
  • Bugs are really neat. Watching a spider build a web is as good as yoga for learning mindfulness. Skipping stones and doing jigsaw puzzles that you are going to take apart are valuable uses of your time, even if you do them on your own.
  • Sometimes, chocolate cake is the most important part of dinner.

And, the most important one:

  • Life is too important to be taken seriously.

OK. That last one might actually have been Oscar Wilde, but thanks to the kids, I think I finally get it. (7/362)


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama

Visit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon January 11 with all the carnival links.)


17 responses to “The Importance of Being Less Earnest”

  1. I love this list! Both lists! That first bullet point was one of my favorites, because I’m there so much of the time. I also feel like I learned (relearned) things from your list — like that we clean for a purpose, not to please a higher power (eg, the parent or, in my case, my inner sense of What Is Acceptable). I love the point that children get to navigate their relationships with other adults, too — very wise and something I will think about some more. Also, I need to make more animal-shaped food.

    • Hi kolembo. Thanks for the “like”. I hope your mum appreciated the appreciation.

      I see you are also doing a PostADay. Good luck! Come back soon.

  2. This immediately brought a snatch of song to mind:

    “The best thing you’ve ever done for me
    Is to help me take my life less seriously, it’s only life after all”

    (Closer to Fine — Indigo Girls)

    • It is one of my favourite songs. Except I spent 16 years prostrate to the higher mind, and have never quite set myself free.

  3. Loved this post; especially the chocolate cake being the most important part of dinner!

    This line “Adult self-care is the foundation on which a healthy family is built. If I find myself on edge, tired, and feeling unappreciated, I need to take steps to fix that.” was very cool, a reminder to us all…

  4. I love “Don’t forget the value of bling!” Honestly, I’ve never felt better than when my son and daughter have each, at separate times, put homemade necklaces over my neck 🙂 And yes, sitting around in tiaras IS fun.

  5. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

    And re: The ego has to go, I don’t like to think of what kind of parent I might have been if I didn’t have those (paltry!) 4 or so years of meditation before the Critter arrived.

  6. Ha! I love the “you can love someone so much…yet still want them to go to bed!” How true that is. These little people can make us experience the full range of any two opposing emotions so often. Love your post 🙂

  7. “Children are not human beings in the making; they are wholly formed human beings who need assistance to get things off top shelves and to keep themselves fed, clothed, and bathed.”

    LOVE THIS! As a culture, we rarely appreciate this fact. Thank you for saying it.

  8. This is so spot on! I kept stopping while reading to note my favorite bit so that I could comment on it when I finished. I finally gave up, because there was so much on your list that resonated with me – too much to comment on each bit individually. Thank you, thank you!

  9. Great take on the topic! I think kids can definitely help remind us to LET ourselves get lost in the moment, get lost in the pure joy that is… finding a Power Star or doing somersaults or, or, or… in general, to be open to the world and the experiences available to us!

  10. So, so, so, SO brilliant. And I don’t even have kids yet. When I do, I’m going to print this off, and tape it to the fridge.