Family

Call Me A Bad Mom: My Parenting Looks Different Because It Is

Photo: Volodymyr Maksymchuk / Shutterstock
mom and son

When you are pregnant, there’s so much to think about when considering the future:

What color to paint the nursery, what decorating scheme to select from Pottery Barn, whether to go with disposable or reusable diapers, what to name your little nugget, and even deciding to use a cake or a box of balloons for the gender reveal party.

You quickly learn that, if you share any of these decisions with anyone, you are bound to get opinions — lots of them.

While this isn’t the first time we get solicited or unsolicited advice; where to go to college, what to choose as a major, what profession to pursue, who to date, who to marry, what dress to wear to the wedding, who to invite to the wedding, what type of alcohol to serve at the wedding, the birth of a child seems like the first time that SO MANY opinions are given. It’s already a time of anxiety and unknowns that the opinions of others can easily feel overwhelming.

What, I should have gotten the rocker that swings from side to side instead of front to back? Oh no! My baby will never get into college now!

Do you think the cloth diapers with the snaps are better than the ones with Velcro? Should I return these? Shoot! My baby will definitely be in therapy thanks to my terrible decision!

Wait? You’re saying if I name my kid Scarlett all the kids will call her Scar Face? I’d better change her name to Charlotte just to be safe.

From deciding on names to your soothing techniques, from how you feed your baby to where it sleeps at night, you.will.be.judged.

We are all judged from the time we are young, and hell, we survive being a teenager which is basically like being forced to compete non-stop in a pageant for six years, so you’d think that being judged as a parent wouldn’t be so hard.

People have already judged us for our hair, our pimples, our lack of boobs, the clothing we wear, the car we drive, and the music we listen to, so we should let the parental judgment roll off our backs like a duck.

By the time we have a kid, we should have developed armor that is impenetrable to the comments of those around us.

Haters gonna hate, right?

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Yet, for some reason, it feels extra personal when we have a baby because we love that baby so, so much; in our eyes, our babies are perfect.

We can’t imagine why anyone would think that our babies are anything other than a perfect version of ourselves and the relationship we’ve now created as parent and child as anything but beauty and magic and everything in the world that is wonderful and special and precious.

As you hold your baby in your arms, caress its ultra-soft skin, and soak up its amazing baby smell, someone tells you that they read online that the baby wrap you have on is linked to autism. Yeah! They read it. ON THE INTERNET.

The years go by and, as you separate the tri-colored tortellini into three separate plastic bowls because your kid won’t eat them if they are touching, someone says that they will never, ever, bend over backward like that when they have a kid.

After about 3–5 years of comments from non-parents, parents are able to laugh off the comments of those without children because they think the non-parents just don’t know any better.

Parents think that if only the non-parents were to spend 3 years straight not sleeping more than 3 hours in a row, drive a screaming baby on an 8- hour car ride in a snowstorm, or use all of their vacation time because their kid has a runny nose and the boogers are “yellow/green not clear”, they would shut up and stop judging you.

The real hurt, the jab that penetrates all of the armor you’ve built up over the years, comes from other parents because, if you think people without kids have opinions on how to raise kids, people with them are seriously obsessed with being experts on how to raise kids.

They have a kid and basically, that means they wrote the book on perfect parenting.

Oh? Do you let your kids watch TV before school? We are screen-free. My kids practice their times tables each morning before school. Little Johnny is going to try out for Jeopardy next week!

Hmm, it’s interesting that you let your daughter choose her own outfits. Wow! Good for….you. That must be soo….liberating.

It’s sooo great that you let your kids eat ice cream after dinner every night. We are gluten, nut, sugar, water, and air-free.

I would never, ever, let my kids swear. It’s just not…right.

As a parent, there are your contemporary parental judgers, like those in the examples I’ve just given. They are judging your parenting by comparing their own parenting in real-time.

Then, there are the been-there, done-that, and did-it-better parental judgers, those who had kids a few decades ago, whose children are likely now out of their parental hands, acting as functioning adults in society, which means that they must have done nothing wrong ever as a parent.

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“Well, I don’t know what kind of funky parenting you are doing these days, but when my kids were young….

I sent them to bed without supper;

gave them a good spanking;

put soap in their mouths;

didn’t let them get up from the table until they ate all of their vegetables;

scrubbed their faces with hot water every night;

combed their hair even though they cried bloody murder;

I WAS IN CONTROL.”

Yep. That’s the one that really gets me. I don’t blink twice when I know the haters are hating on most of my parenting decisions but the judgment that has cut me over and over again, leaving scars on my soul, is that I am not in control of my children.

Both contemporary and Wise Elder parents have remarked about the lack of control I have over my children. Some soften the blow by offering suggestions:

“Have you ever thought about? Might you consider?

I read a great article suggesting…”

Some directly and caustically share their disdain over my free-range chicken family while others comment in a more backhanded, passive-aggressive manner.

“If those were my kids…;

If I was their parent;

Your kids are cute but so poorly behaved;

You have no control over your children.”

I am sorry to be such a disappointment to you.

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Because when I got pregnant, all I hoped was that you would give me a gold star for parenting.

When I decided to be a parent, it was only so that I could be just like you. I won’t be a “real parent” until you tell me that I’m doing it just the way you’d expected or until…

My kids act like the perfect, rule-following, inside-the-box, respectful, polite, combed hair, times table memorizing machines that our society needs.

The judging sucks because I feel like I’m doing the best I can with what I have and what I know with the amount of energy I can muster up on any given day and I really do want people to like me, and respect me, and be proud of me and not talk behind my back.

It hurts when someone tells me, in words or actions, that my best just isn’t good enough for them.

That will never change because we can never live up to unrealistic expectations. The real question I should be asking myself is:

Am I good enough for me? Am I good enough for my kids?

Parenting a kid with a disability looks, feels, sounds, and even sometimes smells different. This journey I have been on with my special needs daughter has been both challenging and liberating. It’s allowed me to parent on another plane, another dimension because the parental rules for non-neuro-typical kids often don’t apply to kids like her.

It has also been very hard because people expect us to interact in a particular way and when we don’t, people assume I am doing things the wrong way. They assume we are interacting in this manner so unlike what they are used to because I am a bad mom and I have a bad kid.

Call me a bad mom because I swear in front of the kids. Call me a bad mom because I don’t take them to church. Tell me I suck as a parent because they shove candy wrappers on the couch when I’m not looking.

Call me a terrible parent because I overspent at Christmas.

But, please don’t call me a bad mom because I hug my girl tight when she is screaming at the top of her lungs at the mall and you overhear me tell her I love her and to take her time.

Don’t call me a bad mom when I walk ahead of her on the sidewalk, like I’m ignoring her, as she perseverates and yells out that she won’t, won’t, won’t, won’t, won’t, won’t, won’t, won’t go for a walk.

Don’t tell me you could do a better job than I could if she stomps her feet because I won’t buy her something, yells for 10 minutes at the top of her lungs, and then I tell her that I am so proud of her when she finally calms down and I high five her. If you just can’t come to terms with my style of parenting, please don’t say anything at all.

Or try this:

Yesterday, I took my kids shopping. Being in a store, and dealing with my child’s wardrobe, are two terrible tasks for us but it has to be done.

I can’t buy her clothes online because she has sensory issues with clothes and I must confirm the fit is appropriate for her, and that she will even wear what I buy her.

After 30 minutes of my neurotypical child easily choosing clothes, it was my other daughter’s turn. As soon as I picked out a pair of pants, she began running around the store saying no over and over again. I took a deep breath and somehow we convinced her to come into the dressing room.

For about 10 minutes, she told me she would not try on anything I picked for her. I set the timer on my phone. I told her she had 10 minutes to make a decision: she could try on the clothes or she could decide that today is not the day to shop for clothes.

Inside I may have wanted to scream, I may have envisioned spanking her or pulling her out of the dressing room and into the car. But, I didn’t. I stayed as calm as I could. She spent the next 10 minutes perseverating, repeating the same words, rocking and shaking her head no, no. no. We played hand games and talked about what she’d picked out for clothes.

Every two minutes, I’d give my daughter a time count down and remind her of the decision she was to make at the end of the ten minutes. I get tunnel vision when I’m out in public with her, often only paying attention to the end goal: get out and survive.

I hadn’t realized there was someone else in the dressing room area until I heard the door next to ours swing open and then a voice called out:

“You are a good Mom! You are doing a good job! Keep it up!”

She was gone before the comment really registered with me or before I could reply, but I can now. Thank you.

Melissa Marietta writes about parenting and relationships on her personal blog and Medium. She wrote the foreword for, "Dress Rehearsals for Gun Violence: Confronting Trauma and Anxiety in America's Schools".

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.