I like writing about happy things, like sugar and clean babies. I think we get enough messiness elsewhere in our lives. However, now that I am part of the “mom crowd”, I am privy to more conversations involving the raising of small humans and I hear a trend that bothers me: mothers (and fathers, I suppose), who are compelled to defend their mothering. Constantly. “I let my baby _____, BUT only because ______.” or “Don’t report me BUT______” As in, “I let my baby sleep with us but only because it’s the only way he’ll sleep and it’s not every night.” or “Don’t report me but I let my baby sleep on his stomach.” As if parenting itself wasn’t hard enough, parents now have to fend off nasty looks and comments regarding their choices. There is a constant babble of “feed your baby organic food”, “keep your house at 72.3 degrees”, “swaddle your baby”, do, don’t do, don’t, etc… And then comes the backlash for whichever option you chose. I blame social media, in part. We live our lives so publicly, that we open ourselves up to criticism, both good and bad. By throwing ourselves under the microscope, we are asking for it and indeed, looking for it. Our selfish culture needs to hear we’re doing a good job. We think we’re that important that the world should know everything. I am just as guilty – I share parts of my family life with anyone who cares to click a button on the computer. Somehow, we share our lives with the world but expect no criticism. That’s unrealistic, however, it’s a hard challenge to navigate. In talking about some of the choices we have made for our child and family, I have been told that I belong in jail, I am a detriment to my children, my child will never fit in society, etc. Some people can be down right vicious. Which means that I’ve started defending my parenting in public, too, out of fear that others will consider me a bad mother. For example, “I stopped breastfeeding at four months but only because he didn’t like it and my work schedule didn’t allow for it at the time.” I hate saying that. I hate defending my parenting. I hate feeling compelled to tell everyone how I’m not a terrible parent. I could just keep my mouth shut but I also hate not being able to talk about baby stuff since it’s the biggest thing I have going on. With the bad comes the good, I suppose. It’s nice to have forums to talk about issues and ask questions of others who have been there before. After my child, who routinely soaks through diapers, woke up in the morning with a dry one, I worried and googled and found this was normal. So, helpful in that case. I vaccinate my child and said so to another mother and was told (by someone else) that I am destroying my child’s future. So, not helpful in that case. Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I’m not a bad mother. I’m a (mostly) great mother. I love and care for my family with the ferocity of a honey badger. Do I know everything? Definitely not. Do I do everything perfectly? Not even close. But that’s okay. Considering I’ve been a parent for all of 8 months, I’m sure I’ll look back on some of the things we did or said and think, “good grief, how did we make it through that?”. But the truth is, we will. You do what you know to do and when you know better, you do better.
As a parent, you are not just raising a child – you are raising a family. Making decisions that are best for your family might not be the “en vogue” thing for children. And that’s okay. What’s not okay is that a self-centered generation is raising another self-centered generation. The focus is so much on creating a child-centered world (because of our own selfishness, I’m convinced) that we will see a generation incapable of not getting their way or having the world cater to them and who don’t appreciate the value of hard work. Frankly, I’m scared of the world my child is entering. Not only because of the children with whom he will be sharing it, but more because of their parents who are too selfish to make the tough choices for their children. No one ever said parenting would be easy. In fact, we were told, it will be very, very hard. There are no loopholes. And yet, my generation looks for them. Say, for example, Sally jumped out of a swing and broke her arm. Suddenly, because the parent doesn’t want to explain about consequences or simply not being stupid or about how kids sometimes break stuff or about taking responsibility, it’s the swing’s fault and the school gets sued. Timmy got his feelings hurt. Well now, that can’t happen because Timmy was always told he was so special and can do no wrong (read: Timmy is spoiled). So now Timmy’s world is destroyed and it’s the other child’s fault. Don’t get me wrong, I do not condone bullying and would love to live in a world full of unicorns and rainbows and where everyone is nice to each other but that’s just not the case. Kids (and grown-ups) are sometimes mean and we are doing a disservice to our children if we don’t teach them how to cope with that. What happens when Timmy continues to always get his way and his first boss fires him? How will he handle that? These kids who have been repeatedly told they are special become entitled adults. Is my child precious and valuable? Absolutely. Is he unique and smart and capable? By all means. But I resist buying into the “everyone gets a trophy because everyone is special” philosophy. That breeds entitlement and devalues hard work, in my opinion. It is because I love my child that I want him to be a child and then grow into a competent adult. I do not want to have a small adult that grows into a child, which is how our society seems to be turning. I could write a doctoral thesis about that, but I think you get the point.
I pray, and I pray hard, that my child will have a firm grasp on his place in our family, and the world, and that our family would be one rooted in Christ. (I pray for a lot of other stuff, too, but that’s pretty much the gist of it.) And I love my child fiercely. That is the best I can do. And when I know better, I’ll do better.
So, dear parents, especially young mothers like myself, stop apologizing. Don’t fear criticism. It will happen, but it is not important. Except maybe if you’re letting your 4-year-old light your cigarette (I’ve seen it). Then, you should probably take a hard look at your parenting. But pretty much everyone else, you’re doing okay. Love your child. Make the tough choices. Don’t be selfish. Consider his future and what kind of adult you are making. Do your best. And when you know better, do better.