Being a good parent is hard. Being a bad parent is harder.
Since I am an autodidact who throws herself into learning in many areas, I, of course, applied myself in the same manner to parenting.
From the moment I had my first baby, I began to follow parenting blogs, read up on the gentle discipline styles I believed in, and picked up any magazine touting a story about child development. My husband and I have had conversations ad nauseam about the appropriate ways to connect with our children and how to lead with our values.
And yet ... it seems that while I instinctively and theoretically understand the best ways to parent my children, and while I have experienced the fruits of those labors at certain points, I also fall into bad habits and forget. It's when I'm in those moments of being overwhelmed with family, business and life that I give in to the illusion that it will be easier for me to take the lazy route.
I'm here to speak from experience: Lazy parenting doesn't pay.
And I don't mean just the obvious physical laziness; of course, spending all your time lying on the couch, refusing to make a proper dinner and not engaging with your children is going to have some seriously negative consequences.
I'm referring to laziness of the mind.
It's a lie when I believe I'll still be a good parent when I'm giving 80 percent of my physical and mental energy budget to other activities. To me, being a good parent means meeting my children's needs. My kids need more than just my leftover 20 percent.
I thought I was doing OK. I was always striving to stay calm, yell less and give my kids individual attention. But the stark reality that I was just not engaged enough in my parenting hit me when we saw the results of letting our children stay up too late.
It was easy to let them stay up. We were at a fun family event, and everyone was still in bed before 10 p.m. Nothing too irresponsible, even though we know our children needed more sleep than they would get. It was the "easy" decision, but it made things so much harder.
The following day now stands as the winner of "Worst Parenting Day Ever." The sleep deprivation was palpable. I was irritable. My husband was distracted. My oldest complained of a headache. At 4 p.m. I was ready to throw in the towel completely and put everyone to bed (or run away from home) when I texted my sister with an update: "My 8-year-old just dumped half a bottle of shampoo into the bath. My 6-year-old needed a haircut and took scissors into his own hands. My 3-year-old poured grapeseed oil all over my bedroom carpet. My husband is overwhelmed. The baby is crying. And so am I."
The description "hot mess" would be appropriate here.
My husband made the comment that "they deserve better" than what we were giving. At first I was offended, because I didn't know how I could possibly do better. I was already doing the best I could ... with my leftover 20 percent.
But the best I can do with only 20 percent of me isn't all that great. My family deserves the best of my 80 percent.
It's hard. It takes conscious effort. It takes creativity. It takes repeating the same things over and over. It is not easy.
But when I'm a bad parent, it's harder. I feel awful about myself. The kids whine, complain and act out. My stress level is magnified in them.
Here's to my new mantra: Being a good parent is hard. But being a bad parent is harder.
Nicole is a "crunchy mom," consultant with viaONEHOPE wine, and co-owner of Magnifica Properties. She lives in West Fargo with her husband, two sons and two daughters. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.