At first I couldn’t say exactly what it was… but something bugged me when I read this.
Was it that the author wrote, “hear this well, parents” as though we were otherwise prone to sudden and uncontrollable illiteracy? Was it the way she slyly emphasized her superior perspective on another parent/child relationship when she wrote, “It took me less than two seconds of looking at the child to realize his mother had put him down on hot asphalt without shoes on” (italics mine, added for omniscient emphasis)? Sure. It was both of those things, and a host of other annoyingly superior jibes. But there was something else that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
The reason that I had such a hard time pinning down what it was exactly that got my hackles up is that I basically agree with the author’s points. I believe that kids model their behavior and worldview on the way we treat them. I am an advocate for thoughtful parenting – on playing the long game. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this perspective is right, and worth championing to others – that the world would be a better place if we all treated our kids with kindness and respect. But I bristled at the lack of solidarity and compassion for fellow parents here. How about a little grace? How about a little less perfection-or-perish rhetoric? How about some appreciation for context?
In striving to be “perfect” parents, have we abandoned empathy for our comrades – our fellow parents?
As I read this, I could easily picture myself as any one of the “bad parents” given as examples. Now, let me say right here and right now, just so you know that you’re in good hands – I’m a kick-ass mom. Seriously. Everyone in my life agrees that I’m pretty freaking awesome at raising my kid. For the record, I’m willing to bet that you are too. I’d put money on it, even. That would be a weird casino/horse track. I digress.
When I say I can imagine being in the “bad parents’” shoes, what I mean is that I can completely relate to being so maxed out and fed up that I might not notice that my baby’s feet were too hot on the pavement (especially not within the author’s tough-to-beat 2 second window). I have snapped at my daughter’s millionth (same) question after her 20th meltdown before 10am, saying something like “because that’s just what we’re doing right now, Ida! Quit it!” I’ve screamed “SHUT UP!” at Ida when she was an endlessly screaming baby. After a nightmarishly long day, after a grueling week of solo-parenting my growth-spurt-nurse-round-the-clock baby while my spouse was spending time with grown-ups in graduate school – I snapped.
And that’s the thing – what irritates me about this piece and it’s scary warning of the dire consequences for failure is a lack of context. It’s a long slog, this parenting gig. Should we talk to our kids kindly and realize that they cry for a reason? Absolutely. Should we feel like the world is crashing down if we miss the mark sometimes? Probably not. It’s never all one thing. In my experience, most of parenting takes place in a gray area – a place between my best most stellar patient, kind, and aware self, and my worst most worn-down and irritated.
I have no doubt that there are crumby parents out there – therapists everywhere agree that they most assuredly mess the bejesus out of their kids. I’m certainly not making a case for people who are jerks to their kids on the regular. My point is only that I’m not a crumby parent, and yet I completely identify with each of the “bad parents” who are presented as permanently damaging their children in this piece.
Bearing this in mind, I think we should cut our fellow parents some slack. We should extend some kindness. In my experience, a smile of solidarity does a lot more to turn my “bad parent” moments around than a look (or a rude comment) of judgment does. I know for damn sure it goes over better than patronizing advice. I’m bothered by the fact that this article paints parents who would EVER interact with their kids in less-than-great ways as people who probably ALWAYS do.
I’m not proud of my “bad parent” moments, but I am proud of the fact that I was able to extend some grace to myself, say “I’m sorry” to my daughter, and get back to life without feeling like I’d ruined everything forever. I’m proud of the way I used those opportunities to show Ida that I own up to my mistakes and I don’t let them destroy me – that making mistakes is a normal part of life – that this is what it is to be a person in the world. Ida is 2, and she knows when and how to say she’s sorry. She learned it from me.
Want to school me in the art of perfect parenting? Great! I’m all ears! So long as you frame it in a supportive, “I’m rooting for you – for us all” kind-of way. If there’s anything that makes me really skeptical of advice, it’s an indication that I desperately need it and that without it everything between my kid and me might be ruined forever. Because there are three things I know for absolute sure about being a mom: 1. It’s pretty hard and I don’t always get it right. 2. Tomorrow is a brand new day and a fresh chance to be a great parent to my favorite kid. 3. There just keep being tomorrows.