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I was in the living room arguing with my 9-year-old son over why he couldnt have more screen time. Basically 90 percent of my parenting with him is a constant negotiation over why he cant play on screens all day every day.

On this day, he brought up a common argument that Ive heard far too many times: Why does Aspen get to watch screens all the time? I had so many more rules than she does. Its not fair.” (Aspen was his two-year-old sister).

Tristans blue eyes were fixed on me, hands in the pockets of his khaki school uniform shorts, his lips twisted to the side. Everything about his body language seemed to say injustice.

Fact is, he was right. It was injustice. It wasnt fair. Not the fact that he had a limit on his screen time, while his 2-year-old sister didnt. That was just difference in ages. What was totally unfair is that when Tristan was two, we parented him really differently, with much stronger rules and regulations that went far beyond screen time.

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When he was a toddler, I tried to feed him organic food and make sure he had on clean outfits, always. I didn’t let him watch too much TV or have too many sweets. I stressed about him. I watched him like a hawk and micromanaged his behavior, fearful that I was going to ruin him.

So much of it was about presentation. I was always worried that someone would find out that I was, in fact, not qualified to be a father. There was also the fact that I didnt really know what I was doing (not that any parent really does).

Im going on nine years of fatherhood, with three kids, and I still feel lost. But back then, parenting felt like wandering in a dark room looking for a light switch. I just didnt know the long term ramifications of anything I did, so I simply played it ultra conservative, both eyes unceasingly on my son, making sure he looked presentable and was well behaved and overly healthy.

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But now, three kids and almost ten years in, I don’t worry about all that as much. Not that I dont care. I care as much, if not more, than I ever did. I’ve become much more pragmatic and less worried about presentation.

Ive started to realize what really matters, and what doesnt. And Ive started to put some distance between myself and my need to micromanage my childrens every move.

Most of this is for my own sanity, honestly.

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Because the fact is, parenting is all consuming. Its exhausting and overwhelming at times. Its rewarding in the most hair pulling way possible, and once its all said and done, nothing is a sure bet.

Theres a chance that all three of my children will grow up to become total boneheads unable to make adult decisions. And when/if that happens, I will be left wondering if I parented them too much, or not enough. So much of raising children has to do with their individual little personalities that are a mix of genetics, and doesnt have a whole lot to do with day in and day out parenting decisions.

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This doesnt mean that you should throw in the towel on parenting. You still have to put in the effort. It just means, after a few years, and a few kids, you start to realize that you can spend all your time keeping your kids clean, only to find them messy most of the day.

You can do everything within your power to feed them healthy, and they will still look at every green bean as if it were a heaping pile of rancid poop. You can sit next to them every day and read, tell them how much you love it, and emphasize the importance of it, and they still might end up hating to read.

Parenting is a bit of a long shot no matter what. People are going to judge your parenting no matter what you do. And your kids will latch on to what they love and hate regardless of what you love and hate.

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So with my youngest, Ive started to take my hand off the wheel a bit. If she eats dirt, I call it an organic meal, and sometimes I give her unlimited popsicles and screens so I can wash the dishes without her climbing in the dishwasher.

If she covers her shirt with mashed strawberries, I dont drop what Im doing and fix it right there and then. I get to it when I can, and if I never get to it, I clean her up in the evening. I let her explore more than I did with either of my older kids. I dont get anxious about how she looks, or when her hair isnt combed. I dont have a heart attack every time she cries, or go completely out of my way to keep her out of trouble. Ive started to be more selective.

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I had no idea how to explain it to my son. There was no way to tell him why Id grown more lax with his younger sister.

So I didnt try. I just shrugged, and said, Sorry, dude.

I think a lot of parents go through this. I think any older sibling recognizes this transition. But it isnt until you are living it that you start to understand why it happens.

He rolled his eyes, and within an hour hed forgotten about the whole conversation.

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