Judging: Parents Are Hard on Each Other … and Themselves

“You don’t even know.”

I often look at parents-to-be and think that to myself.

Because, frankly, I didn’t even know how dramatically life would change with kids….

How I would lie awake at night thinking about all the things I needed to do to keep my kids safe and alive … and pay for things like daycare, college and weddings….

How “free time” was no longer about leisurely reading books or shopping with friends, but running around my house frantically like a mad woman on a Saturday afternoon cleaning, filling out school and extracurricular activity forms, catching up on party RSVP’s, fixing snacks, toys and boo-boos….

How much time I would spend worrying if I was “doing it right,” guiltily comparing myself to my stay-at-home friends who seemed to enjoy their constant time with their kids, while feeding them homemade, organic food … or smugly comparing myself to my friends who plopped their toddlers in front of the television with a bag of cookies for three hours a day.

This comparing myself to others and stressing about parenting can be a poisonous path to travel.

Earlier this month, a blogger wrote a column in the Huffington Post apologizing to the parents she judged before having children and acknowledging all the “judge-worthy” things she does with her children: television(!), disposable diapers(!).

Then, she smartly writes to all parents: “Stop comparing ourselves to each other because it’s hard for all of us, and we’re just doing what we can to get by, get through the day and give our children the best we can.”

And she’s right, but it can be hard … especially when study after study talks about all the ways parents are failing their children. A recent one written up in the Washington Post compares American parents to their French counterparts, who are “calmer” and “more confident.” The article does note, however, that the French, unlike the U.S., have state-subsidized child care … which I’m sure eliminates a lot of the stress hard-working parents have over earning a living and finding someone to watch over their little ones.

Speaking of which, the article did throw working parents a bone: “American mothers who work outside the home — and that’s three-fourths of all moms, many of whom work full-time — spend more time with their children today than stay-at-home mothers did in the 1960s.”

The article adds: “They do so by forgoing sleep, personal care, housework and any shred of personal leisure. Their ‘free time’ is largely spent with their kids.” This, of course, gives me and all working, guilt-ridden parents the opportunity to pretend this makes us “better” parents than the stay-at-home ones. But that would be inaccurate and judge-y.

So, the whole point is that, no matter what the articles, studies or even our friends and family members say, no parent is perfect (especially in the eyes of another). All we can do is our best: read the articles, listen to the pediatrician and access educational and resourceful information to make the best, informed choices we can.

And don’t beat ourselves up if we toss the cranky kid in the shopping cart the iPhone.

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