The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Parents

winkJust kidding.
The Slattern’s guide to surviving the childrearing years.

Once upon a time, I had a real career. I got up early, put on outfits that came out of dry cleaning bags, showed up somewhere and did reasonably important stuff for which I was fairly well compensated. When I spoke at meetings, colleagues actually listened to what I had to say, and occasionally I even bossed other people around. You may not believe it, but I was corporate, folks.

At that time, the Stephen Covey cult of mind control consulting juggernaut was really taking off. His Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was already a perpetual bestseller, big firms showered him in krugerrands just to come and sip a cup of decaf at their corporate retreats, and we were all so busy realigning our paradigms and trying to find our true north it was a wonder anything at all got done in the workplace.

Behold the onset of the maternal urge.Via electsister777.

Behold the onset of the maternal urge.
Via electsister777.

Then quite suddenly, at age 32, the urge to have a baby hit me like a freight train that had skipped its tracks and was careening along an icy road in the middle of nowhere. Just like that, I was done with the nine to five grind.

After 42 weeks of pregnancy I was looking forward not only to tying my own shoes, but also to finally having the time to throw stylish dinner parties, get involved with charitable and good works, and write that murder mystery I’d been planning in my head during countless hours of boring operations meetings, ridiculous team-building exercises and hellish corporate travel. I was staying home, suckers!

There was, of course, one small detail I had overlooked, an unexpected fly in the ointment if you will, namely that taking care of an infant is a 24/7 life commitment that supersedes all other obligations, priorities and desires. Like many first timers, I thought it was all over after labor and delivery, that life would return to normal as soon as our gorgeous agglomeration of DNA found her way into the light of day so that I could dress her in all manner of cute baby things, immediately start making mother-daughter trips to Lord and Taylor and marvel at the self sufficiency and composure that would be our shining light of a daughter. I also expected my stomach to snap back to pre-natal flatness. I think we all know how that turned out.

During the 17 hours of induced labor followed by a C-section, an unidentifiable infection and a stay in the neonatal unit, I got very real very quickly. Lacking as I did close relatives in the area to help in the months and years that followed, I turned to a network of friends in the same situation, and somehow we all made it through. Now, as I look back at the past 18 years, I realize how nice it would have been if someone had offered me some practical advice about raising a child generally, and specifically how to do it without losing your mind. I tried Dr. Spock and Penelope Leach and all the other baby busybodies, but they just made it harder rather than easier, as none seemed ever to have actually raised a child while trying to maintain a marriage, keep the house from becoming a cholera vector point and get rid of that most tenacious of fat, the baby roll.

Against all odds, however, the Little Slattern has turned out magnificently. So it’s possible that I might have some pearls of wisdom to help others just starting down the road of parenthood. Of course it could also be that the I’ve finally found the perfect balance of pharmaceuticals and wine spritzers and this makes me think I’ve got all the answers. Hard to know.

For what it’s worth, then, here are the Slattern’s seven habits of highly effective parents:

1. Be proactive, or better yet be hyperactive. There is absolutely no need to be exhausted. After six cups of coffee and a lunchtime dose of Ritalin you’ll find it’s a breeze to clean the house, make dinner, fold ten loads of laundry and paint the garage all in the time it takes your child to have an afternoon nap! Of course, until the baby is weaned, this is out of the question, so mothers are advised to abandon all hope of accomplishing anything whatsoever until such time as mammaries return to their ornamental rather than utilitarian function. All you dads and nonlactating partners, however, can get with the stimulant program any old time.

2. Accept that this is the beginning of the end of your mind. Outside of the office, you may not have an adult conversation concerning anything other than bowel movements, potty training, preschool admissions, coxsackie virus or whether it’s okay to dose your child with Benadryl before a flight (it is) for a very long time. If you’re a stay at home parent, abandon all hope of interesting adult conversation and be forewarned, you may never finish a sentence again.

3. Put first things first. Babysitters are paid before the mortgage. The child’s orthodontia trumps your crumbling crowns. And in-laws may visit only if they agree to feed your child, put him to bed and wash the dinner dishes while you go out to a movie and a well deserved night of heavy drinking at the local bar. (They should also be told where the cash for bail is kept, or better still, bring their own stash.)

Photo courtesy Bernd Vogel/Bernd Vogel/Corbis via the Guardian UK.

Photo courtesy Bernd Vogel/Bernd Vogel/Corbis via the Guardian UK.

4. Think win-win, and if you can’t do that, learn to accept defeat as a daily occurrence and sleeplessness as your new reality. And since I’m on the subject, folks, I cannot urge you strongly enough to teach your kids to put themselves to sleep, in their own beds, from the earliest possible moment. When I was a child, parents were told to let their babies cry it out, which was hard on everyone and frequently resulted in having to go to plan B, namely rubbing babies’ gums with the whiskey from the highball that was keeping the parent from killing him or herself for being the kind of vile human being who lets a child cry until he either vomits or falls asleep. By the time the Little Slattern was tormenting us with ten wakings a night, there was the miracle of “Ferberizing” and it worked a charm. One night of brief crying followed by briefer comforting, and we were home free. The book has saved more marriages and lives than you can possibly imagine.

5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Unless you have twins, in which case seek first to survive the day and secondly to hold off cocktail hour until they’re asleep.

6. Synergize, and if that doesn’t work anesthetize. There comes a moment in every parent’s life when it’s all just too much — the middle of a 48 hour bout of diarrhea, or along about the third week of a teething episode for example. In the first year of my daughter’s life, Mr. Slattern frequently returned home from work to find me standing three feet from the front door, holding our child at arm’s length and saying, “Here, take her. Just do it. Take her RIGHT NOW.” Being an obliging sort and possessed of a strong instinct for survival, he would drop his briefcase and coat and take over on the spot, at which point I retreated to the bathroom for a two-hour shower and sob-a-thon followed by a large drink. Not that my child was particularly difficult; she was quite easy as they go, but some days were more challenging than others. As such, it is vitally important to know when to hand over the con to whichever half of the domestic tag team happens to be more capable at the moment.

7. Sharpen the saw, to avoid using it on your spouse or partner. The great Covey is a big believer in taking time to renew your energy and personal resources to maximize workplace productivity. This applies equally to parents. When I was in the trenches, Mr. Slattern frequently paired up with other similarly outdoorsy dads and took the kids camping for several days. This allowed the other grateful moms and me to pursue our own paths to spiritual renewal, by which I mean we convened at one or another of our homes, drank ourselves blind, ate cake for dinner and danced to all our college favorites into the wee hours or until one of the neighbors called the cops. Whether you renew with a crafting binge, a poker night or a vodka-fueled solo dance party, just get the down time and make it count.

tiger mom

“I am in no way crazy and my children ADORE me.”
Erin Patrice O’Brien for The Wall Street Journal

And finally, a word on childrearing styles: Tiger mother or attachment parent?
Hard to say which is worse of course, since each approach is deeply disturbing in its own way. How does anyone have the energy to constantly ride herd over, nag and terrorize her kids as the Tiger Mom recommends? By the same token, I marvel at these women who “breastfeed” their five year olds and “co-sleep” until junior goes off to college. Who’s the needy one here, ladies?

And despite their differing approaches, I’ll bet neither type allows her kids to have have sleepovers.  Which is crazy. That’s over twelve hours of free babysitting! Sure you’re expected to reciprocate, but you’re already staying in every night, so what’s the difference? Problem is you’re usually too tired to get up to much, but at least you know you could if you wanted to because your child is occupied and uninterested in you — until her overnight guest tries to take her “special” toy or refuses to share the coveted blue crayon anyway.

In the end, I suppose you’ll chart your own course. I myself chose the Third Way, as modeled by that rock of maternal warmth and stability, Shirley MacLaine. Who says the movies can’t teach us anything?

* * * * * * * *

Interested in more expert parenting tips? I’ll take your word for it.

Mother of the Year
Mother Knows Best
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About WSW

Writer, wife, mother. Toiler in the bottomless, black, soul-sucking coal mine of domestic life. Thank God for the portable bar.

Posted on December 7, 2012, in Commentary, Friendly Advice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. I applaud you and Mr. Slattern on finding a balance that works. He sounds like a catch beyond compare.

  2. I had my first at 37 so you have my complete sympathy. Unfortunately, I did NOT get to quit work (which may have been a good thing – my colicky newborn was driving me insane) and am still working horrible hours with a 7 year old. Maybe she can forgive me.

  3. I recall Jagger saying that. I wish he kept his word. He’s disgusting. He looks a lot like my grandfather. That was when you were sixty you looked 80.

  4. I ’bout blew a snot bubble.

  5. I wish I would have read this post 8 years ago. Diving head first from a career-centered life to a child-centered life is complete lunacy but I had no idea at the time. Thank god I didn’t because I probably wouldn’t have done it and, despite the fact that it very nearly drove me insane, I don’t regret a single moment of it. However, this post would have been comforting because it would have helped me realize that I wasn’t alone in a world of over-achieving super moms.

  6. This is AMAZING! I’ll be printing this out and keeping it safe, poised and ready for action!

  7. Loved this – you made me laugh, you made me thankful for never having gone through this, and, at the same time, I read it with admiration and awe. I just don’t know how moms do this thing. It is alien to me. And, of course, it’s why I own dogs.

  8. excellent advice and ruminations here… damn kids :) I have never seen this movie– but this clip makes me want to. Nice breakfast she is brewing up

  9. I will never, I repeat never, be the cause of a woman having to endure the journey of child-rearing. I was a major PIA and tormented my parents. Looking back, it explains the drinking and the amazement when I succeeded. Inflicting a mini-me on someone is cruel beyond belief.

  10. SO glad this was tweeted out because your words here are wise ones, indeed. The kind I wish were said to me eons ago. My boys are now teens and I think of the wasted mental energy on things that really don’t matter.

  11. “Spritzers and pharmaceuticals…” these are the pearls I wish someone had told me about when my children were younger. These days I escape to occasional evenings out with other women where we laugh loudly, drink more than necessary and dance to ridiculous songs.

  12. You have just made me thoroughly thankful that I never experienced the need to see my husband’s and my DNA co-mingled. Newborns remind me of screaming raisins–as you can see, I am not exactly the maternal type. If they came out as teenagers, I would be quite happy–but that would hurt like an a SOB.
    And, again, thank you for making me laugh until I pee.

    • The teenage years make the first three look like a walk in the park with Mister Rogers and Mister Valium, my friend.

      • Haha. I teach high school and am one of those strange people that actually find teenage antics amusing. Of course, there is the odd child that drives me to Jack Daniels. But, for the most part, I simply accept that it is a teenager’s job to push the boundaries.

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