WHAT THE PARENTING BOOKS DON'T TELL YOU: You Are Your Harshest Critic

All those other parents out there? They are way too busy internalizing all this stuff and thinking that THEY are the bad parent to really think that YOU are the bad parent.

Aug 27, 2013 at 10:00am | Leave a comment

Sometimes I read some not-nice things about myself on the Internet. I mean, that is part of the unspoken contract of being a writer in the ether: someone, somewhere, is going to think I’m a shitty person.
 
Am I a shitty person? I don’t think I am. If you ask people who know me in real life, they will probably say that I am, in general, a nice person. I try to treat others how I would want to be treated. I don’t litter. I say "please" and "thank you." I'm nice to customer service people even when I have to call my cable provider because they double-billed me in a month (true story).
 
Just like everyone else, I am doing my best. The things I write here on xoJane are just a tiny sliver of thoughts I may have, and some of those thoughts are just typed up in passing. Without getting too inside baseball, let’s just say that my writing here is often very narrowly focused on one aspect of what I may feel about a more complex subject. 
 
Do I sometimes say things, either out loud or on the Internet, and then eventually change my mind about those things? Absolutely (which is why I would make the world’s worst politician). Sometimes it takes me years to come to a concrete conclusion about something (which is why I never joined the debate team).
 
One thing I am sure about is I am a caring person, and as much as I perhaps overshare about my insecurities as they relate to my role in life as a mom, let it be known: I am a damn good mom.
 
In fact, I am a fucking great mom. 
 
Now some of you may disagree with this self-assessment, based on some of my articles here. But then again, none of you are my child. 
 
And really, why do the words of anyone but my own child matter to me? Isn’t his opinion the one that counts? 
 
In theory, yes, Oliver’s opinion of me is the only one I truly care about. In reality, I internalize all those criticisms floating around out there -- I’m a bad mom if I work full time, I’m a bad mom if I don’t work full time. I’m a bad mom if I don’t discipline my child, I’m a bad mom if I do discipline my child. I’m a bad mom if I let my son eat junk food, I’m a bad mom if I don't let my son eat junk food.
 
I just cannot win against myself. So why am I fighting so hard?
 
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If I let Oliver skate, I'm a bad mom: skateboarding is dangerous. If I don't let Oliver skate, I'm also a bad mom: I'm limiting his autonomy and modes of self-expression. Right?

 
As a new parent, oh those many years ago, I spent a whole lot of time worrying about whether I was doing things the way I “should.” Was I breastfeeding? Was I making all my own baby food from scratch and then freezing it in individual portions for use throughout the week? (Number of times I made my own baby food and froze it: one.) 
 
Not that there is anything wrong with those things -- they are great! But I had to choose what did work for me (breastfeeding) and leave behind the rest (homemade baby food).
 
AND THEN there was the debate over cry-it-out vs. attachment parenting, or whatever it was being called in ye olde 2005. I decided early on that I definitely was not equipped to be one of those “cry-it-out” parents, but I also did not want to wear Oliver ON me at all times. (For one thing, I am only five feet, four inches tall, and Oliver was a loooong baby, so wearing one of those baby slings was tough for me, and also I was already holding him most of the day and a gal needs a potty break now and then, right?)
 
Not knowing which way was the right way, I split the difference and sat with Oliver while he fell asleep every night, until he was about five years old. Yes, five. 
 
Even now when I share this tidbit of information with someone, they look at me as if I just said I murder puppies. 
 
“That sounds like a terrible idea!” they warn, never mind the fact that Oliver is eight years old now -- and guess what?  I no longer sit in his room for an hour every night until he drifts off to dreamland. And besides, sitting by my non-sleeping child wasn’t so bad, you know? I survived! It may not have been ideal (let’s face it, in an ideal world babies poop roses and money, go to bed like clockwork every night, and never cry), but it was the best available option for putting my son to bed for the first five years of his life.
 
That’s when I realized that people get kind of weird when you tell them that you did something other than what they did as a parent. As if you doing things in another way is an indictment of their parenting skills.
 
That was my big Oprah “aha!” moment. All those other parents out there? They are way too busy internalizing all this stuff and thinking that THEY are the shitty parent to really think that YOU are the shitty parent.
 
If you do feel like you’re doing everything wrong -- and I think we all feel that way, sometimes --  it’s maybe your own internalized feedback loop of, I don’t know, advice from distant relatives and total strangers on the Internet. Let’s face it -- the Internet has added a whole new layer to the art of self-loathing.
 
But in reality, no one is judging us except our own damn selves.
 
Will others have opinions about how we are doing things as parents? Of course. Need those opinions have any bearing on our lives? No.
 
This is not to discount, of course, the conflicting messages that we, as mothers, and as women in general, hear all the time. It sometimes seems as if there is nothing we can ever do that is right. But maybe we can at least fight it in ourselves, one measly little thought at a time. 
 
I’ll start: NO, I am not a bad mom because I work full time. YES, I am a good mom because I let my kid skateboard even though I think it is a really dangerous sport but it makes him super happy and I’m proud of him. YES, I am a good mom even though sometimes I enjoy being a part-time parent. NO, being a good mom does not mean I am perfect at all times.  And most importantly, YES, there is no perfect.
 
Want to join my “fuck it” mom army? Answer these two questions:
 
  1. Do you love your child?
  2. Does your child love you? (Don’t answer that one if said child is between the ages of 11 and 17.)
 
Somer is on Twitter: @somersherwood.