5 Parenting Rules to Break

by Hannah Howard January 16, 2023

dad teaching daughter how to skateboard

Before we talk about parenting rules to break, let’s define our terms. What are parenting rules, anyway, and who makes them? Your pediatrician? Your dad? The internet? Mom influencers?

Parenting is probably the hardest and most important job we’ll ever do, made even more impossible by the fact that there is no guidebook. There are plenty of books about parenting, of course, but no ultimate authority. At the end of the day, it’s you the parent who are the ultimate authority, something that keeps me up at night with its gigantic magnitude.

I have degrees in anthropology and creative writing from fancy universities. But nobody taught me how to be a mom.

Here I am on this bumpy ride. I do a lot of reading and scrolling social media. I have parent text threads, WhatsApp groups, and chats on the playground interrupted frequently by a toddler who wants to take her shoes off in the sandbox even though it’s below freezing. I have my own parents and in-laws. I have more questions than answers.

I keep go back to the fact that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. There are things I can control, like attempting to care for myself, keep my kids safe, and stay prepared with a whole bag full of snacks. And the list of things I cannot is a whole lot longer. After talking to parent friends, these are five “rules” I am feeling zero guilt about breaking. I hope you feel zero guilt, too.

Bathe your Little One Every Night

“We do once a week baths,” says toddler mom Celina Kelly May, who lives and works in New York City. “When I tell people I feel insanely judged by other parents…normalize baths only when dirty!”

Mary Allen, who is raising a baby in Germany, agrees. “We only do once a week unless our baby gets dirty,” she explains. “It's better for his sensitive skin.”

We tend to bathe our kids three or four times a week because our two toddlers usually enjoy splashing in the bath, so it’s a joyful few minutes during the pre-bed chaos. According to Cleveland Clinic, two to three times per week is plenty for bathing babies, toddlers, and young kids. “Their delicate skin doesn’t need daily cleansing,” so no worries if bath time is not happening tonight (or tomorrow).

Screen Time Is Taboo

There is no shortage of debate about the pros and cons of screen time for little ones. Ultimately, screens are a huge part of life – after all you’re reading this story on a screen now – and it’s incredibly challenging to avoid them completely. Instead of all or nothing thinking, you can create some gentle intentions and boundaries about their place in your home. (This story, about making TV time for toddlers feel mindful, is helpful.)

“We don’t limit screen time and it seems to be a non-issue,” says Emily Pearl Goldstein, who lives and works in Washington DC with a preschooler. 

Erin Bigelow-Umar’s nanny in Manhattan turns on the TV a few times each day to share Spanish nursery rhymes and Miss Rachel with her baby boy, and “sometimes a few episodes of Bluey after dinner can be a lot of fun.” As for me, I can hear Peppa Pig in the background as I write now.

Parents Should Be Martyrs

If you asked me about this one before I became a mom, I would have said it was ridiculous. Of course, moms and dads deserve fun, rest, and some degree of autonomy.

Yet, last year, I found myself sitting with one baby nursing across my lap and one toddler screaming. I was crying because I had to pee but just couldn’t find the time or space. It was my wise husband who said to me, “You have to go to the bathroom. You are no help to anyone if you are sitting in your own urine.” He made me laugh, but also reconsider my instinct to always help my kids before helping myself.

I started to make tiny changes, like making my own coffee in the morning before getting bottles ready. And yes, using the bathroom myself before helping with the potty or changing diapers. The cliché about putting your own oxygen mask on first is wise. It’s also incredibly hard to implement. Baby steps!

Strict Naps and Bedtimes Are Best 

One thing I’ve learned about myself since becoming a parent is that sleep is foundational to my mental health. Sleep is amazing; sleep deprivation is literally torture.

And yet, cruelly – getting little ones to sleep consistently is one of life’s biggest mysteries. Only after a year did our toddler start sleeping through the night, and I instantly felt more human and like myself. We didn’t do anything differently; he just grew into restful nights.

There is endless advice about ideal nap schedules, sleep routines, and timing. By all means, talk to an expert, try something new, and invest in a pink noise machine. Yet at the end of the day, doing what works for your family and kiddo is all that matters (as long as it’s safe, of course.)

“Bedtime was always our breaking the rules,” says Sheana Davis, who lives in Sonoma, California. “My daughter was a night owl.” 

Our kids are in bed by seven whenever possible, but we have friends who keep their toddlers up until they call it a night themselves. If everybody is getting quality sleep, you’re winning. 

Your Own Brilliant Rules  

I’m sure you and your family have boundaries that are wise, loving, and sound. Maybe you have a fruit or a veggie at every meal. Maybe your kids say “please” and “thank you.” Maybe you never, ever jump on the beds.

Once every so often, break out the glitter even though it’s a total pain to clean up. Have a pillow fight. Stay up late to watch a movie, with plenty of popcorn and snuggles. Parenting can be hard, so soak up the moments when it also feels light and fun.

Hannah Howard


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