I feel like I need to start this with a disclaimer. I am not, nor would I ever claim to be, the best mother in the world. Like most parents, I sometimes feel like I’m stumbling around blindly, picking up bits and pieces of different parenting philosophies, just hoping I don’t fuck up my daughter too badly. In this world of oversharing and constant competition to be the Perfect Mommy, other parents frequently make me feel hideously inadequate, even when I disagree with their approach or know it wouldn’t work for my family.
Helicopter moms: I’ve run into a couple spectacular examples of helicoptering at the playground in the last week or so. Both moms adamantly refused to let their sons (who didn’t look much younger than my daughter, who just turned 3) go down the twisty slide at one playground or another, and one of them absolutely panicked when her son went down a smaller slide head-first (he was fine). Part of me is an evil bitch who was egging Lexie on to show the boys how it’s done, because she loves the really high slides and has been going down them for well over a year. While her daredevil ways make me nervous sometimes, I know that parents tend to be much more cautious with girls and I don’t want to hold her back and make a conscious effort not to baby her when it comes to physical activities. But at the same time, seeing the horror on people’s faces when she takes off across the top of the monkey bars 7-8′ in the air makes me wonder if maybe I do let her get away with too much.
Parents who ignore their kids: On the other end of the spectrum are the parents who dump their kids on the playground and then pay absolutely no attention to them. I’m usually torn between jealousy that they get to take a break because their kids don’t insist that they go down every slide with them, annoyance that they don’t notice that their kids are being little brats, and feeling insecure because I should be able to look away for a couple minutes without my kid wandering off (which she totally will). I feel like the other parents are gonna think I’m helicoptering and judge me for it, or they’ll think I’m weird for having just as much fun at the bouncy castle place.
Strict disciplinarians: These parents have their kids on such a tight rein that they never seem to have any fun, or brag on Facebook about doling out spankings to all their kids when something got broken and the guilty party wouldn’t ‘fess up. I’ve definitely seen the stink-eye coming from these parents because my 3-year-old acts like a 3-year-old, if a little wilder than people usually expect girls to act. While I sometimes feel bad for the kids, I do envy that they actually follow instructions and wonder where the hell I went wrong.
Overly permissive parents: Then there are the parents whose kids get away with everything. Lexie’s bff from gymnastics is another little wild child, but his mom doesn’t even try to make him calm down. The teacher joked about putting him in time-out a couple weeks ago (and she’ll do it, ask me how I know), and his mom chirped that he’s never been given a time-out. The look on the teacher’s face was priceless, and I’m sure my expression wasn’t much better. While I’m definitely glad that my kid isn’t completely out of control and up until 3 in the morning all the time like hers is because they don’t impose any damn rules, I start feeling like the mean mom when we have playdates for the kids and I try to get both of them to behave.
Rich parents: Even though I know money can’t buy kids’ love, damn do my wealthy friends make me feel inadequate sometimes. One of my college friends just posted pictures of her daughters’ Easter baskets; adorable personalized pails that she paid nearly $30 for on Etsy, and absolutely overflowing with presents. Meanwhile, I got a $3 or $4 dollar basket at Christmas Tree Shops and filled it with stuff from there and the Target dollar section and barely spent $25 for the whole shebang. Other friends post pictures of their kids’ playrooms full of every toy imaginable, and I start feeling like Lexie is deprived and missing out on so much fun, even though she’s perfectly happy with what she has.
Minimalists: And yet other parents who go the minimalist route (either by choice or necessity) can still make me feel like shit for spoiling Lexie. I mean, she has so many books I had to make her her own GoodReads account just to keep track of them. Her favorite “toys” are my iPad and iPhone. It’s ridiculous how many different apps she has to play with, though nearly all of them were free. Spoiled. Rotten.
Posh moms: Largely overlapping with the rich parents are the ones who always look immaculate, even at the playground. How in the world do they have time to do full hair and makeup every morning when I can barely manage a shower every other day? Do they actually have children who don’t wake up at the asscrack of dawn, so they aren’t constantly stumbling around in a haze of exhaustion? What have I done wrong?? Not that I dressed any nicer or wore makeup even before Lexie came along, but their perfection mocks me. Their kids are usually dressed in designer duds as well, while my poor kiddo is stuck in whatever was on sale at Target or Kohls or Children’s Place because it’s not gonna fit in a few months anyway.
Crunchy granola types: I can actually get on board with a lot of this philosophy, but can’t be arsed to take it so seriously. I breastfed for a year, but literally the day she turned one I started her on the cow’s milk and had her off the tit within a couple weeks because I was DONE. Babywearing is a great idea in theory, but Lexie hated the sling I got, the front carrier absolutely killed my back, and there was a limit to how much money I was gonna waste trying different options when she was perfectly happy in the stroller. I made my own baby food for a while, but damned if the jars weren’t easier. I lived in a co-op building with 80+ apartments sharing five washers, so cloth diapering wasn’t a viable option. But even though I have perfectly valid reasons for not throwing myself wholeheartedly into this lifestyle, I still get defensive because I feel like maybe I should have made more of an effort.
Over-schedulers: I’m exhausted just listening to all the activities some of my friends do with their kids. At first it was Gymboree, baby yoga, baby music classes, storytime at the library, excursions to the zoo; an unending litany of classes and activities to make their kids The Best Babies They Can Be. Now Lexie’s bff and his mom are constantly inviting us to go to this animal park or that children’s museum, something different every day and almost all involving a drive of an hour or more. Part of me admires her energy, but mostly I just want to curl up in a ball and cry at the thought of that much stimulation. I feel bad keeping our playdates to once a week or so because the kids have so much fun, but I don’t have the energy to be “on” that much. I don’t want Lexie to miss out on stuff, and I feel like I’m holding her back.
Working moms: Not only am I jealous that these moms actually get to get out of the house and have adult conversations that don’t involve diapers, I worry that I’m not setting a good example for Lexie by not working. I know that staying at home versus working has no impact on how good a parent (or feminist) I am, but I don’t want her to grow up thinking it’s the only option. I also think she’d benefit from being around other kids in day care or preschool, but it’s hard to justify the cost right now.
Smug old people: Oh, lord, can the older generation drive me up the wall with the “Back in my day…” advice. Some of it’s easy to ignore, like how they survived just fine without car seats and bike helmets. But some of it really gets under my skin, like when my neighbor asked me last weekend, “Don’t you know anything about kids?” when I mentioned that it’s a pain to talk a walk with Lexie because she decides halfway through that she needs to be carried the rest of the way. Of course it occurred to me to say no and walk away, but when she’s screaming her bloody head off and grabbing my leg, sometimes I give in and pick her up for the sake of not giving the entire neighborhood a headache. If that makes me a bad mom, I guess I’ll just have to live with it.
Anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists: Actually, this is the one group that makes me feel absolutely confident in my parenting. Of course this doesn’t include people whose kids are allergic to the shots or immuno-compromised, just the Jenny McCarthy acolytes who wouldn’t recognize scientific reasoning if it slapped them in the face. They can fuck right off.