There are few things worse than a smarmy, know-it-all: A smarmy, know-it-all parent is one of them. A smarmy, know-it-all parent of an only child under the age of two is another. The worst by far, however, is the smarmy, know-it-all non-parent who thinks if only you took their advice, your job wold be a breeze. I should know, I was all of those things once upon a time. I’m willing to bet that at some point most of us have been Judy Judgmental when it comes to how other people are raising their kids. And there is nothing easier to be judgmental about than parenting. Wearing lipliner in a shade darker than your lipstick is a close second, but I digress. Before we parents went forth and propagated, before we begat and began, before were thrown into the gladiator pit of parenthood, it was easy to know better. It was easy to call for blood when you were sitting in the safety of the spectator seats, far away from the guts and glory of day-to-day life with children. It was easy to shout advice from the sidelines when you were not locked into a dinner-bath-bed battle to the death.
We observed and judged and swore we would or would never. I call them famous last words.
I was thinking about this the other day as I watched my nine year-old neck a bottle of Sprite. I was thinking back to a time when I swore I would never let my kids have soda.
Or play with toy guns.
Or eat hot dogs regularly.
Or watch television.
In fact, I’m sure while I was pregnant I was adamant that we follow the American Pediatric Association’s guide lines for screen time, which recommends NONE AT ALL until age 2, then no more than a half hour a day. Then I actually brought forth a child. A child who never napped for more than 29 minutes at a time, was up for the day at 5 a.m. and walked at nine months. TV became our best buddy. At first, I hoarded those thirty minute chunks, like Gollum and his golden ring. But let me tell you this: half an hour is barely enough time to chop the onions and the garlic. So a half hour became an hour, an hour became more and when he started shouting “Ayudeme!” in the right context, I realized he was probably watching too much Dora the Explorer. So much for spouting off to anyone who would listen about the dangers of TV.
My kids won’t sleep in our bed, says the parent who has never been so tired they’ve forgotten to buckle their kids into their car seats or the smug couple who haven’t yet had to get up sixty-two times a night to get a drink of water, soothe a nightmare, change the sheets, check under the bed, retrieve a stuffed Grover or a lost pacifier.
My kids won’t want sugary treats because they’ll be full of healthy choices, says the Mom who has never watched her cookie and cake deprived daughter make a bee line for the sweets table whenever she’s not around.
My kids will only eat organic, hormone free food, says the parent who has never struggled to put food on the table and can afford to shop at Whole Foods.
My child will be breast feed exclusively, says the Mom who has not yet suffered mastitis or cracked, bleeding nipples or had a baby in the NICU or a child who couldn’t latch on and cried endlessly with hunger.
I will not be a short order cook, says the parent who has never put plate after plate of food in front of her child and watched them go to bed hungry night after night, the one who is still breast-feeding, or the all the single ladies who are mortally offended when a friend’s three year-old turns his nose up at their homemade curry.
I will not let my sons play with swords or my girls play with Barbies. I won’t buy into the superhero worship or the princess tutu school of thought. I won’t let them wear sweat pants to school. They won’t eat with their fingers or chew with their mouths open or push another child or bite a schoolmate because I’ll stop that behavior before it starts. So say the couple who are 12 weeks pregnant with their first or the forty year-old bachelor who doesn’t understand why you would ask him to move a Tiffany vase from sticky hand level.
I wouldn’t stand for that, I would nip that in the bud, not under my roof, that behavior wouldn’t wash with me, says a non parent witnessing a grocery store tantrum.
Back in my day, you kids never did that, you would have gotten your mouth washed out with soap, says the grandparent who has child rearing amnesia.
I would/wouldn’t make my oldest share everything with her siblings. I won’t cave in or pander to my youngest just because he’s whining, says the parent of an only child. FYI, I swore up and down I would never make my oldest give something up just to make the little one stop doing a pterodactyl impersonation at top volume. Guess what?
I will never buy light up shoes. Or clothes with characters on them (unless they are cool and retro). Or pink clothes for my girls and only blue clothes for my boys. I will not buy gender specific toys. I will not buy plastic toys. I will not buy toys that light up, make noise, jump up and down and scare the bejesus out of you Poltergeist style.
I would. I wouldn’t. You should. You shouldn’t. We all had ideas about parenting before we actually had to parent. But when you’re in the trenches, you think on the fly and you realize that a bottle of Sprite isn’t the end of the word. Even if it’s eaten with a hot dog which is being used as a light saber while watching the entire catalog of Star Wars movies back to back. (But if you do, skip Attack of the Clones, it’s awful.)
I’m sure I would never think to give my own children advice when they go forth and beget, when they are getting ready to suit up to do battle in the pit of parenting despair. I would know better.
Famous last words.