When I started out on this parenting journey, I naturally felt the need to be perfect or as close to perfect as I could manage. My kid had to be fresh-scrubbed, dressed to the nines, and perfectly happy and quiet in any public place — because the alternative was that I would be judged a bad parent.
I remember sitting at restaurants with a baby, and my entire focus was on entertaining him so as not to make a scene. If he cried, I had failed at parenting.
If my kid had a bit of dried food stuck to his nose or in his hair when the mother-in-law came over an hour after lunch, I would feel that judgment like UV rays burning into my skin. “You had a whole hour to wash this kid’s face and it’s still nasty? What exactly have you been doing?” Of course, she didn’t actually say that. They never do.
You know how when reading, you read between the lines? It’s the same when someone is judging you. It’s a conversation that happens in the space between spoken words, in the shifty glance, in the turned back as they enthusiastically scrub the two dishes you dared to leave in the sink, so they won’t say what they are actually thinking.
No one has ever said to me out loud, “You are a bad mother.” But the tension in the room sure can scream it to the rafters.
I spent the first couple years as a parent running around, washing clothes, scrubbing dirty faces, and keeping my house spotless. In my free time, I was researching “how to keep my kid quiet on a plane” and “how to teach baby sign language.” That’s the funny thing, I didn’t give two fucks about keeping my kid quiet, nor was I particularly interested in teaching my baby sign language, but I felt pressured to do these things because judgment.
And then one glorious day, I woke up. I woke up and realized that in the last week, I hadn’t even had an hour to read a book, or watch a show, or go for a walk because my day was completely full from “perfect parenting.”
The craziest part of the epiphany was this: I never believed I was a bad mother. Not one of the sideways glances from strangers in stores, or the comments made by mother and mother-in-law, or all the shade from other mothers, had ever actually convinced me I was doing anything wrong. I knew in my soul I was a loving mother who gave everything to her kids, and I figured out that only I could let their comments bother me and control me.
So now, I no longer give a fuck about my kid’s face and clothes being spotless at all times. They are just going to shovel something else in that bottomless hole, and most of it will end up on their clothes or in their hair.
I no longer care about my baby crying on a plane. My baby is a human, same as you, and your snoring and yapping bothers me about as much as my baby’s cries annoy you. So touché and turn your head away. Otherwise, I’m going to give you a cheerful grin and a wave as though I can’t read the irritation plain on your face, because fucking with you makes me happy now.
I no longer give a fuck whether my house is sparkling. I am now known to welcome family and friends and purposely point out the dust bunnies residing in my home. “That dust bunny has just taken up residence. I named him Dusty (obvs) and I didn’t have the heart to get rid of him because he’s lonely. I’m going to wait a while to see if he gets a family!” Somehow, joking about it breaks the tension and the judgment. Funny thing is, when people can see they have less effect on you, they suddenly stop trying to get you to change, and they embrace you as you are.
If you, my fellow mothers, have not reached that epiphany yet, take heart! It will happen. And when it does, you will know you are not alone in just not giving a fuck anymore what other people think about your parenting. It’s a great place to be! It will be hard at first, but fake it ‘til you make it.
Pretty soon you’ll be shooing your mother-in-law into the house like, “Oh hello! Could you please wash those dishes in the sink for me? Oh, and the boy has food on his face! Do you mind helping me out with that? Thanks so much!” (Insert evil grin emoji here.)