On the night before my son’s first day of preschool, I made a controversial parenting decision – I didn’t make him a “first day of school” sign.
As I said in a message on my personal Facebook page: “I was going to make a sign for [Sprout] to hold on his first day of preschool tomorrow. But I fell asleep in his room while trying to get him to sleep and woke up at 10:40. And now it’s 12:30 and it’s still not done. Maybe next year!”
While no one condemned my decision – my friends are good folks – a couple of them suggested work-arounds. “You can do it this week and say you forgot!” or “You can use Photoshop!” were a few of the well-meaning suggestions.
In the end, I dropped the entire idea. I realized feeling like I “should” do one had nothing to do with Sprout’s well-being. He could care less if he had a sign or not! In fact, it would just make one more thing to worry about during the photo-taking process. Smiling, looking at the camera, and staying still are already challenging enough for a three-year-old.
No, I wanted to make one because “everyone else” did, including my snarky friends who made them for their spouses on the first day of a new job. (Chris, where was my sign on the first day of my job?) While it would have been nice to make one, I wasn’t going to increase my substantial sleep debt and stress level to do so. Nor was I going to feel guilty or “less than” for skipping it.
Fundamentally, the amount of time and effort we put into “extras” doesn’t signify our love for our children. As one of my friends said, “Having or not having a sign is NOT indicative of whether you’re a good parent or not.” All children need certain things from their parents: good food, safety, hugs, acceptance, and lots of dedicated time. Signs and many of the other crafty things that have become popular aren’t on that list.
That doesn’t mean that signs and other extras are bad! I admire my friend’s ability to deftly decorate a chalkboard with swirly, multi-colored writing for her son’s first day of kindergarten.
No, instead, we just need to put these extras in the right place. They need to serve our needs instead of arbitrary standards set by our Facebook feeds and Pinterest.
From now on, I’m not going to spend my time and energy doing “extras” unless they have personal significance for my family. For me, making homemade Halloween costumes for my kids is important because I have fond memories of my mom sewing mine. In addition, dressing up as the Guardians of the Galaxy characters for Baltimore ComicCon and Halloween last year was an awesome shared experience. Similarly, baking homemade pies, building gingerbread houses, and cutting down our own Christmas tree are beloved family traditions. They have weight and meaning for us long after a photo on social media has come and gone.
I’m also going to give up any extras that cause more stress than enjoyment and value. As exasperating as growing my own vegetables can be, taking care of the garden is meditative. Passing these skills on to my sons also fulfills a core value of mine, teaching sustainability. In contrast, I knew that because making a sign would require perfect handwriting and art skills far beyond my own, I would just be frustrated and annoyed in the end.
Those of you who enjoy making elaborate chalkboard signs with fancy pictures, rock on! And for those of you like me, who just don’t or can’t, that’s cool too. As long as you’re making memories for the sake of your family and not anyone else, you’re doing great.