I was talking to a friend of mine and mentioned that I would have felt bad if my kids had needed to start attending daycare at one year. She froze and got defensive, at which moment I realized that her son had in fact started daycare early, and incidentally it was at one year of age. I wish I could’ve had a giant spoon to scoop those words back into the foot-mouth bowl they came from, but unfortunately it was too late. Luckily she’s an easy-going person so she shrugged it off, but it could have been worse.
Unwittingly, I had almost called her a bad parent. I hadn’t meant to, I’d only said that I would’ve felt bad in that situation, yet every parent knows that a sentence like this immediately evokes thoughts like: “well, some of us have to work for a living” or “who do you think you are, the perfect mom?” or “for pete’s sake, I’m not a bad parent!”
I know just how she must have felt, since I’ve had that feeling too. If another parent has brought carrot sticks for their child’s snack, I stare at the sandwich I packed which hasn’t even seen a vegetable and feel the guilt. If my kids are grumpy since I didn’t manage to club them off to sleep early enough, I feel the guilt. If another kid has more toys than my kid, I feel the guilt. If another kid has fewer toys than my kid, I feel the guilt. Making a parent feel guilty is just as easy as making a leech suck.
I think this is really about the fact that parents are constantly beset by feelings of inadequacy. We don’t have the time, the money or the patience to be the paragon parents we’d like to be. We end up compromising if not on the children’s wellbeing, at least on our own sanity or our financial situation. We are constantly ready to detect criticism in the words of others since we know we’ve made mistakes. Every parent makes mistakes, but we’re not sure how we measure up against other parents. Maybe we’ve made more mistakes than most? How many mistakes are too many?
I bet most kids end up with some sort of trauma that was caused by what their parents did or didn’t do, but this isn’t so bad. The kids who spend the majority of their time in a healthy home where they’re loved and nurtured can withstand a few emotional storms. They might even be made stronger by them.
So maybe I should shut up in the future when asked about my parenting choices, shrug and say “it’s all good.” Maybe parents shouldn’t discuss things like this at all, since what is good for one family, one parent or one child, may not be so for another, and we can never know how our lives might have turned out had we made a different choice.