New motherhood is my life. As an Obstetrician, I see mothers and fathers in their first dear-in-headlights moments of parenthood. Worrying about your children is every parent’s right and it starts in the womb. Am I eating enough? Am I drinking enough? Am I reaching too high? Am I bending too low? Will the baby be healthy?
This list can go on and on and on. Then, BIRTH. Now this mystic being who has been inside of you for 9 months is outside and subject to YOU. The worry shifts to questions like is the baby warm enough, fed enough, swaddled well enough, dry enough (diaper), sleeping too long, not sleeping long enough, gaining enough weight etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Am I a good enough mom?
Fast forward to now being a mother of three with two energetic sons and a toddler daughter. I’m physically and mentally worn down by work and life, but constantly feeling the pressure to be a better mother. I am charged with taking them to places and having them in activities and it can be challenging. Add onto that the peer pressure created when talking to other parents with similar, or very different lifestyles. A keeping-up-with-the-Jones phenomenon arises. Oh, and let’s not forget that your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, play cousins, siblings and friends can easily and readily donate their opinion about what you SHOULD be doing with your children and how they should be behaving.
So how do you answer the question, “Am I a good parent?”
How do you deal with the guilt of feeling like you are not doing the best job of parenting? What do you say to that Kindergartener who wants to know why YOU don’t go to every field trip at school when Bertha’s mom is always there? (Sidebar: I don’t know any children named Bertha. This is a fictional child used solely to support my point. If you know a kid named Bertha, this is not about her. And I am reading Tiffany Haddish book, The Last Black Unicorn, where an adult Bertha is mentioned.)
How I choose to deal with and answer this question of whether or not I am a good parent is to declare that I am and to dare myself to challenge this declaration. No, it is not because I am just that solid at parenting. It is because I think that the bar has changed and we cannot compare ourselves to the parenting of yesteryear. I also think that I, with three crumb snatchers, should have different benchmarks than someone with one. I should get a 7-minute grace period for each kid I have above one when trying to get my kids to school on time. No? Well, it was worth a try. No matter how many kids you have, we need to compare some very important differences from parenting in the past.
Let’s level the playing field. Parenting has changed.
When we were kids, many of us had street light childhoods. After school or on the weekend, you did homework but then you were able to play in the neighborhood for hours. My husband, Ed, always talks about playing, exploring and just being free until the street lights came on. These days my kids can’t be out of my eyesight or earshot outside. I don’t even consider myself a helicopter parent, but this world today won’t allow my children that level of freedom. People in this world are just too unpredictable. Maybe I feel this more because I live in a major metropolitan city, but too much freedom is not safe.
What that translates into is the need for me to take them places or be with them. I take them to the park. I take them to the indoor pool. I take them to practically, no, not practically, actually EVERYTHING THAT THEY DO outside of school. I take them to school too but at least if they have after-school activities, I don’t have to take them. Now, juxtaposing my life next to that of my parents when we were growing up, I now have my own grown-up life to live, and I need to be an accessory to every aspect of their childhood. I’m not complaining about that. I am grateful to be able to be that kind of mother for them. But I do allow myself to give MYSELF a break when I am tired and don’t take them to every place that they want to go every time they want to go there.
I also don’t feel bad that my oldest son loves and plays video games like Minecraft for hours because, as my husband recently pointed out, that is their safe space for creativity. They can’t run around the actual neighborhood, so instead, they run around the virtual neighborhood. As long as they still get their homework done and some physical activity, I think we have to give a little on the creative screen time.
Fact: Kids are spoiled.
Kids these days are spoiled, but, then, so were we. We wanted the latest this and the brand name that. My parents had no qualms about denying me my many requests. That “No” came swiftly and unapologetically. I think I just care too much. It’s not that I give them everything that they ask for, but I do sometimes feel guilty for saying no. I feel guilty and sometimes end up bending when I shouldn’t. I may need to start giving “no fudges” about my kids’ many requests for every toy, every game system and every vacation on every commercial that they see. I need to dole out guilt-free “No’s” old school style.
Communication has changed between children and adults.
My parents, then and now, would give me, and now my kids a judgemental and stern “you better come in here right now and clean up this mess.” My kids think that grandma is mean when she says that. They are used to hearing their teachers, and I, practically sing “okay children, let’s clean up.” Hell, Barney started this mess. “Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere…” or something like that. This is the moment our children stopped respecting us.
Okay, I’m just kidding about that one, but my point is that times have changed. Parenting is much more delicate these days. Because of that, every now and then when my kids lose their home training and don’t acknowledge my first request, I surprise them with an attention-getting “NOW!” or an “If I say it again, no more (insert something they care for deeply) for the rest of the day.” They know I have just a touch of crazy in me and that I am not playing. They straighten right up. This is how I choose to pay homage to the parenting of yesteryear. I’m not trying to raise disobedient a-hole children who don’t understand consequences. Check out another post I wrote about tactics I use to ensure that I raise obedient children. I use my words wisely.
Still, I unpack their childlike misbehavior with conversations rather than just punishments. I’m hip. I’m current (even though I just said “I’m” hip.) It is important for them to understand reasons for behaving in a manner that is cordial, considerate and socially acceptable. I want them to be able to explain reasons why they say or do things so that I can foster appropriate decision making in the future.
At the end of the day, we need to modify our expectations.
One of the books I am writing right now is called, Just Keep Them Alive. The book will be narrative of personal stories and advice for parenting, but the point stands. At the end of the day, we start with the basics and build on those. Keep them alive and safe. Then we can make sure they have a “balanced diet” AND sports skills AND the education you hope for AND the cultural exposure AND the languages etc. All of those ANDs can wear you down as a parent. Especially if Mrs. Jones’s (another fictional character) kids are in Jiu Jitsu and Tennis and Swim Team and Kumon and just got back from Disney AND Universal Studios and Spain, because they speak fluent Spanish.
Fudge you Mrs. Jones.
I’m doing the best that I can and you, nor my parents, nor my own children will shame me. My kids are going to be just fine. They’re alive, aren’t they?
Follow me here and on my @dreverywoman Instagram Page for more from this momma who gives ZERO Fudges. I originally posted this on SassyPlum.com. Those women are amazing mothers and writers. I am just happy to be in that number.