My friend Jenny Rosenstrach wrote the cookbook/memoir Dinner: A Love Story, and as I was reading it for the hundredth time in bed this weekend, I fell in love with her chapter on rituals. Jenny has such a warm, down-to-earth approach to parenting. Here’s her essay, full of great ideas…
Lazy Parents’ Dark Secret: The Ritual
Having a hands-off approach to healthy eating is pretty consistent with our parenting philosophy in general. Have you ever read the instructions on a cast-iron skillet? It goes something like this: Do not clean this product too well. The fat and flavor left in the pan after cooking helps your skillet build a naturally nonstick surface. Can I tell you how much I love instructions that reward laziness? Braising is like that, too—the longer you ignore the hunk of beef or pork simmering away in a pot, the more the meat will melt off the bone. So is playtime: No one was happier about that study encouraging parents to give their kids unstructured time with limited parental intervention (not to be confused with limited parental supervision!) Apparently this was the secret to getting kids to build imaginations and rich inner lives. No one would ever accuse me of being a Tiger Mom.
But my all-time favorite example of laziness, which also happens to qualify as good parenting, is the Ritual. To be more specific, the ritual of a family walk after dinner on warm summer nights or to the farmers’ market every Saturday morning between April and November; the ritual of the kids selecting where they’d like to celebrate their birthday dinner (they choose a country, like Sweden, and then we find a restaurant to match that country); the ritual of dancing to Music Together or Jack White or Taylor Swift or the Nutcracker after dinner and before bed; the ritual of bath-book-bedtime every night and of a bowl of fresh fruit first thing in the morning; the ritual of eating pancakes or bagels in front of Dora or the Backyardigans or (later) iCarly on Saturday morning; the ritual of me giving Andy a good bottle of bourbon for our anniversary every October. (And don’t try to tell me that bourbon has nothing to do with parenting.)
Kids crave routines and rituals—your pediatrician probably told you that at your first baby’s first weigh-in. But I think parents—okay, maybe just this parent—craves routines and rituals even more. Because, yes, yes, yes, as outlines above, I know it’s comforting to my children on some level to know that they’ll be able to sit down iwth their parents every night for dinner, but it’s also comforting to me because there are just so may other things to keep track of. (I always remember that scene in I Don’t Know How She Does It when Kate Reddy’s boss, who has just lost his wife to cancer, comes to the office completely overwhelmed by all the things his wife did without his noticing. “You wouldn’t believe how much there is to remember, Kate,” he told her. And to herself Kate says, “Yes, I would.”) In other words, when there are twenty-five things on the to-do list already, I don’t want to waste energy figuring out how to ensure we have quality time with our kids for the three hours we are with them on a weekday (hence: Family Dinner plus After-Dinner Dancing). I don’t want to tap my small supply of creative juices trying to outdo last year’s special birthday celebration (hence: Our Pick-a-Country ritual). In other words, when there are so many little things to think about, it’s comforting to know that I have a few of the big things running on autopilot.