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.
My kid will never say “I hate you” or be mean or push a toddler at the playground, says the parent whose child is not walking or talking yet.
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.
11 Comments Add yours
I am at the stage of young grandchildren. Of course I see them doing things I would never have done. And you know what? I don’t say a word. We each have to make our way through the motherhood years in our own way. The last thing they need is unsolicited advice from me. My mother-in-law would never give advice even when asked. It frustrated me a little at the time. Now I realize how wise she was! My mother? Oh, she was a constant flow of criticism and “you shoulds” when my own were being raised. Great post!
Thanks, Marcia! As I was writing the line about grandparents and child rearing amnesia, I thought that the whole grandparent/parent thing really is deserving of it’s own post. So watch this space ;-). You sound like a wise grandmother–see, mother-in-laws can be a positive thing!
Love this. 🙂
Thanks, J 🙂
I am not a parent, and I’m not going to be a parent. Therefore, I have no comment on what parents do or do not do for their kids. I didn’t have the guts to do it, so I keep my mouth shut.
Which really blew me away when my guideson’s mother wanted my advice about parenting. Seriously, I thought, “Holy shit! I am the LAST PERSON ON EARTH she should ask.”
But, it seems she is surrounded by a bunch of friends who sound a lot like these judgmental people, and she was in tears over a big life decision that would impact her son. I told her she and her husband had to do the best they could for their son, that it was their decision and theirs alone, and to hell with what anyone else thought about it. If they were at peace, so was I. End of discussion. (And, I hope that was the right thing to say. I never, ever know.)
I don’t think that judgmental parenting is a new phenomenon, but I do think our generation has brought it to an extreme level—I call it extreme parenting—. There’s so much, nay too much, information and all of a sudden everyone is an expert. When you combine that with feelings of insecurity about your own choices and a propensity for putting others down to make yourself feel better about your own choices, well, let’s just say it will be interesting to see how this generation turns out. I’m not surprised your friend asked you for advice, you are an articulate, intelligent human being. I’ve asked non parents for advice too. And for what it’s worth, it sounds like you said exactly the right thing. D
great post and so true )
Thanks Beth. All those things we swore we’d never do–and I bet you get to sit back and watch your own children do the same thing with their kids now!
Love it!! So I get a call last night (whilst on holiday in Australia) from the Danish daycare to set up a meeting to discuss the two year olds behavior!!! Apparently she is a bully and pushes all the kids!! The non-parent in me would blame the parents, the parent of two angels (whilst at school any way) in me would blame the parents…But now not so sure!!! Same parents, different kids. So now to have a serious talk with the two year old!! (Perhaps she is eating too much McDonalds and is watching too much non-age appropriate TV!!)
I like to think I kept my never would/should’s reasonable. I try not to offer advice unless asked. If someone does ask, I state what worked for my kid as way of possible tips, but your minion isn’t my minion. While mine is a saint in public she’s a (lovable) disaster at home. She has the best comedic timing for a three year old and a penchant for snarky comments, which means I do more laughing than putting her in timeout. It is also why when I saw a roughly eight year old give his mother a snarky response to her hopefully rhetorical question, I laughed, because that was my kid in five years.
I know I’m not doing everything right. My daughter will probably look back on her childhood and not remember any of the times I worried about the senseless things parents worry about and that’s what I try to remember. Because we’re all in this “gladiator pit of parenthood” (beautiful phrase by the way) and we’re all hoping we make it out alive and not too horribly maimed by the experience.