Wow, was I ever a judgey moron about parenting. Even before I was pregnant. What right did I have? I knew nothing. Ok, I still know very little, but I have completely abandoned my judgements and plenty of the ideas about how I was going to win this parenting contest.
First Lesson? Parenting is not a contest.
I thought that being a parent was being on display for all the world to judge you in some almighty competition.
So who were the winners? They were the ones who did everything right, nothing taboo. Those who were just crunchy enough to be called “cool parents”, just involved enough to be called “loving parents”, just crazy enough to be called “smart parents”. Their children never misbehaved, they hit all their milestones approximately 25% early, they always measured spot on the growth charts, they made straight A’s, they were team captains, they were basically Stepford children.
Lesson: I am not a Stepford wife, I will not have stepford children. I do not actually want stepford children.
Who did I think was judging all of these well-meaning, but obviously failing parents? Me, you, everyone. I judged them.
- That poor, tired looking mother who’s child was punching the floor in front of the new Ninja Turtles toy demanding that it be added to the cart.
- That mortified couple who’s baby was screaming for an entire three hour flight despite being walked, changed, sung to, whatever, they were clearly disturbing my trashy romance novel, how dare they!
- That scatterbrained parent that showed up to the library for story time a day late and an hour early. Doesn’t she know how to sync her iCal to the library website? What is this the stone age? Who gets dates/times wrong?
- That father dragging their toddler around Disney World on a leash. What is she, some sort of animal?
- All of those countless parents enjoying their meals and their spouses, while the children sat disconnected and fully engaged in some youtube video or Minecraft something or other.
Yep, I judged you. And now, I am you. And now, I understand. I’m sorry for what I thought.
The Kind of Parent I thought I would be then
(And the kind I am perfectly happy being now)
- My child will not have screen time of any kind until they are at least two, then it will be carefully limited to 60 minutes a day, not a second more. I will not be the sort of parent that uses a television as a babysitter. I will not be the sort of parent who allows their child to watch their favorite snuffiflullgans at the dinner table on my iphone. I will not be that parent who hops up on the hour long flight, knocking over my seat mate to retrieve the ipad from the overhead bin as soon as the flight attendant announces that wifi is now available. My child can turn on the television, record “Harry the Bunny”, and will sit approximately three feet away and watch an entire episode of Vocabu-Larry. There are more kiddy apps on my ipad than adult/useful/productive things. I will happily give my child BOTH of my phones and my husband’s in exchange for a meal that I can eat with both hands. My child knows how to navigate to the Wheels on the Bus app from my phone while sitting in my lap on airplanes. I now believe the screentime ban is a bit over-exaggerated.
- My house will not be overun with toys, I will maintain a modern and chic decor while raising an angelic child. Those magazines with homes that have the perfect number of magazines displayed on the glass-topped coffee table, the minimalist and bold color schemes accented by expensive vintage collectibles. That is what I want my house to look like. That will not change when I have a baby. Ahem. Read the puzzle floor. There is a piece of furniture in the living room to house all the toys. There’s an infant tub in my relaxing spa tub. The bottle drying rack complete with pumping flanges has just recently been moved from front and center on the kitchen counter. There’s pretty much baby crap in every room of my house.
- My child will adapt to the schedule I set forth for him. We have some dear friends that have two children now. I remember when their oldest was a toddler and we would make plans for brunch or dinner or something and we would get a text an hour before apoligizing because “he just went down for a nap, and we really have to let him sleep otherwise he will be horrible to take anywhere, we are so sorry.” My pre-pregnant self would think, how sucky that must be to have a two year running your life. I read more than a few books during my pregnancy and early in Ike’s infancy about E.A.S.Y. schedules and Baby-Wise-ing, and sleep training, and no-cry sleep training, etc etc. Babies need a schedule. Ike goes to bed at 8pm, unless we are out, or traveling, or he’s staying with his sister (or grandmother, or aunt). Ike usually takes one nap a day, mostly in the afternoon (which means some time after noon), unless we are running errands then he takes two cat naps in the car, or no naps at all. Look, I get why schedules are important, and I get why some parents need them to retain some order and sanity in their household, but I am apparently not that parent. Ike is a perfectly happy person, he is not overtired, he is not cranky (usually), he doesn’t need the constraints because we are making our non-schedule, schedule work.
- My child will eat what I put in front of him, I will not short order cook. Those parents, you know, that bargain and bribe with desserts and extra screen time for “three bites”. Those parents who ask “What do you want for dinner Timmy?” That child who gets grilled cheese and chicken nuggets while the rest of the family eats roasted leg of lamb and winter ratatouille. My child is offered what he is offered, we do not offer dessert, and he is too young to bargain with. This is probably the only reason I do not beg, bargain and bribe, it’s probably only a matter of time. I misjudged the amount of worry that is involved when a child does not seem to be getting the appropriate amounts of nutrition. I have fallen victim to the “just eat something!” trap a few times. I still struggle mightily with this one, but just having a child who will happily eat brussel sprouts and poached salmon is a pipe dream, and I see that now. Sometimes we have to compromise for the good of everyone.
- I will take away the bottles and pacifiers at one year, not exceptions or extensions. I will not have the five year old digging in my purse for a paci at the mall. I will not be the parent explaining to the preschool teacher that he still needs his bottle to take a nap. Ike still uses a pacifier (to go to sleep) and still has bottles pretty much as he did before his first birthday. We are working on both of these, but the deadlines are not as important anymore.
- My child will not throw tantrums. Ha. Ike does this bent over dragging of his arm thing when I pull him away from something he wants. He gripes and screams and everything. Tantrums are just beginning and I have no idea how to deal . Mothers of ‘spirited’ children, your advice is so welcome, I promise not to judge anymore.
- I will exclusively breastfeed my baby until we are both ready to wean/he will only eat organic foods all the time. I will stay off my soapbox. I have judged parents who include McDonald’s into the weekly routine. I have also judged parents who ask if every single ingredient in a restaurant dish is organic/locally sourced/no GMO. I have judged parents who nurse at the playground. And I have judged parents who mix a bottle of formula at the airport. Breastfeeding is hard. Feeding another person is hard in general. I am now in favor of, just doing what you can do and surviving. A McNugget will not kill him, a 6 piece McNugget every day might. Nonorganic milk is not going to send my toddler into puberty overnight, but we still buy the $5 half gallons for home. I made his baby food, and I do my best to cook well balanced, natural food meals at home, but sometimes we eat out, and sometimes he has a slice of pizza.
- My child will be on time with all of their infant and toddler and kid milestones or I will be a failure. Ike was late to roll over and crawl. He was early to walk. He was on time to talk. He was in the 25th percentile for weight at 2 weeks and in the 75th percentile at 6 months. He is happy and healthy and smart as all heck. We are doing just fine thank you.
- I will plan fun activities for my child every day, week, weekend, month. I consider a trip to the grocery store a perfectly acceptable activity. When it’s cold and gross outside (like the past two months), we are just fine to play in the house. I still want to be that mom that has an abundance of play dates, and is a regular at the art museum and children’s museum, and the zoo. I did not consider how much time and dedication these activities take and how little time is leftover after being a mother, wife, and full time worker. If I ever find that extra hour in the day I will be better at this so I can stop judging myself!
- My child will be the best ______ (basketball player, pianist, student, painter, etc). This is probably the most important lesson I have learned. I want Ike to do what makes him happy, within reason of course. If he wants to play basketball or baseball, great I will do my best to be at every single game. If he wants to play the flute, I will not miss a recital. If he wants to play World of Warcraft, or whatever fantasy role play game is currently hip, then I will do my best to at least understand the rules. If it makes him happy, I will try to support him.
The moral of the story is, that a child does in fact change things. Everything in fact. It changes the way you think, the way you see others, the general layout and order of your house. It changes. But it changes for the good. I am happily eating all of my judgy parenting words. I was a know-it-all asshole. The only judging I will be doing now is judging whether or not my son and family are happy and if we are doing all we can to stay that way. Nothing else and no one else matters.