Hell is Other Parents

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.

small child on top of monkey bars with unknown woman watching her from below
Lexie high in the sky; I have no idea who's hovering under her. (I usually stay a bit closer; Husband took this one when I wasn't with them.)

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.

By [E] Hillary

Hillary is a giant nerd and former Mathlete. She once read large swaths of "Why Evolution is True" and a geology book aloud to her infant daughter, in the hopes of a) instilling a love of science in her from a very young age and b) boring her to sleep. After escaping the wilds of Waco, Texas and spending the next decade in NYC, she currently lives in upstate New York, where she misses being able to get decent pizza and Chinese takeout delivered to her house. She lost on Jeopardy.

25 replies on “Hell is Other Parents”

Oh, I’ve submitted many of my friends to that blog! Unfortunately I just had to unfollow them because of a big fat-shaming article they posted on facebook, followed with another post on how much they love TracIE and think she’s hilarious. It kinda ruined the fun for me.

As a child who phoned my mother from my friend’s phone (having excused myself to the bathroom and snuck into their parent’s bedroom) at the age of seven, and said “I’d like to be alone now, if you wouldn’t mind coming to pick me up” – there can be too much stimulation.

There’s one type of parent I can’t stand, and only one – the type who believe there is a perfect way for children to be. I don’t consider myself that great a person overall, but I am sure as hell glad my mum recognised that I loved to be alone and left me to do it quite merrily. As long as you don’t treat your children’s (possibly not very normal) personalities as being inherently deficient, I think you’re doing pretty well.

Hear hear with that! I had an excruciating time trying to make friends as a child because I couldn’t relate with kids my own age, couldn’t stand kids younger than me, and older kids usually just dismissed me because I was younger than them.

Not to mention I was bullied a lot during my brief public school stint (before I was homeschooled) and constantly felt out of place and “weird.”

But rather than trying to soothe my insecurities and allow me to find my own way, my mom thought I was some crazy socially-deficient child who didn’t care what others thought about me. I’d bet you that only made my issues worse.

Thankfully I don’t feel like I have those issues anymore, but making friends is still not easy (despite the fact that I’m usually rather well-liked), and I still can only take so much social stimulation before I want to hide from the world!


I hate parents who try to mold their kids into something they aren’t. I have some of those in my extended family, and they make me so sad for the kids. And oh, god, overstimulation – I was going to respond to everyone’s comments yesterday but a playdate with her bff turned into having to do every single fun activity in an entire town, and we were out for EIGHT hours. And since we just took her car and she was pretty oblivious to any suggestion that maybe my kid might need dinner at some point, I was trapped.

And the amazing part is that all this crap starts happening before the baby even GETS here. I was only able to breastfeed both of my kids for 6 weeks for several reasons: no support (my ex would even say “can’t you just go do that in the bathroom?”), my office made it as hard to pump as they could, and my body just isn’t good at it. They weren’t thriving very well, and once I got them onto formula, they started doing much, much better. I made the mistake of talking about this on iVillage, and dear GOD, the flame war that ensued…

My personal faves are the parents whose children just cannot do any wrong. I was a preschool teacher once, and there was a kid who loved to push my buttons. One day, little angelic-looking Michael looked up at me and said “You’re a stupid fat bitch slut”. (He had the words, just not the grammar.) When his mother came to get him, I had a talk with her and the center director. Her response? “But my Michael would NEVER do that!” She tried to get me fired for lying – even though that language regularly came out of his dad’s mouth, so we KNEW where it came from. Michael’s about fourteen now, and he probably terrorized whole schools while Mommy insisted that her angel would never do that.

Also, the parents who insist that everything be changed to fit the fact that they have a baby now. “Your five-star restaurant isn’t baby-friendly enough!” “Yes, I know this is a $200-a-plate place, but what do you mean the chef can’t make my kid chicken nuggets? It’s all she eats.” Some of DH’s coworkers came by unexpectedly with a baby that’d just started to crawl, and the mother went “You might want to babyproof your house in case we decide we want to stop by again.” ….Do what, now?

Or the parents who rush their children to A&E when they ‘overdose’ on homeopathic ‘medicine’, then praise homeopathy for being ‘totally safe and side-effect free!’ when the child is fine.

Congratulations, your child is very mildly more hydrated than she was before.

My husband bought homeopathic teething tablets for Lexie one time and I just about killed him. And then I couldn’t even return them to the store because he opened it and gave her one behind my back, and of course claimed it worked because she fell asleep. No, jackass, I gave her Tylenol. One of the ingredients was belladonna, which would be freaking poisonous if, you know, they actually included any active ingredients. Yes, I’m still annoyed two and a half years after the fact.

I’ve been biting my tongue in a thread in a rad-fem space yesterday/today over this very topic, actually. Look, mainstream western medicine has suffered from patriarchal bias as much as any other field, no shit. I can respect the desire to reclaim “natural” approaches to child-birth and breast-feeding. You wanna get all crunchy, have at! You wanna deny the scientific method itself? Bitch, please – I just put you in the same category as young-earth creationists.


So. Thank you, Persephoneers, for being you.

Oh, totally. I’m a big fan of ‘intervene only when required’ which is why I respect intervention-free approaches to women’s health, particularly when it comes to pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding, where the control, or standard, approach is mostly intervention-full. That’s an ethical and research issue, but not an issue with the scientific method itself. But don’t claim that homeopathy works “on a subtle vibrational level impervious to science” or whatever bullshit, because I’ll laugh at you and then offer you some homeopathic beer.

All of this makes me both excited and terrified to be a parent. Parenthood is still a couple of years away for me, but I don’t tolerate sanctimonious bullshit at all, and I can’t imagine doing it when I’m exhausted and covered in baby puke. SO, Hillary – what is a nice way of telling another parent to fuck off? Or a way of saying, “By virtue of the fact that I never want to be a holier-than-thou buttwad like you, why in hell do you think I’d take your advice about anything?” without, you know, offending?

Lots of smiling and nodding. Like Lawyermama said, “Oh, thanks for the suggestion” or “Hmm, I’ll have to think about that.” Mostly that’ll shut them up for a bit. Or pretend you already tried it and it didn’t work. Or if it’s just somebody random, tell them to fuck off. There was one much older mom at my apartment complex who bitched me out for only having Lexie in two layers when it was in the 60s outside and she was napping in the stroller. The next day it was well into the 70s; I was wearing a short sleeve shirt and she had her poor kid in a winter coat with the hood pulled up. Some people just need to STFU.

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