A few months ago I was at my nephews’ birthday party (turning 1 and 3). As I was approaching the bin of kid-friendly drinks to grab a juice box for M, a parent whom I’d never met before (and in all likelihood I will probably never see again unless it’s at next year’s party, and even then I won’t remember her) reached in to the bin next to me and said something along the lines of “oh, this is a special treat – we never have these in our house”. I thought it was kinda funny, considering I wasn’t making a judgment call either way — hey, it’s a party! Of course the drinks should be fun!
I’ve heard other parents say things like this too, like at the bakery when a mom with kids in tow will look at me and say “oh, we don’t do this everyday!”, like she feels the need to explain why they’re in line for a cookie. Yet, I’m standing in this very same line with M for a special treat that she and I will indulge in from time to time. I hope it doesn’t look like I’m in line every day! Or I’ve had friends–people whom I’ve known for many, many years, and who, I hope, know that I know they have great judgement–say things like “oh, we don’t usually buy these things (cookies, easy-to-make-on-a-playdate-foods, etc.), but since you were coming over….”
Comments like these strike me as funny. It’s like parenting on the defensive. And I’m guessing it’s happening because it’s meant to ward off judgement or declare your overall values and lifestyle proactively in the critic-filled sphere of life called parenting, lo there be any misconceptions. Yet, I don’t think I’ve heard too many adults say “I normally don’t have three beers like this!” when I’m hanging out at a backyard BBQ, or “I really don’t eat cake like this every day!” when I’m out to lunch with a friend. As adults, it seems like we mostly just enjoy the spoils of whatever moment we’re in, all with a “take me as I am” attitude. It seems curious that it wasn’t usually happening that way with what the kids were doing. Smugly, I thought I was different from “them”.
But then I heard myself saying these same kinds of things just two nights ago when I was letting M have a small handful of mini-marshmallows and watch some kid-friendly TV in another room for a few minutes during the Patriots’ football game (hooray for a big win!) while two of our friends were over. Why did I do this?, I asked myself later. I really don’t think that our neighbors cared whether M was washing down more than her fair share of goldfish crackers with some juice, when we had all just indulged in quite a spread of football fete foods like cheese stuffed jalapenos (graciously made by our awesome neighbors!) and of course a few beers. And weren’t we all just sitting around for three hours staring at the boob tube and not constructing Lincoln Log houses, painting watercolors or otherwise expanding our minds? Did it really require me to go out of my way to mention that she doesn’t otherwise watch much TV? No, it did not.
Despite my initial smugness, I’m sure, in fact I know, it is not the first time I have said something like that. I certainly have a small collection of friends whom, for reasons I cannot seem to explain—other than some irrational and base fear of judgement that still remains from my high school days—I feel compelled to point out when I am in line with their own parenting judgement calls. Almost like a twisted form of one-upness or getting in with the “in crowd”. And with strangers, I’m pretty certain I said a lot of these kinds of things in the context of seeming like I have to announce my values through what I say about how we raise M. Yet, before having M, I must have found another way to get my point across, to the extent that it’s even necessary or relevant.
So it’s time for me to stop it already. I know how she eats on a daily basis, and I know overall it’s healthy. So the occasional treat is not a problem, and I don’t need to go out of my way to give strangers or anyone else a complete breakdown of her weekly nutrient intake in order to feel comfortable with letting her eat a cookie or one too many PB&Js from time to time in the presence of others. I know how (little) TV she watches from week to week, and we, as her parents, are OK with that, even if it seems like she can rattle off the names of too many kid-friendly shows. I’m going to quit it with quantifying how much weekly screen time is actually taking place in our house. If people think it’s 24/7, so be it. I know the truth, and that’s what counts.
I hope that other parents guilty of this confession-style parenting will join me. Let’s just agree that we all know that each other’s kid is eating flax and broccoli for breakfast while reading Dickens, but that here, right now at this party/BBQ/playdate/beach gathering, we can all just enjoy and indulge in some unapologetic and judgement-free good fun without having to qualify it first. Now pass me the chips.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.