Sometimes it feels like guilt is hardwired into motherhood. From the moment we bring our babies home, every tiny choice feels momentous, from whether or not to use a pacifier to what type of laundry detergent to buy. We beat ourselves up over everything, and it’s compounded by the fact that the world around us chimes in constantly, judging and debating the minutiae of how we raise our children.
The truth is there are only a handful of wrong ways to raise a kid. As long as you show up, feed, clothe, and love them, you’re likely doing just fine. The problem is that “good parenting” contains an infinitesimal amount of variations and nuance.
So, let’s give ourselves and the mothers around us a break. Let’s stop the shame and the judgment and the opinions. Mom guilt is inevitable, but we can at least start small, with these six things we really don’t need to feel bad about ever again.
1. Screen time
It goes without saying that there need to be limits on a child’s screen time. There also need to be limits on the type of content a kid is allowed to watch. Maybe don’t let your 2-year-old binge The Walking Dead. But a little Peppa Pig or Daniel Tiger is not going to rot your toddler’s brain. Television has been around for a while. We all grew up watching cartoons. Our parents grew up watching cartoons, despite their stories of walking uphill both ways in the snow every Saturday to the factory or field. You have to go back really, really far to find a generation that did not watch TV in childhood. And you know what? That generation caused two world wars.
TV has been around and commonplace for a while, and society has not yet collapsed. Any parent who has spent a significant amount of time at home with a small child knows that sometimes the key to sanity and survival is a 30-minute episode of Sesame Street. Let’s just toss the guilt we feel over this out the window. Your kids will be okay. Plus, Elmo literally could make them smarter.
2. Store bought baby food
The idea that you should steam, puree, and freeze your own baby food may be the world’s biggest scam perpetrated on modern parents. And we all either do it, attempt to do it, or feel like we should do it. And after all the time and effort and piles of steamed beets, the end result is that most babies spit out every bite with passionate disgust. Luckily there is a wonderful invention that saves time, money, and hassle. It’s called store bought baby food, and it even comes in organic versions. It is amazing how parents make things harder for themselves for literally no reason at all. You don’t need to feel bad about feeding your kid out of a jar. They will literally spend half their childhood licking foreign objects in public places.
You know what hurts? Labor. You know what makes labor easier? An epidural. So, if you want one, fine. If you don’t want one, fine. It is literally that simple.
Yet we’ve complicated it and turned it into this huge debate and hand-wringing moral conundrum, to the point where women feel guilty if they get one, like they’ve lost some kind of competition. Women don’t need to suffer to prove themselves. If you want unmedicated childbirth, and it’s important to you, you do freaking you. Same goes for if you want one. And if you do choose an epidural, please don’t feel the need to cover it up like it’s some shameful secret. That’s like someone who had their appendix removed being embarrassed to admit they received anesthesia. What goes in and out of your body during labor needs to be #1 on the list of judgment-free life moments.
4. Postpartum painkillers
In the same vein as epidurals, moms also need to stop feeling guilty if they need something stronger than ibuprofen for postpartum pain control. The period immediately after childbirth hurts, a lot. There are after-pains, engorgement, tearing, stitches, the endless list of breastfeeding problems that cause pain. And for some women, there is the severe pain associated with just having major surgery. Let’s drop the idea that the whole pregnancy/labor/postpartum period is some kind of sadistic endurance event where the one who suffers the most wins a medal. There is no first place. Just a lot of suffering. Luckily, modern medicine has ways to address our pain if we just allow ourselves a little compassion.
Breastfeeding is fantastic. It’s awesome. But the simple truth is that your boobs are not going to give your baby super powers. They are not going to get them into Harvard. So how about we cool it with the breastfeeding evangelism. Formula is also pretty awesome. It also nourishes babies and keeps them alive and healthy and strong, and mothers have a lot of different, very personal reasons for choosing it. There are parts of this broken world where babies starve or are neglected. Any baby that is fed and nourished is a beautiful, miraculous thing. No mother ever needs to feel bad about how she chooses to feed her baby.
6. Public meltdowns
The reality is that parenting is usually not a factor in whether or not a child has a tantrum. Usually the only factor at play is that a kid has decided to be a complete and total turd. You can be the holiest of all parenting saints, and your kid is still going to meltdown because it’s late in the day and they’re tired and want that giant bag of skittles from the candy aisle or don’t understand why they can’t swan dive into a fountain. And once that meltdown starts, no act of man or God is going to be able to stop it.
By all means, if you are a stranger who is judging a parent for a public meltdown, INTERVENE. Show us what you’ve got. Please. We would love to see you get an irrational, emotional mess of a toddler to stop screaming. Razzle dazzle us with your superior parenting skills. Otherwise, kindly keep your judgment to yourself.