Say It With Me: “Yes, I’m A Bad Mother.” And Stop Adjusting Your Parenting Dial for Others
After the birth of my first child, my now 34-month-old daughter, I found myself adjusting my parent control settings for other people. Combing my daughter’s hair for this person. Adding an extra layer of clothing for that one. Demanding she parrot back “please” and “thank you”. Because Ms. Sylvie is here and she is big on manners. (Never mind that my daughter is huffing out a mechanical “thank you” in a tone devoid of any true thankfulness.) Some people like Discipline settings on extra high while others never touch the dial.
So parenting has just felt like a series of mechanical motions, always twisting the knob for others. Whatever it takes to keep the littles alive, and minimize the “Why would you ever do that?” musings of others.
I of course wasn’t aware of this inconsistency. This realization has come in fits over the past couple of years. It’s easy to wind up here. As a new parent, you take your cues from others. You haven’t yet established all of your own parental values and limits.
I’m still figuring it out. I’m discovering what my core parenting values are. They are often inconsistent with my own. (Rules around eating chocolate cake are just different for moms.) But ultimately it’s a matter of having confidence in my decisions as a mother, society be damned.
Last month, my 8-month-old son ate a chunk of my chocolate flavored birthday cake. No waiting for his 1-year smash cake. At the time, I was fully aware how awful processed sugar is for a baby. But what is parenting if a series or mortal sins?
As I as write this, I’m watching his sister playing on her 7-foot, blow-up waterslide in the backyard. She’ll be in shortly to don an overly-elaborate frock and eat, in style, unsanctioned Play-Doh. She has a collection that could rival Princess Charlotte, while her brother spends his life in a shocking state of sock-less-ness. I do not put socks on my non-walking babe at home or when we go out in public. Both kids cheerfully play with clean but dingy looking toys from the Goodwill and they go a shocking number of days without bathing. (Think of a number that’s way too many for you, now double it.) Also, they love screen-time. (Think of an amount of TV that’s way too much, now triple it.)
I could apologize for giving my baby chocolate cake and politely fib that a smudge fell on his tray. I could apologize for the water slide and trousseau and non-bathing and excessive TV-watching. I know it’s a bit much, um, but I’m overwhelmed, and um, it’s been 16 long months of Covid.
But I refuse to apologize here for any wrongdoing because I’m not sorry and I haven’t done anything wrong. I parent like this because I am “weird” beyond redemption, not to mention extravagant, ignorant, less caring, inattentive, and I don’t want my children to go to Harvard. (Have I missed anything? I am actually sorry about that.)
I am a cheerfully, self-avowed “bad mother” who actually “does know better” and just doesn’t care. Or rather, I’ve decided not to care. When you publicly own and embrace all of your “wrong” choices, you strip the judger of their power.
What I do know is that my children are reasonably happy and reasonably well-behaved most of the time. And one hundred percent loved all of the time. I am not going to give them more or less of anything to make someone else feel better or judge less. The latter is impossible: Nothing I can do will provide immunity from judgment.
All of this means I’ve liberated myself to give my daughter the birthday party I want to give her next month. While I think a mariachi band or petting zoo might be too much — never mind the fact we’re just not rolling in Petting Zoo money — she is getting the Peppa Pig themed cake I want her to have. I was going to buy her an inoffensive buttercream sheet cake from Costco. But I’ll be damned if I buy her the cake I don’t want to better fit someone else’s version of what a toddler’s birthday party should be.
And yes. That jumbo, inflatable waterslide pool will be up. That slide looks every bit as loud, brassy, and garish as it sounds. And it is easily the classiest decision I’ve made all yearlong.