Sleep training seemed like a great idea – until I had a child of my own. Before I had children, I imagined I would be the parent with the iron will, unmoved by the subtle manipulations of a whimpering child. In reality, I was the parent who crumbled at the sound of her young child choking through a crying spell. The first time I let my infant cry for a period longer than five minutes, I lifted him out of the bed and whispered apologies into his ears.
I had friends who tucked their kids in bed before the prime time lineup started at night. They had hours to themselves every evening. I always thought they were doing it right, and I was somehow doing it “wrong.” I barely had the energy to glare at them through my sleep-deprived eyes when they talked about their “nap schedules” at the park. In those early days of parenting, every anecdote that ended in someone else’s child sleeping or eating just seemed like a cruel joke.
I tried making baby food for my first child, but although he would eat it when it was fresh, he turned his nose up at any that I had frozen. Freezing batches was pretty much a necessity since I was working full time. So the freshly-made baby food went out the window, too. I became a total liar about that. Well, maybe not so much a liar — just someone who wasn’t totally fessing up to the food situation in her house. I would just sort of nod my head in agreement at the park when a random mother would mention something about fruit pouches being “junk food.”
My kids run around the house until 9:30 or 10:00pm every night. They exist on a steady diet of spaghetti, broccoli, eggs, peas, hot dogs, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I’ve never made an adorable school lunch in my life. I don’t volunteer for anything at my son’s preschool and I don’t save the “masterpieces” from the hours we spend coloring. I don’t have a baby book, just a bunch of keepsakes shoved into a plastic bag. My four-year-old knows the theme song to every Nick Jr. program in existence. He also knows how to enable the wi-fi on my phone and search for what he wants to watch on YouTube. My two-year-old daughter regularly says things like no way, aww man! and Jesus Christ!
But… I’m doing my best. My best may be someone else’s worst — but, oh well. For a long time I felt like I was parenting by default: like all the plans I had made before I had children were disappearing under my feet. I was constantly comparing the way I parent to the way others do and feeling shitty about it. And I’m not sure why. My kids are happy. They are loved.
It took me four years to realize that my parenting style is ‘Do Your Best And Feel Shitty About It.” I finally realize that I don’t need that second part. Yes, I feel like I fall short in some areas — I could try to force them to eat more interesting food, put together a baby book, and maybe censor myself a little — but when I look at myself in the mirror and ask the question are you a good parent? I don’t hesitate to answer Yes.
And at the end of the day, I think that’s all that really matters.