Before my twin boys were born, I bought every book on child-rearing that I could find.
There were so many things that had to be decided. Was I going breastfeed or formula feed? Sleep train or co-sleep? Use cloth diapers or disposable?
I was obsessed with parenting techniques and labels. Would I be an attachment parent, a free-range parent or (God-forbid) a helicopter parent?
I talked to friends, read blogs, listened to my mom, my mother-in-law.
I was concentrating so hard on the minutia of raising children that I totally neglected to look at the bigger picture.
Then I had the boys (identical twin boys), and my expectations for myself as a parent reached a fever pitch.
I was constantly taking stock of my every action and judging it against all the "good" parenting advice out there.
Was I ruining my kids by not signing them up for baby music classes? Should they be watching those "educational" DVD's? Was I following Babywise too rigidly?
I wish someone had taken my tired, overwhelmed, doing-the-best-I-could face in their hands and said "You don't have to be the kind of mother everyone else is. You are allowed to follow your instincts and do what you think is best, even if it looks nothing like what all your friends are doing."
I wish someone would have told me, "as long as you're headed in the direction you want for your family, organic fruit, not organic fruit, it doesn't matter -- just keep the end-game in mind."
We are examining almost everything we do now in parenting and family life, except for the big picture.
How much time do we take to consider where we want our family to be in three months, one year, five years?
I'll be honest. My husband and I are still very much in the process of defining our ideal family life. We don't have it all figured out yet.
But we're working on it. We're throwing mud at the wall.
So often as parents we are so busy just trying to make it through the day to day, that we don't have the time or energy to make sure that our everyday actions are contributing to shaping what we want our lives to look like.
We're deciding on what to make for dinner, we're packing lunches, we're cleaning up yet another spill. We're overwhelmed, and often times it's more pressing to clean up the flood zone post baths than to try to design and implement a plan to live the way we want.
It's also super overwhelming when everything is available to you: cloth diapering, living in an apartment, living on a boat, homeschooling, working or staying at home... the choices go on and on and on to infinity.
How is their even room to listen to what you actually want versus what everyone else says you should have?
It turns when you get clear about your own family's intentions suddenly your choices become very limited, and therefore much easier to navigate.
Due to an allergy issue my breastfeeding third born is facing right now, I can't have any dairy.
Before when we would go out to eat, the whole menu was available to me.
Sometimes that felt super overwhelming. Especially at places that serve both breakfast and lunch. Do I want breakfast? And then if I decide on breakfast do I want to go healthy or is it a cheat day? And if it's a cheat day how much cheating is cheating? Are we going French toast or are we just talking a little extra cheese on the omelette?
Now that I'm dairy-free, the choice is easy.
I can look at the menu and quickly and easily identify two or three things that I can have, then choose from those two or three things which sounds good at the time.
I have my mission: to avoid dairy so that the baby doesn't get sick.
Knowing my bigger goals and intentions makes the smaller choices easier to navigate.
If you already know that living abroad with your family is a top priority for you, you can better prioritize (without guilt or uncertainty I might add) what daily choices you are making.
It can help inform how you spend your money, which kind of schooling you choose for your kids, maybe even what work you want to do.
So, knowing that we're all strapped for time and even finding the time to read this probably meant hiding in the toilet, what can you do today, right now to get closer to where you want to be?
While tempting to do, avoid comparing yourself to other parents. Instead, have a conversation with your family and start listing what you want your ideal family life to look like.
Is it traveling the country in an RV? Is it living abroad in Argentina? Is it living in the suburbs and working a job that you love?
Try not to worry about how you're going to get there, just let yourself dream.
Next, look at the list and think about what's NOT on it.
Are three extracurricular activities per child on there? Are expensive cars or more time at work? Are a big house or piano lessons?
Maybe so, maybe not, but focusing on what is not on the list will help you identify the elements of your family life that you might be able to start changing in order to reach the vision you are seeking.
Now that you have done some thinking you can get clear about your intentions and get creative about your action plans.
And since no one said it to me, I'll say it to you...
If you're the kind of parent that is simultaneously dreaming and planning an ideal family life, while also worrying about feeding your kids crackers and honey for breakfast, I'll tell you right now, you're doing alright.