The Guilty Party
I complain all the time about housework and domestic drudgery, but if you really think about it, we totally have it made compared to our counterparts from centuries past. I mean, when’s the last time you had to haul your bathwater from a well and build a fire to heat it up, or beat your laundry on a rock?
We have machines to wash our clothes and our dishes, phones that are like little handheld computers (or, hell, phones and computers in general!), water that runs directly out of a tap and heats up on its own, even robotic vacuums that clean our floors without even having to push them. (Although I’m still not sure how one of those things would fare at my house; it would probably have to be an all-terrain vehicle to maneuver through the amount of debris lurking in my carpet.) Plus, we squeeze our extra flesh into Spanx instead of corsets, which are at least marginally more comfortable.
I mean, nobody needs fainting couches anymore, so there’s that.
But there’s one hardship we modern-day moms must endure that I’m pretty sure didn't plague the mothers of yesteryear: Mom Guilt. A mom from the past might have inwardly rolled her eyes at the occasional judgment from a meddling mother-in-law or spinster aunt, like, "Hrrrnph. It cold. Baby need more mammoth-skin," or “Dost thou truly think thy baby shouldst be crawling amongst the cinders of thy hearth?” But that’s nothing compared to what we’re put through; these days, we mothers have the entire Internet to tell us we’re doing it all wrong. All we have to do is sit in front of our screens for ten seconds and suddenly we’re bombarded with a plethora of reasons to feel like failures.
At our fingertips, we've got access to all the information we could ever need about parenting – but determining what’s accurate is the tricky part. There are articles (upon articles, upon articles) written by parenting gurus who are, by all accounts, reliable sources and experts in their respective fields. The problem is, they all say different stuff. Stuff that directly contradicts the other “expert” article on the same topic that you just read ten minutes ago. Even more confusing are the innumerable scientific studies that prove – prove! – how much damage we’re doing with TV and smartphones and sugar and artificial colors and gender stereotypes and plastics and medications and non-organic food. It’s enough to make your head spin. Vaccinate your kids to keep dangerous childhood diseases at bay (helloooooo Disneyland measles outbreak!), but don’t vaccinate because you read somewhere that vaccines are linked to autism. Put sunscreen on them because if you don’t you’re a negligent parent – but buy sunscreen without those harmful parabens because if you don’t you’re a negligent parent. Discipline them firmly because disrespectful kids are what’s wrong with society today – but don’t spank them because that’s just cruel and what kind of a crappy parent are you?! Oh, but don’t yell or put them in time-out either; it's bad for their self-esteem. Don’t give them juice boxes or pouches because they can be moldy inside – give it to them in a plastic cup. But make sure the cup is BPA-free. But actually, don’t give them juice at all because it has too much sugar and sugar is the devil. Oh and so is gluten. What? You mean you're not feeding your family a Paleo diet?! Tsk. Your neighbor does. In an artfully-arranged Bento box.
This morning when I woke up I saw an article about why French kids are well-behaved. It immediately brought to mind other articles I've read - like the one about why French kids don't have ADHD (and if you've read my "Hugging a Butterfly" post, you'll know this is a sore subject with me) and why French parents are superior. Oh yeah, and apparently, French women don't get fat. They're too busy being better moms, I guess. Quelle surprise. Thanks a bucket, Internet.
I'm no expert by any means, but there's one thing that I've learned while raising four kids and writing about parenthood: good mothers (and fathers!) do the best they can. It's that simple. We know our kids like the backs of our hands, and if we make the choices that we think will benefit them the most, then we're winning at parenting. Yes, there will be minor fails - and some that feel more than minor - but as long as our decisions are made out of love, and concern for their well-being, they'll ultimately be okay. We need to compare less and listen to ourselves more, because nobody knows our children, our circumstances, our needs better than we do - and every family is unique. We need to trust in our ability to raise a family successfully. Silence the "noise" (a.k.a., the land of wildly varying opinions that is the Internet) and follow your parental instinct. That's what it's there for.
Whatever you do for your kids, do it because you love them. Do it because you know what's best. Not the "experts," not the "gurus," not the neighbors: YOU. Don't get so caught up in the details that you can't see the forest for the trees, so to speak. Make even the most difficult choices with confidence, because in the grand scheme of things, you're doing just fine.
Sure, the stakes sometimes feel insurmountably high. We all fear our children sobbing on a therapist's couch (or Jerry Springer's), talking about their ruined childhoods at the hands of incompetent parents. But if it were that easy to royally screw up a child, humans would have died out a long time ago. On the whole, we're a resilient species. Even if we eat gluten and watch too much TV.
And even if we don't happen to be French.