The “perfect parent” is a bit of a moving target. One day you’re supposed to put your kids to sleep on their back and the next it’s their stomach. You’re supposed to keep them in a booster seat until they’re 8, and then until they’re 12 (really? 12?!). Don’t let them cry it out; they’ll be scarred for life. But don’t coddle them too much; they won’t be able to handle the pressures of the world. Mostly, I try to follow hardcore safety guidelines and ignore the rest. I breastfed Bug for a bit and then had to stop, and didn’t breastfeed Lady Bug at all. We generally don’t buy organic food, although sometimes I do. The whole family eats high fructose corn syrup. The kids drink juice and eat at McDonald’s now and again. I think co-sleeping sounds like some form of motherly-guilt torture device, and my kids are about as attached as I can handle. I chuckle when the lactation crew tout that breastfeeding is a bonding experience, like people who don’t breastfeed couldn’t possibly experience that quiet, one-on-one bonding time with their own infants. Bottom line? I generally don’t care how other people parent, and I’d like other people to feel the same about me. As long as your kid isn’t in prolonged emotional or physical distress, they’re probably going to turn out as messed up (and as perfect) as any other kid. This attitude works well online, where you’re up against people judging your parenting skills from all sides. I just don’t care. My kids are happy and (by some miracle) relatively healthy. They are loving and they are loved. They sit down in restaurants, follow rules, and are charming, funny and smart.
But although I can easily ignore the parenting advice that hounds you online, I am plagued by mommy guilt of my own creation. The trick with social media is that you tend to see extremes. People share most when they are happy and excited, and when they are angry, depressed, lonely. Despite jokes about people sharing what they have for lunch, this isn’t really the norm with parents. If we’re sharing what we had for lunch, it was because we made it from scratch, it was delicious, or it had far too many calories. We took our kids to the zoo today, did three amazing crafts, and made jambalaya from scratch from our grandmother’s secret recipe. And the proof is all there on our blogs, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages. This kid takes soccer, scuba diving and origami. This one takes singing, gymnastics, and fencing. There was this glorious family vacation, followed by a weekend away at the beach cottage, and rounding out the month with two weekends of family bike trips. Hmmm. Everyone ELSE is doing all of these amazing things and I’m just sitting here reading about it.
My mom guilt kicks in and I realize that I am depriving my children of a full childhood. They aren’t getting enough enrichment, travel and social experiences. I am FAILING them and they will be scarred forever. These other bloggers are perfect mommies and daddies and I am simply a slacker mom.
Like I said above, social media is all about the filtering. We don’t get the whole picture, and so the bar seems higher somehow. No family or child is perfect, but in all of the pictures and anecdotes, they seem perfect. Even the parents who go on about how imperfect they are seem to be really just fabulous parents masquerading as inept moms and dads. How can a family that looks so happy on vacation ever be miserable? How can a mom who takes the time to bake fancy cakes for her kids and do messy crafts ever be grumpy with them?
And then I sit down to make our annual photo book. I scroll through hundreds of pictures of trips to the zoo, gymnastics, swimming class and the park. I look at the photos from beach weekends, Disney World and Storyland. We’ve got crafts, painting, and cooking projects. There are LEGO sculptures, funny outfits and goofy times. There are birthday parties and fancy cakes. And that’s when I realize that I am a perfect parent, too. At least on paper (screen?). When my kids are older and find some way to try to make me feel like I was an awful parent, I’m going to pull out these photos and show them just how perfect their childhoods were. Maybe they’ll even believe it.