When Parenting, Forget About The Haters

by Jennifer Ball
Dori OConnell / iStock

Dori OConnell / iStock

I’m old enough now, and my kids are old enough, that I’ve become a spectator versus an active participant in the Mommy Wars. *switching to my Crypt Keeper voice* Back when my kids were little, the internet was new and I was still having fun coming up with a catchy email address. There were no blogs and no parenting sites and the words “selfie,” “blog,” “text,” “viral” and “followers” either didn’t exist or meant something completely different than they do now.

I fed my kids in the way that worked best for them and for me. I got them to sleep in the way that worked best for all of us. I disciplined (or not) in whatever way seemed to be working at the time. Oh, don’t be mistaken: We had mom groups galore. There was early childhood family education, I was in a nursing moms group, we had playgroups, and of course, the audience of mommies at the park. I was judged, and yes, I did some judging myself. I’m not proud of it, but I’ll admit to doing so.

The thing is, we didn’t have the entire world watching what we did back then. We didn’t have Facebook friends silently clucking at our misadventures in parenting as they scrolled through their News Feed. We didn’t have Instagram where a simple picture of our baby could ignite a firestorm of indignation and revolt.

As trite and granny as it makes me sound, it was simpler. But with granny-age comes some wisdom, and I’d like to share a few nuggets of that wisdom with the next generation of mommies:

Ladies, I know it’s hard. You got pressure, baby, from more sides than you knew existed. But let this grizzled, saggy mom tell you a secret, OK? In a few years, the eyes of the world will be off of you and focused on the next batch of noobs. You will have these smaller versions of adults hanging around your house, and there will no longer be nosy intrusions into your kitchen and bedroom and bathroom (unless you have a dog, and then there will be a cold wet nosy intrusion into every freaking thing you do and own). You will be free, my friends. And that freedom is as delicious as a dinner you get to eat while it’s still warm.

I spend a lot of time with young adults now. I live with three of them year-round, in fact. Three of my kids are of voting age. One of them can buy booze legally (see? It can be awesome!). All of them can wipe their own butts and, in theory if not practice, are capable of making their own meals. They can do their own laundry and drive cars that don’t have “Little Tikes” on the license plates.

Unlike those days of yore, when you look at my kids and me, you don’t see a young and inexperienced artist standing in front of blobs of clay. You see an older, wiser one with some pretty cool sculptures. My kids aren’t perfect, thank god. They’ve stumbled and erred, and there are moments I worry about their future roommates and significant others cursing me, but I’m proud of what they have become and proud of my role in their lives.

When I am immersed in big groups of kids now, what their parents have chosen to do or not do while raising them isn’t as obvious as it used to be. There are no pacifiers, no tell-tale Pull-Ups or diapers peeking out the back of their pants. No bottles of formula on coffee tables, no empty jars of baby food in the recycling bags. Their moms aren’t finding quiet corners to nurse them, and their dads aren’t getting high-fives for wearing them in a Baby Bjorn.

Nope. Now, I see people—almost fully formed, full-grown people. I can’t tell which ones were breastfed and which ones had formula. I have no idea who slept in their parents’ bed and who was a crib sleeper from day one. Ask me which kid ate only organic and which one gobbled up Kraft mac and cheese in their high chair, and I’ll shrug. Was that kid in daycare from the time he was 6weeks old, or did his mom stay at home with him? I don’t know.

Here’s what I can see though: I can tell you which kid was taught to say “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me.” I can point out the ones who were made to clean up their messes. You can see which kid was taught how to lose with grace and win with even more of it. It’s obvious which ones were raised to respect their fellow human beings and which ones weren’t. The ones who had a strong work ethic instilled in them from an early age are easy to spot too, as are the ones who were taught that they don’t have to work for anything.

I can tell who was shown how to hold a door open for the person behind them. I think we have all met people who weren’t. I have seen kids who grew up dirt poor and with a single, exhausted parent become academic all-stars with honors and scholarships galore. I’ve seen kids who were raised in picture-perfect homes struggle with demons in needles and bottles and skinny jeans.

And it goes beyond what I see in my kids and their friends. When you are out and about, say, walking through the grocery store, people who were raised to be polite and kind and gracious stand out in a sea of crassness. I have co-workers who will spend hours of their own time cleaning up the staff lounge, and others who leave dirty dishes in the sink and a tipped bottle of soy sauce in the fridge. If you spend any amount of time in a school parking lot, especially at drop-off or pickup, the sins of parents past and present are woefully apparent.

I guess what I’m trying to say, in my usual long-winded way, is this: Parenting is hard. And despite our best intentions, we are all going to make mistakes. The reality is what we do when they’re little will matter, and it won’t. Oh, that makes no sense, you say?

Welcome to parenthood. The best you can do is simply that: your best. Eff the haters, screw the judgmental assholes, smother that awful self-doubt, and focus on what’s important. And remember this: In five, ten, or fifteen years, your kid will be out there in the world, rubbing elbows with the people who sit behind screens and piously preen and pop out vitriol like giant Pez dispensers. Your job now is to make sure your baby doesn’t become one of them.