Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
Parenting is epic, Sisyphean in nature until they no longer require your assistance. Until then, you're stuck trying to impose order on a people who embody chaos theory. Somehow I've managed to get four people to voting age, and still, there is more to know and less proof anyone knows what they are doing.
In 20 years, whatever advice you received when they were kids is now reversed. When my oldest were in elementary school, homework reinforced the lesson. Homework remained a vital component of the learning process. Homework was so important, experts considered whether there should always be homework. In recent years, homework fell out of favor and became almost the mental equivalent of spanking. Along the same time, screens were bad. Screens were distracting, caused brain rot, anti-social behavior, bad grades, poor SAT scores and who knows what else. I kept the first, second and third away from screens. It made every surrender to the television feel like a maternal failure. For a while, I still assigned my own children homework, because I knew, if nothing else, it kept them away from the screens.
I felt virtuous every time they didn't turn on the television, even if it wasn’t my will but theirs and I still believed screens were bad until they were inescapable. There were more screens to fight off, and more hands who knew how to work the remote than me. There were people in my home who worked the machines without my help. There were machines in my home I needed their help to work. I wanted the machines to work. I'd become assimilated, the zombie-borg apocalypse of my children had begun because I'd failed to keep throwing books in front of their faces. They survived me and homework is making a return to the school curriculum — and now, it always involves screens.
When the older ones were children, I tried the rainbow approach to food all those magazines advertise as being super effective in motivating kids to eat their veggies. To this day, they eat a range of vegetables that can be counted on one hand, with a color spectrum of two. I've learned that they eat what they eat.
Bed times should be graduated, the experts say. If you tuck them in with a routine, they'll acquiesce. In two decades of routine, I've yet to cease playing whack-a-mole at bedtime. So I've learned that they sleep when they sleep.
Chores should be done, the experts say. They should be assigned, enforced and expected. I can assign all day. However enforcement requires something between bribes and extortion. “I've got a fist full of Hershey bars for the kids who clean their room and for the ones who say they don't like or want the chocolate, I've got a cellphone and an Instagram account set up. Clean your room or I'm posting.” What do you know — screens are helpful after all.
Bottom line? I've learned that the experts have their experience and I have mine. I'm going to run with mine because I have to live with mine. So I turn off all the lights in the house and make it like a tomb at 9 o'clock. It chases all the teens to their rooms. I tell anyone who boasts they have no homework that it's their turn to do the dishes, getting those chores fitted into the day in an organic manner. I let anyone who reads stay up later with the lights on, and the youngest four love it more than screens. Food is what I'm serving. You can have cold cereal if you want — just clear the table and don't make a scene about it.
There are things no one can prepare you for. Motherhood is one of them. Even the extensive internship as a child, no matter how difficult an offspring you were, remains insufficient to the actual task of raising a human being, much less multiple ones. There's something to that lack of experience combined with an invincible will that erodes mine.
Over the years, I've learned that the goal isn't to win — it’s to win over. At the end of the day, if they to go to bed with the “Goodnight Mom” on their hearts, it is enough.