Confessions of a “Bad” Mom
Today’s post is by Lisa Oppenheimer, writer, blogger, Bright Horizons Family Matters webinar moderator and mother to two grown daughters.
I don’t consider myself an especially bad mother. OK. I’m not exactly June Cleaver, either.
But according to any number of parent columnists, food police, and, of course, the Parents Television Council, I kind of stink.
Here are some of the rules I’ve broken:
During their childhood, I let my daughters sometimes have a cookie; they occasionally drank soda; they watched TV; we didn’t always have family dinners; they played video games; they texted; they engaged in princess culture; I didn’t install web spies on our computers; and they occasionally heard a bad word.
In the interest of equal time, I also offended the “helicopter parent” police:
I occasionally over-helped; I knew all of my daughter’s teachers; I was sometimes emotionally over invested in their success in school and activities; I volunteered at school. A lot. I worried too much about their college applications.
And let’s not even discuss 9th grade history (sorry Mr. Andreoni).
In mom lore, that puts me somewhere north of Peg Bundy and south of Mrs. Brady.
Based on these so-called bad-mom attributes my grown children should either be eating Cheetos on my couch while asking when their next load of laundry will be finished, or starring in the next after-school special.
And they’re neither. Huh. How ‘bout that?
Now, let me note here that the above transgressions weren’t part of an overall lifestyle choice. Yes, my children sometimes drank soda, but they weren’t pouring it over their cereal in the morning before raiding the cookie jar and then settling down to watch Deep Throat. I also wasn’t serving beer, or dispatching my kids’ competition Texas cheerleader style. I was mom. But I definitely ran afoul of any number of “How Not To Ruin Your Children” or “How to Raise the Next Nobel Laureate” handbooks. Yet by all accounts, they’re doing great.
All of which makes me wonder…why do we torture ourselves? I look at young parents trying so hard to gobble up all the advice, (“Be there every second!” “Don’t help! It encourages dependency!” “Homemade cookies are gateway snacks to raging ho-ho habits”) and despairing over their inability to live up to it.
And I think all of these experts aren’t helping to raise the younger generation; they’re just making the older one nuts.
So my two cents: stop comparing yourself to parenting advice. I, like my parents before me and dating all the way back to the stone-age mom who let her son see the questionable drawings on the cave wall, am not perfect. But my children are OK. Yours will be too. All without “perfect” childhoods of 7 p.m. dinners, ivy mandates, and classical music and broccoli delivered from inside the womb.
So no, I don’t consider myself a bad mother. But I don’t consider myself the “best” mother either. I’m normal – I did some good stuff, and some dumb stuff, and occasionally some smart stuff I’m really proud of; I loved them to pieces; I trusted them; I sometimes didn’t trust them. I invoked the rule of stupid (if it feels like a dumb idea, it probably is); I let them suffer a little; I tried to know them; I accepted the fact that I couldn’t possibly know how much I didn’t know.
To my sisters (and brothers), do what feels right. Break the rules once in a while. Have a good laugh. Adopt the concrete things – car seats, helmets, seatbelts. Make your list of important rules. And then do the best you can.
Maybe my mewing didn’t drive my daughters in the same way as the roaring of Toni the Tigress. But when I hear my daughters making well-thought-out plans for a job hunt. Or when I hear how responsible they are about being on time and diligent. Or when they talk excitedly about friendships or something that inspires them. Or maybe most illustratively, when they tell me they have to call me back because they need to go to move their laundry to the dryer.
Tiger Mother, pffft. I feel like I did my job pretty darned well.
Writer and blogger Lisa Oppenheimer has spent a career chronicling the travels, challenges, and delightful messiness of fitting together work, life, and parenting. The mother of two grown daughters, she currently lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two cats, and endless homeowner responsibilities.
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