For those of you who don’t have a three-year-old, “Daniel Tiger” is a PBS cartoon based on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (the titular tiger even wears a red cardigan as an homage to the big guy). In every episode, the characters teach important lessons through little songs they sing…over and over and over.
Call them mini life hacks for the preschool set. But I’ve been watching the show for a while now, and I’ve noticed that a lot of these messages translate surprisingly well to grownup life – and specifically to parenting. Here are six of my favorites. Won’t you tell me yours, Neighbor?
This is actually different from “Your best is the best you can do.” There’s an additional implication here: not just, “You do as much as you can,” but it’s actually BEST for you not to try to do more.
This is reassuring, because sometimes the best I can do is to lie on the couch with The New York Times wedding pages while my toddler does “foot painting” on an old sheet. According to Daniel Tiger, this is good for us! And actually, it is: my daughter is learning to be creative and do independent projects. Equally important, mommy’s getting a minute.
The idea on the show is that a younger sibling might wreck a project you’re working on, but maybe there’s a way to incorporate her and, well, make it fun. This is the literal story of my life as a parent. A baby came along and made everything different.
Rather than succumb to the idea that we can, say, never travel again, my husband and I are just trying to make our new life as fun as possible. Trips are different (make sure there’s a playground within walking distance of your Airbnb, for starters), but they can still be fun. And that’s true of every bit of life with a little person.
Admittedly, there are days when I’d like to order takeout for every meal. But this is not good for me. And it’s especially not good for my child.
Having a toddler watch my every move is a great reminder that there’s implicit value and a ton of satisfaction in the process of creation – whether it’s packing lunches for the whole family to take to the botanical garden or cutting up an old shoe box into a house for Calico Critters. It’s actually fun to save money and get inventive, and it teaches little ones about self-sufficiency.
Parenting a three-year-old sometimes makes me feel like I’ve fallen into the sea, and the nearest lifeboat is, distressingly, made of papier-mâché and candy corn. So I feel a rush of relief whenever I’ve formulated a text-message plan with another parent.
“Meet up at library story time tomorrow, then come over for lunch??”
“Free for a play date in the afternoon? Kiddie pool is all set up!”
“He just wrote all over the living room wall. Must. Meet you. At playground.”
The smiley face emoji a thousand times over does not express my joy: I’m safe.
In this adorable episode, Daniel keeps putting on his bathing suit to go out in the snow, or his rain gear to wear in the sun, just to make his viewers laugh. What a rascal! It might seem trivial, but appropriate attire for a parent is actually a big deal.
Wearing a dress and cute boots to a pediatrician’s appointment can make you feel like you’re on top of things (or at least that your kids’ doctor thinks you are.) Wearing sweats to a play date after a terrible night’s sleep might signal to the other adults in the room that you need a little extra TLC. And/or a large glass of wine. What’s right for you, right now, will vary as widely as your toddler’s pre-bedtime mood.
For Daniel Tiger, this is about deciding what he wants for breakfast, or whether to go on the slide or the swings. For me, it’s deeper. When I’m about to lose my cool, say something horrible, grab my daughter too hard, or start sobbing uncontrollably waiting on line at Target, I first need to stop. Then think. And then choose to be kind.
That’s basically always the right choice: to be kind or forgiving or generous or play when I could be making dinner. To read to her when I should be working. It’s one thing to stop. It’s another to think.
If I actually take the time to think, I’ll remember that I chose to have this child, that I love her more than life, and that choosing to treat her well and spend time with her is almost never the wrong answer.